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Whitehurst Diaries: Commonplace Beauty, the okra blossom

Anatomy of beautiful yellow flowers on row planted in garden on little Gradyville reminded her of similarity with the hibiscus Haskell and Jerry Rogers had planted there. Subsequent research revealed a surprise about plant's kin, revealed below.
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By Sharon Whitehurst

Years of gardening in New England left us unfamiliar with okra as a garden success.

Jim's Mom planted it a few seasons, but it struggled weakly, never blossoming.

Jim's Dad, North Carolina born and raised, brought along a case of pickled okra one summer when he and "Nana" moved up in the camper for their annual respite from the heat of Georgia where they had finally retired.

The distinctive spears were a novelty alongside the familar home-canned pickled beets set out each lunchtime in Poppa's honor.

I wouldn't have thought to include okra in our Kentucky garden experiments, but recently arrived daughter Gina and husband Matt, planted a row in the patch they are cultivating here at the little Gradyville farm.

The first blossoms were a surprise. I noted the similarity to the blooms of the hibiscus which Haskell and Jerry Rogers set out by the garage [the interloping pink variety recently maligned in the pages of CM] but only today took time to research online and learn that okra is of the genus mallow and cousin to hibiscus, cotton and cocoa.

Gina and I declare the blossoms to be stunning--exotic even. Their fleeting moments in the garden are a welcome sight as the spent perennials gasp in the July heat. -Sharon Whitehurst

This story was posted on 2011-07-27 05:30:39
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Whitehurst Diaries: Okra plant has surprising kin

2011-07-27 - Old Gradyville RD, Columbia, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
These blossoms will produce raw material for a Southern delicacy, pickled okra. In addition to their utility, the blooms are gorgeous flowers, evocative of another sometimes maligned hibiscus cousin, the Not Rose of Sharon - at least not by Billy Joe Fudge standards. The plants are thriving in one row planted in the garden on the farm at Gradyville. According to the fascinating account of the plant in Wikipedia, Okra, the seed pods aren't the only edible part of the versatile plant. The leaves are cooked as greens or used raw in salads, and a form of coffee can be made from the dried seeds, the article says.

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