Aibika (Spinach Tree)
AIBIKA GROWING INFORMATION © Frances Michaels
BOTANICAL NAME: Abelmoschus manihot formerly Hibiscus manihot
COMMON NAMES: Aibika, hibiscus spinach, ibika, bele, vauvau (Fiji), pele (Polynesia), aelan kapis (Vanuatu), tororo aoi (Japan), sunset muskmallow, sunset hibiscus, hibiscus manihot, lettuce tree, Queensland greens, island cabbage
ORIGIN: Native to tropical Asia
This plant is a short-lived perennial shrub in the subtropics and the tropics but an annual in cooler climates. It grows 2 - 3 m high with large, nearly round, soft green leaves. There is a wide range of other leaf shapes grown in PNG; up to 70 types have been classified. It is a hardy plant that thrives when it is warm and wet. It can be prone to looper caterpillars; snails find it inviting too. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. Aibika needs ample water and rich, fertile soil that is kept mulched. It is a very nutritious vegetable; the leaves are high in vitamins A and C, and iron, and have 2% protein by dry weight. Annual types flower and self-sow readily and have the potential to become quite weedy; their seedpods are also very prickly so are best avoided.
Food: the young leaves and young shoots may be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, stir-fried or added to soups. The large soft leaves can be used to wrap food, similar to vine or cabbage leaves. As the leaves cook quickly, add them last to steamed veges or stir-fry. The leaves contain mucilage, which can give a slightly slimy feel in the mouth.
In Japan Aibika is used to make Neri, a starchy substance used in making washi or handmade paper. It is also used in a similar way in Korea in making Hanji.
In the Pacific Islands it is commonly called Bele and along with taro-leaf spinach it is a main green of many villages there. It is cooked in coconut milk with fish.
It is widely planted either along borders of gardens or as an intercrop throughout many traditional gardens in the tropics.
Recommended Planting Time: Cuttings are best taken when the soil temperature is at least 25°C.
Planting Depth: It is easily propagated from cuttings 10 - 20 cm long, half buried in potting mix and kept moist.
Spacing: Space plants at 60 cm apart.