Name: Basella alba, aka Malabar Spinach
Type of Plant: A fast growing, soft-stemmed vine that can reach 8 to 10 feet in one summer season. Not a true spinach (which is Spinacea oleracea) but a tropical vining plant that is often grown as a spinach substitute, especially in hotter weather. This plant is perennial in a Zone 10 (not Cape Cod), but it’s easily grown as an annual in colder climates.
Why I Love This Plant: I like how this plant grows quickly and is attractive on small obelisks, trellises and other supports. I love the white and lavender-pink flowers and attractive bright green leaves. And I appreciate how the stems twine around any support that they are near. As an ornamental alone, this is an attractive annual vine!
If you are just growing it for the looks, you’ll also appreciate the dark purple or almost black berries that form after the flowers fade. These are used as a dye or food coloring in other parts of the world.
A Word to the Wise: If you want to eat the leaves, pick them early in the season before the flowers mature. After the blooms open and start to form seeds, the leaves are more bitter. Also, these leaves have a mucilaginous character kind of like cooked okra. This is good if you want to add the chopped foliage to soups or pasta sauces to thicken them.