The curry leaf tree

Fragrant, green leaves of the curry plant

Like many Singaporeans, we grow plants and trees that are used in seasoning Asian foods, and the curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) is one of the basic plants to have growing in your garden. It’s no longer used solely in Indian cooking – nowadays, with all the fusion cooking going on, it’s common to find a sprig of curry leaves seasoning the cuisines of other cultures.

What I love about curry leaves is the clean scent that they give off when you bruise or are cooking them.

White flowers in foreground, unripe berries in the background. Click pic to zoom

The plant originates from India. It is known in different Indian dialects by different names: Kadhi Patta in Hindi, Mithho Limbo in Gujerati, Karuveppilai in Tamil and Malayalam, and so on. As names and words get skewed in different situations over time, we’ve been calling it Curry Pillay in our Singaporean household.

A friend recently taught me the Malayalam name, which means “Black Neem Leaf”. According to Wikipedia, “Karu/Kari” means black, “ilai” means leaves and “veppilai” means Neem leaf. Karuveppilai is a pretty complicated word to a non-Malayalam speaker, and I suspect we distilled the name down to “curry pillay” because that’s what we could remember. Besides, that’s what the leaves are used for – cooking curry – so it makes sense to me!

Our tree is an established one that’s close to 20 years old. It grows pretty straight and tall, with branches growing outwards and upwards from the main stem – or trunk, I should say. The bark is light-coloured, and relatively smooth and waxy. The tree gets full sun throughout the day and seems to enjoy it. It’s about 2 storeys high and doesn’t seem to want to grow taller. Instead, it spreads out via its branches that we prune a couple of times a year.

I’ve also discovered that it’s spreading itself via its roots – new plants are springing up from the roots of the old tree! I made this interesting discovery when I was trying to dig up a small plant to give away.

These plants sprout everywhere, thanks to the efforts of the hungry birds

However, baby plants aren’t much of a problem if you bother to look. As mentioned in an earlier post, many fruit-eating bird are attracted to the curry tree because it produces bunches of berries. Black-naped Orioles, Asian Koels, Bulbuls and Mynahs are among the regular visitors to snack on the small berries. After eating, they find other perches and kindly spread the berry seeds all over the place. Because of this, we find little curry plants growing everywhere, and either give them away or weed them out. As a matter of fact, our tree has several “babies” across Singapore and one in Europe!

The curry leaf tree is perfectly suited to our tropical climate. We don’t do anything special to the tree – no need to water or fertilize it because Mother Nature does that for us, and the roots are deep enough to get through the dry periods. The only problem is that it attracts white pests, usually mealy bugs. Since I don’t want to spray insecticide on an edible plant, I usually cut off and dispose of the diseased branches. It would be great if more insect-eating creatures visited, though. Sunbirds and tailorbirds do drop by, but perhaps the mealy bugs aren’t to their liking. Life goes on.

© 2010 All rights reserved.


What plant is that?

Flowers of the Duranta Dark Purple

Last week, someone at the GCS Forum brought my attention to the FloraWeb feature at the NParks website. It’s a really cool database of flora that you can find in Singapore. I subsequently spent a bit of time squinting through the pictures in the database, and was delighted to be able to put proper names to several plants that we have either added ourselves or that simply took root at some time or other.

The Cardwell Lily (Proiphys amboinensis)

I’ve gone from saying, “yeah, that red, spiky-headed plant” to “Dracaena marginata, otherwise known as Rainbow Dracaena”; and “that plant with the clusters of purple flowers” to “Duranta dark purple”, and so on… It’s been quite enlightening. :D

The plant with the round green leaves and occasional spikes of white flowers also finally has a name to it – the Cardwell Lily (Proiphys amboinensis). It started growing under our old passionfruit bower about 30 years ago and we discovered that it made a pretty sight when potted. Since then, we’ve “domesticated” it and made it part of the family.

Sulphur Alder (Turnera Subulata)

Then there are a number of other plants that we’ve bought, or adopted from other people or places, because we liked the look of them. I don’t know how many we’ve taken in, not knowing their names. Take for example what I’ve called our Easter lilies – I’ve just learned that they’re actually called Hippeastrums. Who knew? :) All we thought was, they looked pretty at a neighbour’s house, and they shared some plants with us.

Oh yes, and let’s not forget the flowers that only bloom in the mornings – I’ve just learned they’re called turnera subulata, otherwise known as the Sulphur Alder. Oh, and that it’s related to the yellow flower that I didn’t even notice it was identical to, save for the colour of the flower! That would be it’s cousin the Yellow Alder, or turnera ulmifolia.

The Yellow Alder

My dad taught us that we should do things properly, so I’m going to take the camera around the garden to try to get pictures of everything, so I can identify them accurately. What can I say? Live and learn – it keeps life interesting!

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Bye bye, beans

Well, that was fast. Our snap beans went from this in mid-January:

…to this in late January:

… to this, throughout March:

… to this in early April:


… to this, in late April:


How utterly sad. It took two months or so to reach maturity, and in two weeks, it was all over. The plant is drying up and all flowers that do appear are puny things. It was fun while it lasted.

So now, I guess the cycle begins again, because snap beans are gone… in a snap. Thank goodness our tropical climate allows planting at almost any time of year.

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First loofah flower

The first loofah flower, just about 3cm wide

I was doing my inspection of the floral family this evening and was thrilled to see the first loofah flower beckoning to me. A nice pale yellow, it was just 2 to 3 cm wide.

Since veggie growing is quite new to me, I’ve been doing some reading on the different veggies I have growing. One of the things that kept cropping up was the mention of having to hand pollinate flowers of some veggie plants. This led me to learn about the differences between male and female flowers of cucurbits, e.g. cucumbers, melons and other vine-growers. Very interestingly, the distinction is that the female flowers tend to have a mini-fruit at the back of the flowers. (Visit this thread at the GCS forum to learn how to hand-pollinate the flowers) Of course, if loofah flowers need pollinating in order to fruit then this first flower is just for show, because it’s got no buddies to “play” with.

Flower in profile. Camera refused to focus nicely in the low light >:(

Another thing I learned is that angled loofahs (what I planted) only flower in the late afternoon (smooth loofahs flower in mornings) – so it’s fortunate that I got to see the flower today, even if it’s only ornamental for now. But, looking at the leaf nodes, it looks like the plant is preparing to branch out and flower, so there should be more to report in the near future.

All told, it’s been a little over 5 weeks since I planted the loofah seeds next to our unsightly chain-link fence. The bigger plant is about 60cm high now, with the other trailing it by 10 to 12 cm. Another result of my online research is that I’ve realized that the plants are pretty prolific and need a lot of space, so I’m a little undecided whether to keep both plants or to sacrifice the smaller one. Eh, it’s a tough decision for a compulsive planter/grower. Maybe I’ll just keep them both for a while and see how it all works out…

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