WARNING: LOCALLY INVASIVE SPECIES
Common Name: water spinach
Native Range: India, southeastern Asia
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 70.00 feet
Bloom Time: Rarely flowers
Bloom Description: White, pink, purple
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium to wet
Suggested Use: Annual, Vegetable, Rain Garden
Water spinach is an easy to grow herbaceous aquatic or semi-aquatic annual that can be propagated through seeds, or cuttings if they are available. Stem cuttings can be rooted in water or moist sand and transplanted into pots of fertile potting soil mixture and placed in a sunny location. These plants relish heat, humidity, water, and nutrients. Water spinach does not grow well below 70° F. Some varieties will also thrive in water. Once established, cutting may be made at any time. Like the related sweet potato, the stems have a white latex, and only the youngest, fastest growing tips are harvested for cooking. The less suitable the growing conditions, the tougher and latexy the greens will be.
Water spinach belongs to the morning-glory family. Likely of Chinese origin, cultivation dates back more than 2,000 years. Widely grown today in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, it is sold in Asian markets in tightly packed bunches. Both the arrow shaped light green leaves and the stems are used stir fried or steamed. Chopped and cooked, they are used as filling for steamed buns and dim sum or deep fried as a component of spring rolls.
Flowers are morning-glory like, 2 inches wide, funnel shaped, and white, pink or pale lilac depending on the variety. Also like morning-glories, water spinach is a vine. Under optimal condition, a single water spinach plant can branch profusely with stems growing to over 70 feet long. Each growing tip can advance 4 inches per day. In Florida, water spinach has created impenetrable masses of tangled vegetation and obstructed water flow in drainage and flood control canals. Along lake, pond, and river shoreline it has displaced native plants important for fish and wildlife. Over smaller ponds and retention basins, it has formed dense, impenetrable canopies creating stagnant water conditions ideal for mosquitoes. For these reasons, Florida has listed it as a prohibited plant and noxious weed, the possession of which is prohibited without a special permit. Federally, water spinach is listed as a “noxious weed” under the Federal Noxious Weed Act of 1974 (7 U.S.C. 2802 (c)) and as such may be moved into or through the United States only under permit from the USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine Program, and under conditions that would not involve a danger of dissemination.
Few pests are a problem for this plant.
Water spinach is prepared like conventional spinach, although the texture of the stems and leaves is improved if they are cooked separately. It may be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, or used in soups. It may also be eaten in salads, either raw or blanched briefly.