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
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Edible portion: Fruit, Seeds - oil
A small deciduous tree. It can grow to 13 m tall. It has drooping branches. There are thorns on the branches. The plant sends up thorny suckers often at a distance from the tree. These need to be cut off. They can be used for rootstock for grafting. The leaves are small and oval. They are 2-5 cm long and bright shiny green. The leaves turn bright yellow before falling. During the growing season, each node of a woody branch produces one to 10 small branches. These fall off later. The flowers are small and 0.5 cm across. They are white to green and produced in large numbers in the angles of leaves. The fruit are round or long and vary from cherry to plum size. They are 2-3 cm long. They have a single hard stone with two seeds. The fruit changes from green to yellow with red spots as it ripens. When fully red and ripe it softens and wrinkles. There are many named varieties.
A subtropical plant. It can stand high temperatures in summer then due to winter dormancy can tolerate very cold temperatures. It only requires a small winter chill to enable it to fruit. They do best in warm sunny positions. They cannot grow in shade. They do best in sandy well drained soils. They can grow in soils with high salinity or alkalinity. It can tolerate drought but fruits best with adequate rainfall. It grows on the Deccan in India. It grows in western Sudan. It suits hardiness zones 7-10. In Sichuan and Yunnan.
Edible portion: Fruit, Seeds, Palm heart, Cabbage
A fan palm. It can be 40 m tall. The trunk is thinner than Washingtonia filifera. It is flared widely at the base. The trunk can be covered with dead leaves. The leaves are large and fan shaped. They are green on both surfaces. There are brown thorns on the leaf stalk. The base of the leaf has a red-brown sheath. Mature palms do not have threads on the leaf blades. The flowering stalk grows from among the leaves and extends beyond them. They are 2-3 m long. Flowers are pink. The fruit are round and black when ripe.
It does best in warm temperate to tropical places. It often grows near the sea in Mexico. It suits arid regions. In Adelaide Botanical Gardens. It suits plant hardiness zones 9-11. Hobart Botanical Gardens.
Edible portion: Fruit, Leaves
A vigorous deciduous vine. It can grow to 30 m long. They have a tight non shedding bark. The shoots are warty and the tendrils are unbranched. The leaves have slight lobes. The leaves are 6-12 cm long with toothed edges. The leaves are dark green on top and greenish yellow underneath. The leaves are glossy on both surfaces. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants. The flowers are small and green. Fruit occur in small loose clusters of 3-40 grapes. The fruit are round and 2-4 cm across and with a tough skin. These contain up to 5 hard oblong seeds. The fruit can range from green to bronze to red or purple. There are several different cultivated varieties.
They suit warm humid conditions. It cannot tolerate heavy frost. It should not be grown where winter temperatures regularly go below -4°C. They need full sunlight with good air flow. They can grow on a range of soils but do best on well drained sandy soils with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. They will not tolerate wet ground. Plants are shallow rooted. It suits hardiness zones 5-9.
Edible portion: Shoots
A bamboo. It forms tufts. The stems are erect or can bend over at the tip. They grow 8-14 m tall and are 2-8 cm across. They are smooth and greyish-green. It is 15-30 cm between the joints or nodes. The leaf blades are narrowly sword shaped and 7-14 cm long by 5-8 mm wide. The flowers are at the ends of the stems.
A tropical plant. In southern China it grows in river valleys and hilly forested areas between 500-1,000 m above sea level. In the Cairns Botanical Gardens. In XTBG Yunnan.
Edible portion: Leaves - Colouring, Fruit
A large tree. It grows 25-50 m tall. The trunk is 1 m across. It can have slight buttresses. It is open with many branches. It loses some leaves during the year. The leaves are oval and have a rough surface. They can be 60 cm long. The flowers are in large panicles. They are white or pink. The fruit is round and can have 4 seeds. These are oval and white.
It is a tropical plant. It grows in tropical deciduous forests. In XTBG Yunnan.
Edible portion: Fruit
A small tree up to 5 m tall. Branches are brittle and easily broken. The leaves are dark green and shiny. They are long and have small hairs. These hairs can irritate the skin. Flowers are on short stalks and are pink to white with five petals. Flowers are mostly on old growth. Fruit are round and cherry like. They have 3 lobes. They are usually bright red and with a thin skin. They are 1.7 cm across.
A tropical plant. It is native to C and S America. It has poor cold tolerance but can withstand temperatures to near freezing. It can tolerate drought. It can grow with rainfalls around 1,200-1,600 mm per year. Roots are shallow so plants cannot withstand wind. It needs a sunny position for good fruit production. It suits hardiness zones 10-12.
Edible portion: Leaves, Rhizome, Root, Flowers, Spice, Vegetable
A herb 1-2 m tall. It forms tillers. It keeps growing from year to year. It has long leaves which form a sheath at the bottom. The leaves are 30-60 cm long by 7-8 cm wide. They have red spots along the middle vein. The flowers are yellow in bright red leaf sections. It has a rhizome under the ground which is fleshy and creeping. It branches and produces tubers on it. The starchy finger rhizomes are greyish on the outside and yellow inside. They are 15 cm long and 2.5 cm across.
It is a tropical plant. It grows in hot humid climates. It suits areas with a rainfall of 90-125 cm per year. It grows up to 900 m altitude. It grows in shady places often under betel nut groves. It needs a loamy well cultivated soil. It needs a temperature above 13°C. It suits hardiness zones 8-12. In Yunnan.
Edible portion: Fruit
A tree up to 8 m high. It can be 30 m high. It is evergreen and has an open crown. The branches are mostly horizontal. The leaves are oval but taper towards both ends. They can be 6-25 cm long by 2.5-8 cm wide. They are shiny and bright green. The leaves are clustered near the ends of the twigs. The leaf stalks can be 5-25 cm long. The small flowers grow in clusters of 2 to 5 on young wood. The flowers have a scent. The fruit is round, slightly pointed at the end, orange yellow and up to 10 cm long. The skin is thin, tough and waxy. The flesh is orange and has a musky smell. The seeds are about 2-3 cm long, dark brown and shiny. There are often 1-3 seeds per fruit.
It is native to C and S America. It is a tropical and subtropical plant. It suits the coast in the tropics and is damaged by frost. It can grow up to 1400 m in the tropics. It will grow on fairly poor soils. It does better on fertile well drained soils. It can tolerate reasonably dry periods. In Brisbane Botanical Gardens. In XTBG Yunnan. It suits hardiness zones 10-11.
Edible portion: Gum, Seeds - oil
An evergreen tree. It grows to 17-20 m height and spreads about 5 m wide. It has lots of leaves and forms a dense round crown. The stems are erect and stout. The bark is greyish-green. It is rough and hard. The branches are angular. The leaves (phyllodes) are sickle shaped. They taper to a blunt tip and are 10-20 cm long. They are 1.5 to 3.5 cm across. The 3 main veins are prominent. The leaves are shiny and dark green. The flowers are dull golden rods. They are about 8 cm long. These rods occur in pairs in the angles of the leaves. The pods are woody, twisted and hard. These ear like pods are distinctive. They are about 5-7 cm long and 1.5 cm wide. They are dark brown when ripe. They contain black seeds arranged diagonally. The seeds are attached by a bright red aril.
They are tropical plants. Often trees grow in monsoon vine forest. In tropical Queensland it grows from sea level to 500 m altitude. They are often along the banks of freshwater streams. It prefers open sunny positions. It can survive drought. It is damaged by frost. It can grow on poor soils. It suits hardiness zones 10-12.
Edible portion: Seeds, Gum
A small shrub which grows up to 5 m tall. The tips of the small branches are very angular. The leaves (phyllodes) are densely hairy. They are silvery. The flowers are a light golden colour. The pods are clustered together and curved or coiled. The pods are constricted between the seeds. Mature pods are brown. The seeds are oval and shiny black. The aril or seed outgrowth is bright yellow.
It is a tropical plant. It occurs in Australia in red sands