Food Plants International - Plant Fact Sheets
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
6000 Leafy Greens
3000 Nuts, Seeds, Herbs, and other foods
553 Issues in this Publication (Showing issues - ) Previous | Next
Annona cherimola - Cherimoya
Edible portion: Fruit
A small deciduous tree up to 6 -10 m tall. In some locations trees keep their leaves throughout the year. It has a brown velvety tomentum on the under surface of the leaves. The leaves are 8-20 cm long and up to 10 cm wide. There is a single leaflet. The flowers occur either singly or 2-3 together along the branches. The female parts of the flower open first then the male parts. The fruit is 8-15 cm across with black or brown seeds in white flesh. The fruit is cone or heart shaped. It can be 10-20 cm long by 10 cm wide. Fruit can weigh 0.5 kg. The skin can have finger like markings. The flesh is juicy and each segment has one seed. There can be 20-40 large brown seeds in each fruit.
A tropical and subtropical plant. It suits the highland tropics. It grows at higher altitudes in the equatorial tropics. It can grow up to 2,000 m altitude in tropical areas. They suit places with cool nights. It is better suited to a dry climate but not desert. It is a subtropical or warm temperate plant. In Colombia it grows between 1,600-1,900 m above sea level. It can only tolerate light frosts. Young trees are very frost sensitive. They need 50 to 100 hours of mild chilling to remain productive. Trees do best in a sunny position. A pH of 6.5 to 7.6 is best. It can grow in arid places. It suits hardiness zones 10-12. In Yunnan.
Desmanthus virgatus - Wild Tantan
A shrub. It grows 2 m tall. It has long slender branches. The twigs are green and ribbed. The leaves are alternate and twice divided. There is a large gland at the base of the leaf stalk. The leaves have 2-5 pairs of pinnae and these have 12-18 pairs of leaflets. These are 3-4 mm long.
It is a tropical plant.
Faidherbia albida - White-Thorn
Edible portion: Seeds, Leaves, Young pods, Gum, Caution
A very large spreading tree. It grows up to 20-31 m tall. The trunk can be 1 m across. The trunk is light grey. The leaves are fine and drooping. The leaves can be light green or blue-green. The twigs are white and smooth. It has thorns which are straight and 4 cm long. They are white at the base and brown at the tips. They occur in pairs. Each leaf has 4-8 side branches although there can be 2-12 branches. These carry 6-23 pairs of small oblong leaflets. The leaf stalk does not have glands. It is leafless during the rainy season and has leaves during the dry season. The flowers are long cream spikes. The pods are large - about 10 cm long by 2.5 cm wide. They are red brown and twisted or almost curled into a ring. The pods do not burst open. The pods contain several hard shiny seeds. These are edible after processing. The seeds are 9-11 mm long by 6-8 mm wide.
A tropical plant. It mostly grows on river banks and river flats and can grow on sandy soils. It can be damaged by frost. It grows in dry savannah but prefers damp sites and river banks. In southern Africa it grows between 40-1,070 m altitude. It grows in areas with an annual rainfall between 20-1,800 mm. It can grow in arid places.
Ficus carica - Fig
Edible portion: Fruit, Flowers, Leaves - flavouring
A fig. It is a low spreading deciduous tree with large leaves. It can grow to 10 m high. Trees are widely spreading with many branches. It has milky sap. The small branches are straight and strong. The leaves spread out like fingers on a hand with 3 or 5 lobes. The leaves are rough textured on the upper surface and downy underneath. The flowers are of one sex only. There are two sex forms - the caprifig and the fig. The caprifigs are dry and hard and develop 3 times a year. They harbour the fig wasp which itself goes through 3 different stages of its life cycle in these 3 fruit seasons. The "fruit" is a hollow receptacle with an opening at the tip. Inside this the flowers grow and mature. The true fruit develop inside this large receptacle. They are produced either singly or in pairs in the axils of leaves. Fruit colour can vary from black, brown, green and yellow. Wild figs have both male and female flower parts but cultivated figs have no male flower parts and the fruit develop without fertilisation for Adriatic figs but need a fig wasp for Smyrna figs. There are several hundred cultivated kinds of fig.
It suits tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions. It is native to S.W. Asia. It can stand light frosts once hardened. Of the very large number of figs in PNG, this one is introduced. It suits highland areas in the tropics with a lower rainfall. It produces better if rain is less at flowering. Good summer heat is necessary for sugar-rich fruit. Plants do best in heavy soil in well prepared sites. It needs a neutral pH. It has some salt tolerance. In Brisbane Botanical Gardens. In Nepal it grows to about 1200 m altitude. In some places it can grow up to 2,300 m above sea level. It suits hardiness zones 10-12. In Sichuan. In Yunnan.
Flemingia macrophylla - Longleaf Wurrus
Edible portion: Leaves, Pods, Vegetable, Seeds - flavouring
A small shrub or climber. It grows 1.2-3.5 m high. The stems have ridges and are softly hairy. The leaves have 3 leaflets. These are oval or sword shaped and 3-15 cm long by 1.3-8 cm wide. They taper towards the tip and are rounded at the base. There are hairs mainly along the veins. The leaf stalk can be 2-10 cm long. The flowers are about 1 cm long and in dense clusters which are 2.5-7 cm long. The fruit are oblong pods 1.2-1.5 cm long by 7 mm wide. They are softly hairy. They are dotted with glands. The seeds are black and 3 mm wide.
A tropical plant. In Papua New Guinea it is introduced and used as a shelter belt in tea. It grows from 60 m to 1,650 m altitude. In southern China it grows between 200-1,800 m above sea level. In Yunnan.
Gliricidia sepium - Mother of Cacao
Edible portion: Leaves, Flowers, Vegetable, Caution
An evergreen shrub or tree. It grows to 10 m high and spreads to 3 m across. The crown is irregular. The bark is grey. The stem is erect and branching. The young branches are hairy. The leaves are compound with 8 to 14 leaflets. These are 7 cm long and 3 cm wide. They come to a blunt tip at the top end and are rounded at the base. The flowers are pink and yellow in the centre with a green stripe. They are pea shaped. The flowers occur in 10 cm long clusters. They are produced on older twigs. The fruit is a woody pod 15 cm long and up to 2 cm wide. The seeds are purplish brown and round. They are 1 cm long and 9 mm wide.
A tropical plant. It grows best in warm, seasonally dry climates. It occurs in areas with 900-1500 mm annual rainfall. It grows between sea level and 1200 m altitude. It suits areas with a mean annual temperature of 20-27°C. It does best with light well composted soil. The soil needs to be well drained. It needs a protected sunny position. It is damaged by drought and frost. It grows with soil pH between 5.0-8.5. It suits hardiness zones 10-12. In XTBG Yunnan.
Cecropia peltata - Cecropia
Edible portion: Leaves, Fruit, Flowers
A medium sized evergreen tree. It can grow 15-20 m high. The trunk can be 50 cm across. The trunk and branches are hollow. The leaves are large and have 7-9 lobes arranged like fingers on a hand. The leaves have lobes which are shield shaped. The leaves are downy underneath and shiny on top. The leaves can be 60 cm across. The flowers are pale yellow and showy. They are in fingered clusters on long stems. They are sweet and edible. The fruit is cylindrical, hollow with soft sweet flesh. They are 12 cm long. They are edible. There are many small seeds.
A tropical plant. It is native to tropical America. It has moderate drought and cold tolerance. In Costa Rica it grows from sea level to 1,200 m altitude. It is best with a humus-rich, well-drained soil. It suits hardiness zones 10-12.
Cecropia peltata - Cecropia
Edible portion: Seeds - oil.
A tree. The trunk is bottle shaped. It has thick cone shaped prickles. The young trees have a green trunk. It loses its leaves during the year. The leaves are made up of 5-7 long leaflets. The flowers are creamy white and pink towards the tip of the petals. There are 5 petals. The fruit are woody pods 20 cm long. The seeds are black and bean sized. They have fibrous silk or cotton around them.
It is a tropical plant. It can resist drought. It can tolerate some cold. In Argentina it grows below 700 m above sea level.
Colubrina arborescens - Wild Coffee
Edible portion: Bark - drink
A tree. It grows 20 m high. The trunks are 20-30 cm across. The leaves are alternate. They are narrowly oval and tapers to the tip. The leaves are 16 cm long by 8 cm wide.
Africa, Antigua, Central America*, Cuba*, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Lesser Antilles*, Mexico, North America, Panama, Puerto Rico, USA, West Africa, West Indies*
Annona sp. - Chirimoya del Monte
Edible portion: Fruit
A small tree. It grows 4 m high. The trunk is 15-20 cm across. The new branches have a rusty colour. The leaves are alternate. They are 13-15 cm long by 3-4 cm wide. The flowers occur singly. They are near the ends of branches and are large. The fruit is compound. It is 8 cm long by 5-6 cm wide.
A tropical plant. It grows in a rainfall of 500-1,000 mm per year. It grows to 600 m altitude in Bolivia.