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Some 3 billion people in the world live outside the cash economy in the world’s poorest nations. Food security and regular supply are their daily concerns. Chronic malnutrition is a leading cause of death and disease for them. Young children are amongst the most affected. One child every 5-10 seconds dies from undernutrition. Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness for someone every minute. Most people in tropical and subtropical countries are iron deficient.

Our goal is to provide information that enables people to choose the right plant for their environment, to give them stable food production and a greater choice of plants to enrich their diets and improve their nutritional wellbeing.

The plant fact sheets listed in this collection are only a small portion of those available from FPI.   Please check your plant inquiries in the ECHO Search and reference the FPI plant database for further information.

Most of the plants selected to list here are further described in country-specific publications by Food Plant Solutions (FPS in the Search).


8000 Starchy Staples

7000 Legumes

6000 Leafy Greens

5000 Fruits

4000 Vegetables

3000 Nuts, Seeds, Herbs, and other foods


562 Issues in this Publication (Showing issues - ) |

Solanum quitoense - Naranjilla

Edible portion : Fruit, Vegetable

A small shrub up to 2 m high. It is hairy or thorny. The leaves are large (60 cm) and angular and hairy on both surfaces. They have thorns along the veins. Young leaves are purple. The flowers are pale violet and 2-4 cm across. The fruit are produced in clusters on the trunk. The fruit is bright orange in colour and covered with short hairs which can be removed by rubbing. The fruit is about 6 cm across. The flesh is yellow-orange to green. It has numerous small edible seeds.

A tropical plant. It suits the highland areas in the tropics. The best altitude is probably 800 to 2000 m. In the Andes it grows between 1,500-2,800 m altitude. The temperatures are 14-22°C. It is frost sensitive. It likes humidity. It grows well with rainfall of 1,500 mm per year. It suits hardiness zones 10-12.

Sauropus androgynus - Sweet Leaf

Edible portion : Leaves, Fruit, Flowers, Vegetable

A low growing shrub with small red flowers. It continues to grow from year to year. It grows 0.8-2 m tall. It can grow 6 m tall. It tends to grow upright then falls over due to its weight. It branches little. Compound leaves on the sides of the stems bear flowers along their underside. Male and female flowers are on the same plant. The flowers are in drooping clusters. The fruit are purple. The fruit are about 1 cm across and open and drop their seed at maturity.

A tropical plant. It occurs commonly in SE Asia. It can grow in partial shade or full sun. It suits the hot humid lowlands. It will grow in heavy clay soils and will grow in acid soils. In Java it grows up to 1,600 m above sea level. At MARDI. In Yunnan.

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius - Chaya, Tree Spinach

Edible portion: Leaves, Vegetable

A shrub. It can grow 2 m tall. It can be a tree up to 7 m tall. It is a small densely shady, rounded tree. The central stem is about 10 cm across. The side branches are 2 cm thick and end abruptly. The cut stem exudes latex. Some varieties have stinging hairs on the leaves. The domesticated varieties need to be chosen. The leaves are large and dark green. They have deep lobes arranged like fingers on a hand. There are coarse teeth around the edge. The leaves can be 22 cm wide and 18 cm long. The leaves are not flat. The leaf stalks are 60 cm long. The flowers are small. The flowering stalks have 3-4 forks. The whole flower head is 2-10 cm across. The female flowers are near the lowest forks and the male flowers at the ends. The flowers have an unpleasant smell. Some varieties occur. The forms without stinging hairs are classified as Chayamansa group.

A tropical plant. It needs moderate moisture. It needs an average well-drained soil. It can grow in full sun or light shade. It often grows in dry regions but is also adapted to the hot humid tropics. It normally grows at low altitudes.

Eugenia involucrata - Cherry of the Rio Grande

Edible portion : Fruit

A small tree. It grows 5-8 m high. It grows 10-15 m high in forest. The crown is oval. The trunk is 30-40 cm across. The bark is thin and peels off. The leaves are simple and opposite. They have short leaf stalks. They are 5-9 cm long by 2-3 cm wide. The flowers occur singly in the axils of leaves. They have long stalks. The fruit are narrowly oval and bright red. They are shiny and have a green stalk. The pulp is sweet and juicy and with 1 or 2 large seeds.

A tropical plant. In Brazil if grows in semi-deciduous broadleaf forest. In Argentina it grows between sea level and 1,200 m above sea level.

Also Eugenia aggregata

Allium tuberosum - Chinese Chives

Edible portion : Flowers, Leaves, Root, Bulb, Herb, Vegetable

An onion family plant. It is a herb which keeps growing year after year. It can be 40 cm high. It grows in clumps. These onions have rhizomes but no real bulbs. The leaves are long and grass like, and flat and solid. They are 15-30 cm long and about 5 mm wide. The young leaves are erect but the mature leaves bend gracefully down. The blades of the leaves are not folded length-wise, as are those of garlic and leek. Flowers are white. The flowers are produced at the top of a flower stalk which grows from the underground stem. The flower head is round due to the small flowers being on the same length stalks and arising from the same point. The flower stalk can be 45 cm long. A dense clump of plants is produced.

A temperate plant. They are native to eastern Asia. Seeds are rarely formed in the lowland tropics. It is naturalised in S China. In Indonesia it grows up to 2,200 m above sea level. It suits hardiness zones 7-10. In Yunnan.

Lycium barbarum - Goji Berry

Edible portions: Fruit, Leaves, Flowers - pistil

A deciduous shrub or vine. It can be erect or spreading. It grows 3 m high. The branches are weak and arching. The side branches end in short leafless spines. It forms suckers freely. The leaves are oval and grey-green and taper to the tip. They are 2-5 cm long and 1 cm wide. The flowers are lilac-purple and shaped like tubes. They have 5 petals. The flowers are self fertile, so only one plant is needed to set fruit. They are in clusters of 1 to 4. The fruit are oval and orange red berries. These are 25 mm across.

It is a temperate plant. It is grown as a hedge. It does well in coastal sites and on unstable sandy banks. It is best in full sun. It can with stand cold temperatures. It can also tolerate hot summers. It can grow on a wide range of soils. It cannot tolerate water-logging. It suits hardiness zones 6-10. Tasmania Herbarium.

Psidium guajava - Guava

Edible portion : Fruit, Seeds, Leaves, - Seeds-oil, Flowers, Roots

A small tree or shrub 8-10 m high. It is evergreen. It has smooth bark which is mottled. The bark peels off in smooth flakes. The plant branches close to the ground. The branches are four angled. Trees are shallow rooted. The leaves are opposite, dull green and somewhat hairy. They are oval and somewhat pointed at both ends. They are 15 cm long by 2-5 cm wide. The leaves have short leaf stalks. The flowers are white and showy and borne in loose irregular types of arrangements of one to three flowers. The petals are 1.5 to 2 cm long. Both self and cross pollination occurs due to insects. The flowers grow in the axils of leaves on new growth. The fruit are rounded and 4 to 5 cm long. They are green but turn yellow when ripe. The outer covering is firm and encloses a pink or nearly white sweet smelling edible pulp. This contains many seeds. It better selected varieties both the skin and the seeds are fully edible. Fruit vary from very acid to very sweet

A tropical plant. It is native to C and S America. Guavas thrive in both humid and dry tropical climates. They do best in sunny positions. They grow wild and are also cultivated. In Papua New Guinea it grows well from sea level up to 1600 m and occurs up to 1900 m. In Nepal it grows up to 1400 m altitude. It is killed by frost. They fruit better where there is a cooler season. Temperatures near 30°C give best production. They are very widely distributed in open places and secondary forests throughout the islands of the Philippines and Papua New Guinea and can become weedy under some conditions. They produce better in soils with good organic matter. They prefer a well drained soil but can stand some water-logging. A pH of 5 to 7 is suitable. It can tolerate a pH from 4.6-8.9. Trees cannot tolerate salty conditions. It does not do well on atolls. It can grow in arid places. An annual rainfall between 1,000-2,000 mm is best. It grows in Miombo woodland in Africa. It suits hardiness zones 9-12. 

Alpinia galanga - Greater Galangal

Edible portion : Rhizome, Roots, Leaves, Seeds, Herb, Spice, Flowers, Vegetable

A herb which grows year after year. It grows to 1.6 m high and spreads to 1 m across. The rootstock creeps under the ground. This is round like a cylinder and branches. This thick rhizome can be 10-12 cm long by 3 cm wide. It grows as a dense clump. The outside of the root is reddish brown and inside is white. The stems lie along the ground. The leaves are long and narrow and sword shaped. The leaf blade is 25-35 cm long by 6-10 cm wide. They taper to the tip. They have a sweet scent. The flower spike is at the end of the shoot. It is hairy and 15-30 cm long. The flower bracts are oval and 2-8 mm long. The flowers are white. They occur in clusters at the ends of stalks. Each bracts surrounds 4-5 flowers. The flowers are 1.5 cm long and white with purple lines. The fruit is a round capsule. It is 1 cm across. It is orange-red.

A tropical plant. It does best in rich moist soils. It prefers a protected shady position. It is drought and frost tender. The soil needs to be well-drained. It can be grown in sheltered sites in cooler climates but needs a heated glasshouse in cold places. In China it grows in grasslands between 100-1300 m altitude in S China. It suits hardiness zones 9-12. In XTBG Yunnan.


Maranta arundinacea - West Indian Arrowroot

Edible portion : Rhizome, Root, Vegetable

A perennial plant up to 2 m high with large fleshy underground rhizomes. The stem is erect. There are 4-8 leaves near the base. There are 1-8 leaves on the stem. It has large leaves on long stalks near the base. These stalks can be 3.5-20 cm long. The leaf blade is 12 cm long and the leaf stalk clasps the stem. Flowers are small and white. There can be several on each leafy shoot. They occur on the ends of branches. There are 1-2 bracts under each 2-3 flowers. The rhizomes can be 20 cm long and about 3 cm across. They are covered with fleshy scales. The fruit are capsules which are green and tinged red-brown. They are oval and 7-8 mm long by 4-5 mm wide. The seeds are brown.

It is a tropical plant. It grows well in hot humid climates. A temperature of 20-30°C is best. Plants grow from the coast up to 900 m altitude in the tropics. It needs a rainfall of 1500 to 2000 mm yearly. It is cultivated in S China for starch. It needs deep, well drained and slightly acid soil. It suits plant hardiness zones 10-12. Bontoc. In Yunnan

Heliconia rostrata - Hanging Lobster Claw

Edible portion : Root

A herb. It keeps growing from year to year. The leaf stalks can be 7 m long and look like banana leaves. The leaves are 1-2 m long. The flowers hang downward. The bracts are yellow with green tips. They are like a parrot's beak.

It is a tropical plant. It grows in areas with good moisture and soil.