You are in for a real surprise when you grow Red Malabar spinach plant (Basella alba 'Rubra'). The vibrant reddish-purple stems are the real standouts, popping out of a sea of green leaves. An interesting tidbit of red-stem spinach info is that it is an heirloom that is not a true spinach. Unlike traditional spinach (Spinacia oleracea), this plant grows as a twining vine, adding even more beauty and interest to the garden as well as culinary possibilities.

Red-Stem Spinach Info

Malabar spinach is native to Africa and Southeast Asia and a relative of many tropical vines, such as Madeira vine. Although the name is confusing, since the plant is not related to spinach, you can use the leaves and stems in the same way. The plant has thick, but tender, stems with leaves that range from round to oval and even heart shaped. Red Malabar spinach plant cannot tolerate frost and its growth is very slow if temperatures are below 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C.). Red Malabar climbing spinach really prefers heat and bright sun, much like me!

How to Grow Red Malabar Climbing Spinach

In USDA zone 7 or warmer, you can plant by this heirloom seed 2 to 3 weeks after your last frost. Those of us in northern and temperate climes will be forced to start seeds indoors 6 weeks before our last frost. Scarify the seed with some sandpaper to speed up germination. Provide a stake or trellis for the vine to shimmy up and use plant ties loosely to help it adhere. If you are lucky enough to know someone with the plant, you can also start it from cuttings. Red Malabar spinach plants need consistent moisture to prevent bolting and bitter leaves. Prune the leaves and stems as you need to use them. Eat them fresh, sautéed or steamed in any recipe. A wide variety of leafy textures and colors provide as much bang in the garden as a sea of flowers. Mix Red spinach plants with kale, beet greens, coleus, rainbow Swiss chard, purple stemmed sugar cane, and other lively foliage colors. The resulting garden will knock your socks off with the swaying foliage and interlocking colors. It is also perfectly at home in a container surrounded by annual summer flowers or fragrant trailing herbs. This plant is a pleasant addition to either the traditional veggie garden or simply used for its ornamental beauty. Enjoy the taste and showgirl dazzle of this unique edible heirloom plant.

Bonnie Grant