Our searches for wild moringas in the Uttarakhand sal forests and Himalayan canyons up to about 1500 m above sea leavel were interesting but hadn’t turned up any wild moringas. They showed that the reports of wild moringas in these areas were based on enthusiastic but inexperienced botanists mistaking roadside escaped trees for wild ones, or, in the case of the old colonial floras, simply assuming that the specimens represented wild populations. This raises the question of what is meant by a “wild” population. There are multiple considerations as they relate to moringa.
Foremost is the question of what is the truly wild native habitat of the species. This is the natural floristic assemblage at the geographical site that the plant would grow in even in the absence of human intervention. None of the sites that we had seen so far would meet this criterion. All of the trees that we had seen so far were clearly associated with human populations, and even though sometimes they were reproducing by themselves, this was always in very disturbed vegetation that was almost all invasive species, never in a more or less intact vegetation type. Therefore, it would seem unlikely that they were truly wild plants. Confusing the issue is that many people call a plant that is growing essentially untended as “wild.” As a result, we have heard many reports, and there are many in the literature as well, that Moringa oleifera grows “wild” in places where it is not wild in the sense that I mean here. The sense that I mean here, the geographical location and floristic assemblage that it grew in before humans, is important for biologists. It is important because knowing the wild range of a species tells us about its biology. Knowing where it lives and what its lifestyle is in its wild range helps us understand why the organism has the characteristics that it does. Moringa oleifera is an odd plant; it grows extremely quickly, resists virtually any drought, and flowers when just 6 months old, unique in the family. To unravel why it has these unsual features, it is necessary to figure out where the plant grows wild.
But what passes for “wild” in the dry tropics? Dry tropical habitats such as tropical dry forest, subedciduous tropical forest, thorn forest, or spiny forest, are tropical habitats, as is the tropical rain forest. However, with their good soils for growing crops, tropical dry habitats are much more inhabited than rainforests are. Whereas there are still wilderness rainforest areas, there are very few tropical dry forests of any great extension that don’t bear the mark of humans. Indian dry and subtropical dry forests are no exception. Most of them were cut down long ago to make way for towns and agricultural fields. Those patches that persist are almost without exception used constantly by people. So even in a large patch of forest, where you can’t see any people, you can usually see their mark. You can almost always find trees from which branches have been hacked off with a machete, or even the stumps of saplings that have been cut down for firewood. You can find trees whose bark has been scraped for medicine, or patties from cows left to graze in the woods. Sometimes you can find old or even recent stumps where a particularly straight tree was removed for building. You can even find small clearings or hollowed trees used as beautiful natural settings for shrines. This pervasive habitation means that it is usually impossible to rule out entirely the possible influence of people in bringing a plant to a given area.
Here are the criteria we used to identify potentially wild moringas. To be considered potentially wild, a moringa had to:
1. Grow at least 100 meters from any road, clearing, building, or other obvious human alteration.
2. Grow in a vegetation type made up entirely or mostly of wild native plants and not invasive speces or weeds. This vegetation must be at least a hectare in area and show no or only minimal anthropogenic degradation, e.g. occasional firewood collection but not extensive felling.
3. Be present in a population, not just one or two isolated trees. The population must make ecological sense, that is, have a clear and consistent habitat preference, consistent with its growth rate, growth form, and temperature and water regime tolerances.
4. Given that closely related species tend to resemble one another, and all other species of Moringa grow in lowland dry tropical habitat, putative M. oleifera habitat that is found in hot, seasonally dry lowlands is more likely wild than moister, higher, and cooler habitats.
5. Having found a population, based on the above information, it must be possible to predict where other populations should be found. This is because wild plants are usually consistently found in suitable habitat within their areas of occurrence. Plants moved around by people usually have more idiosyncratic and unpredictable distributions.
Using these criteria, we were able to rule out all of the localities we had visited so far. One locality did have us guessing for a while. We found on the floodplain of the Sutlej River in northwestern India a stand of huge M. oleifera trees—by far the biggest ones I have ever seen (see the photos below). They towered 50 feet high, not giant by tree standards but very tall for M. oleifera in dense floodplain forest. I had seen Moringa drouhardii do the same thing in Madagascar. It usually grows in dry tropical forest, but it can establish in what is known as gallery forest, the tall, semi-deciduous woods that make a green ribbon along rivers in places that otherwise turn brown in the dry season. These gallery forest M. drouhardii were growing among tall gallery forest trees and were relatively slender and the tallest I have ever seen. Standing on the cobbles of the Sutlej floodplain woods, I wondered if M. oleifera might do the same thing. Walking through the woods we came upon some very unusual species, including bald cypress from the US southeast—and then we came to the headquarters of the forestry station and met the foresters who had planted all of the unusual trees of the area, including the moringas. We visited many hillsides of degraded, eroded slopes with mesquite and Leucaena dominating the landscape. It was dry and hot, just like moringas usually like it, but no moringas in sight.
But there are still patches of woods here and there in India’s hilly country, places where you can walk for an hour and be immersed in woods without seeing anyone. Some of these woods are large enough or dense enough that you might not even see buildings or fields off in the distance. It was these woods, in the hot lowlands, to which we now turned our attention. What follows are photos of the first well-documented potentially wild localities of M. oleifera.
These putatively wild moringa trees are found below 300 m in elevation, clearly lowland plants like all the other species of Moringa. They only seemed to establish naturally on recent slips or other eroded clearings on steep hillsides or canyon walls, but only in areas of what appears to be more or less intact (if utilized) woods with Acacia, Bergera, Ziziphus, Dalbergia, Carissa, Bombax, Bauhinia, and Cordia spp. as the most common woody species, often with weedy Lantana and Leucaena. They did not seem to occur on gentle slopes or ridgetops. This means that the plants are extremely restricted with very precise habitat preferences, eroded habitats within intact forest. Their populations were observed to be, and if these habitat preferences are general probably always are, relatively small. These trees are just the beginning—genetic studies in collaboration with Indian colleagues will help tell the full story of M. oleifera, and help shed light on whether these trees really are wild. In the meantime, given the importance of the plant, we will keep working to identify how many wild stands remain and to ascertain their conservation status.
Folks often write to ask me where to purchase large quantities of moringa seeds. If they are here in Mexico, I usually send them to my friend the Moringa Queen of Tepoztlán Maricela Escobar (firstname.lastname@example.org). But most come from other countries, and so they need an international source of seeds, one that ships world wide. Here is what I usually tell them:
One source for PKM moringa is Paritosh Herbals, in Dehradun, India. Their website is www.paritoshherbals.com and the email of the owner, Paritosh Gulati, is email@example.com. I have never ordered from them, so I can’t say from personal experience, but I have been receiving their email updates for ten years or so, so it is clear that they are not a fly-by-night operation. Good luck and let me know if you have additional questions.
Well, I finally did order some seed from Paritosh, and so now can speak from personal experience. I have been receiving Paritosh’s seed, leaf powder, and oil prices for years and years, from “Paritosh Herbals, Dehradun, India.” I have sent I don’t know how many people to him, and even exchanged an email or two. So while we were in Dehradun, one of the things I wanted to do was finally meet him in person.
What I found out what that, not only has Paritosh been sending high-quality moringa seed around the world for years now, but that he’s also an incredibly nice and interesting guy. After talking on the phone a few times while we were in town, we arranged to meet at a prominent crossroads. We waited for a couple of minutes and Paritosh zipped up on a motorcyle, dodging the traffic and the pedestrians. He found us quickly and told us to follow him and he led us through a pleasant neighborhood in Dehradun’s southwest. We talked about moringa, about his longstanding business, and had an absolutely delicious dinner. He sends seed of PKM moringa, which he gets from high quality growers in southern India, all over the world. He works closely with technicians at Dehradun’s Forest Research Institute to treat the seeds and make the diagnostic cultures needed to show that they do not have any pathogens, and issue phytosanitary certificates. All this at a reasonable price and from a guy who is fun to talk to and can answer your questions about moringa and beyond. So now can write an email like the following:
The best source I know of for PKM moringa is Paritosh Herbals, in Dehradun, India. Their website is www.paritoshherbals.com and the email of the owner, Paritosh Gulati, is firstname.lastname@example.org. I have ordered from them and know Paritosh personally, and I can say that he has great prices, prompt service, including phytosanitary certificate, and seeds with excellent germination. He has been in business selling moringa for many years and is a dependable businessman who I can definitely recommend. Good luck and let me know if you have additional questions.
Nearly every publication on Moringa oleifera makes confident statements about where the plant grows wild. Most are way off base, often stating that moringa is native to “northern Africa,” “eastern Asia,” “Arabia,” “Iran,” “Afghanistan,” even Caribbean islands, and all number of other places where it very obviously is not native. A lot of them, though, do mention something about northern India, especially the “sub Himalayan tract,” and this seems a great deal more plausible.
The sub-Himalayan tract is a loose term for a very long range of low hills and valleys that fringe the great Himalayan highland on its southern and western edge. In the map you can see the heights of the Himalayan area in browns and grays, denoting elevations above, often well above, 1500 meters or so. If you look closely you can see between the green plains and the gray mountans a tiny fringe of hills in a beige color. This is a lowland area, and though it looks narrow and almost insignificant here, it is thousands of kilometers long, providing a lot of habitat for a lot of plants and animals, and it is one of India’s many fascinating biological realms.
The sub-Himalayan tract is the pale margin of hills between the Himalayan highlands and the green Ganges plains
It is also the area that seemingly reputable sources attribute as the wild habitat of Moringa oleifera. This is a long tradition, stretching to colonial times, and is repeated based on these sources to this day. In John Duthie’s 1903 Flora of the Upper Gangetic Plain and of the Adjacent Siwalik and Sub-Himalayan Tracts, he assures us that M. oleifera grows wild in the “Forests of Dehra Dun, Saharanpur…” both in today’s state of Uttarakhand (see the extract below from Duthie). Stewart and Brandis in their famous 1847 Forest Flora of Northwest India also tell you that M. oleifera is “Wild in the lower Himalaya and Siwalik tract,” the Siwalik or Shivalik being a very long range of hills running along more than 2000 km of the western edge of the Himalayas. Again, these statements are repeated to the present day. To verify them, there is nothing to be done but to visit the herbaria where these men worked and to see the specimens they based their work on, and, though likely much has changed in India since the mid-1800s, to visit the hills and valleys themselves.
From Duthie 1903 Flora of the Upper Gangetic Plain and the adjacent Siwalik and Sub-Himalayan Tracts
From Stewart and Brandis in 1847 Forest Flora of Northwest India
Our first stop during our July visit was accordingly Dehradun, home of the vast headquarter’s of India’s Forest Research Institute, which has an important herbarium consulted in all early floras of this part of the world, as well as an outpost of the Botanical Survey of India that also has a good herbarium. A visit to the FRI herbarium, a treasure of specimens from colonial times, quickly reveals where Duthie got his information. He clearly copied, sometimes almost word for word, the data on the FRI moringa specimen labels, some of which I show below. They do say that moringa is found in the “forests of Dehradun,” as well as at Saharanpur and even in “Oudh,” just as reported in Duthie’s flora.
We visited dozens of localities that could plausibly correspond to “forests of Dehradun,” “Saharanpur,” and places in between. Dehradun indeed lies in the heart of the sub-Himalayan tract, in a broad, lovely valley with the wall of the Himalaya rising to the north and the low Shivalik range to the south, both dark green with woods. Saharanpur is a town in the hot plains on the other side of the Shivalik to the southwest. Given that Dehradun lies at just above 400 m elevation and Saharanpur at nearly 200, these are decidedly lowland localities, perfect because all other moringas are decidedly lowland plants.
None of the extant woods in this area support any moringas that seem even possibly wild. The dominant lowland forest type in the area is a kind called sal forest. Sal is the common name for a member of the Dipterocarpaceae family called Shorea robusta. This is very exciting for a botanist because dipterocarps are very important members of the forests of eastern and southern Asia. Some of the world’s tallest trees are, or probably were anyway before they were cut down, dipterocarps. There are just a few dipterocarps in the Americas, only in northern South America, and even there they are rare, so it is a treat for a botanist from this side of the world to see them. Sal forests are especially interesting because they form if not pure forests they do a good job of trying. Most tropical forests (with the exception of most Australian inland ones, which are spectacularly poor in species) are very diverse, with hundreds or at least dozens of species at any one site, far more than in any temperate forest. So seeing tropical forests in which a single species predominates is a very unusual phenomenon, and a very perplexing one. This is why in the photo below I have an even goofier smile than usual. What also blew my mind were the chir pine Pinus roxburghii that grew on the steepest, most eroded outcrops and slopes in the midst of the sal forest.
Interesting as these habitats were, there weren’t any moringas and they didn’t seem particularly plausible for moringa either. I have seen all the other species of Moringa in the wild except for M. pygmaea and they all grow in very similar habitats: very hot, very dry, and with low vegetation. No moringas grow in tall forest. At the most some species grow as tallish trees in dry tropical or subtropical deciduous forest. There is, though, no moringa that grows in tall forest with trees 20-30 meters tall like the sal trees here. There were a few moringas cultivated in towns here and there, such as north of Dehradun or on the plains toward Saharanpur, but they were isolated trees clearly associated with human activity. Nowhere were there any stands of moringa trees reproducing themselves in natural, or what passes for natural vegetation. Like most of the world’s dry tropical and subtropical areas, the seasonal drylands of India are comprehensively inhabited, so there is probably no completely “wild” forest in the sense of areas in which humans never go. Instead, these habitats are used for medicine, food, and firewood, so identifying what trees might be “wild,” i.e. in the area in which they evolved and spread before humans arrived, is one of the central challenges of moringa biology.
So much for the forests around Dehradun, the Shivalik range, and the plains of Saharanpur (and many other lowland localities in the area besides). Maybe the moringas were instead to the north, into the Himalayan mass proper. There were many clues that suggested that this might be the case. Duthie says that moringa grows wild in the “outer Himalaya,” Stewart and Brandis say “Wild in the lower Himalaya.” At the Botanical Survey of India herbarium there was even a specimen from a place called Suni, in Shimla District, Himachal Pradesh, with the label reading “Amidst boulders on exposed sunny faces of hill…growing in association with Phoenix sp. [a palm].” Sure sounds wild. And though most people think snow and ice when they think of the Himalaya, there are deep fingers of relatively lowland habitat that penetrate far into the interior. Suni, for example, sits below 700 m elevation, high for a moringa but hardly highland. Maybe M. oleifera grew wild in these remote, rugged, hidden pockets of lowland.
Moringa, seemingly wild, in the lower reaches of deep canyons in the Himalaya?
So off we went for various days driving deep into rugged valleys, and scrambling up and down steep hillsides. We saw a great deal of beautiful and spectacular scenery, and had some great roadside food. We saw terraced rice paddies marching up great mountain slopes, and tried to imagine how much work it was to create and maintain them. We saw cactus-like succulent Euphorbia growing on steep slopes; Moringa species almost always are found with succulent Euphorbia, but there were no moringas to be seen here. We did see Phoenix on rocky slopes, and finally did find, along a deep gorge, kilometers and kilometers of moringas growing not only on the roadside but also down the slope as well.
These moringas sometimes formed small stands; could this be the native haunt of M. oleifera? A closer look revealed that the largest plants grew at regular intervals all along the roadside. Chats with local people confirmed that the trees had been planted by foresters. Some locals even went so far as to make fun of the foresters for being too lazy to plant trees anywhere but right on the roadside. The moringas were reseeding themselves, with saplings springing up on the hillsides below, but these hillsides were always extremely degraded vegetation, never even approximating a natural community. They were largely grass, with introduced Eucalyptus and Jacaranda plus many other woody weeds. Moringas are not known to be invasive plants, but they do seed around on roadsides and vacant lots. This seemed surely the case here. That there were only trees on the downward slope from the road also seemed consistent with planting on that side and dispersal by gravity from the planted parents. Natural trees would be found on both sides of the road and up the hill, and they would be found in the scraps of natural forest in the area. Here they were never in the natural forest. So despite the herbarium label and the old reports, we were pretty sure that there were no wild moringas in these Himalayan canyons.
I had the pleasure of attending the second Mexican Moringa conference, at the University of Nuevo León, Monterrey, on 22 May of this year. The conference is mostly thanks to Dr. Emilio Olivares Sáenz, who runs a really exciting division of “protected agriculture,” i.e. plants grown in greenhouses and similar structures, at the university’s ag campus in General Escobedo on the northern fringe of Mexico’s northern metropolis. A testament to his energy is that the protected agiculture center has its own building, offices, labs, in addition to the requisite greenhouses. It’s all spanking new and a really nice facility. What is most amazing to me is that they hold various academic conferences throughout the year, every year. Anyone who has organized even a single conference knows that the logistics are very time consuming. How Emilio and his team manage to get so much done is impressive, as is the Regio (the adjective for folks from Monterrey) style: energetic, pleasant, and no nonsense. Emilio explained how the university bureaucratic procedures are intended to make work easy for the academics, for travel, purchases, and meetings. For a university anywhere, let alone Mexico, that’s an amazing and precious thing.
As to the conference itself, it was an interesting mix of growers/producers and academics working on the plant. Particularly interesting were the experiences by Emilio and his associates growing moringa way up north in Mexico in the Monterrey area. This is way outside of moringa’s usual comfort zone, with frosts in winter being light but regular occurrences. The plants get killed back to the branches and sometimes main trunks, but the growers find that the production is enough for their needs, which include a very impressive self-contained organic farm.
Emilio and his students gave us a tour of their moringa plantations, which included plants outside, exposed to the cold, as well as in greenhouses. I show some photos here because they exemplify very high density planting. You can see them grown in rows like traditional crops, with views including seedlings as well as year-old plants. You can see how the trunks get gnarled after repeated harvesting down to near ground level. One of the most interesting and important experiments that they showed us was a series of nutrient deprivation trials. They grew moringas in pots and grew them in media and fertilized them with solutions that lacked a single key nutrient, including the plantsman’s trinity of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The effect of this treatment was to produce plants that showed the symptoms of these deficiencies and deficiencies only of each one of these nutrients. They then photographed and carefully described the symptoms of each deficiency. This means that it will be possible, when you see your moringa looking sad, to know exactly what nutrient it is lacking. I hope they make this resource available soon because it is going to be invaluable. In short, the meeting was very interesting and I hope to be able to attend the next one. Congratulations, Emilio, for the great work.
Here are a series of photos showing how certain individuals and parts of the collection are coming along. There's still lots to do, but everything looks tidier and the plants are growing massively.
The first plant is the largest Moringa hildebrandtii at the moment in the collection. It was about the size of a pencil when planted, less than a year ago. Now it's twice my height.
The next was just a little seedling Moringa hildebrandtii, also now taller than I am.
Moringa borziana grows into a small, single- or sparingly branched treelet when given half a chance. Here, this one seems well on its way.
This Moringa concanensis is growing with a single massive stem.
Moringa ovalifolia for the first few years of life tend to grow mostly underground. The tuber becomes massive before much aboveground growth occurs.
Here are some views of the India and Madagascar sections. In the first photo you can barely see the plants, just their little pieces of pink flagging. In the last photo you can see that it is starting to look like a forest.
Here are a few more photos of the collection in May 2015
A view of the Mexican dry forest trail
Another view of the Mexican dry forest trail
I collected a bunch more samples for protein leaf analysis, as well as samples for genetic analysis in our ongoing efforts to understand the difference between Moringa oleifera and Moringa concanensis. Conclusion: the collection is doing great and already fulfilling its scientific role.
As the plants grow, many are flowering for the first time. Here are a few that are in bloom now.
Flowers of a pretty and very vigorous Moringa oleifera X Moringa concanensis hybrid. They have the wide petals of M. oleifera and the pink streaks of M. concanensis
This is really exciting-- the first flowers of Moringa rivae. I collected this plant near Mount Baio in Kenya in 1997.
When I visited the wild locality, the plants were in fruit, and they were always very small in cultivation up to now. This means that I have never seen the flowers of this population of the species. I am very curious to see if they look like typical Moringa rivae ssp. rivae, which have cream sepals and brownish petals.
Flowers of Uncarina peltata, a Malagasy dry forest plant growing in the Madagascar section
The International Moringa Germplasm Collection and its global consortium of collaborators is the best bet worldwide for studies to find out which Moringa has the highest protein content, the most digestible protein, the most powerful anticancer compound or the best activity in regulating diabetes. But maintaining the collection means at a minimum paying the water bill and keeping the gardeners paid.
Because they know that supporting the Collection ultimately means better moringa for everyone, Kuli Kuli Foods, a US maker of Moringa snacks and leaf powder, donates a portion of their sales toward maintenance of the Collection. So, please have a look at the video and click here
to go to the page where you can purchase the products that benefit the Collection. Thanks for your help.
There are reasons to think that moringa has one of the most potent cancer chemopreventive agents known, but, like so many moringa properties, there are still no clinical trials in humans. Read on for more details.
The main planting out of the trees was in summer of 2014. While the plants are small, it’s necessary to baby them along. A forgetful neighbor is notorious for not tying up his goats well, and his three goats can often be seen around town, dragging their ropes behind them, standing in a tree munching on leaves or in someone’s yard eating their tomato plants. They seem to like trotting up the hill to the Collection, and my heart stops every time I see them. Some species are still very small and one goat mouthful would set them back considerably. Even though Moringa is very palatable, all of the plants have escaped being eaten so far.
It is trite among moringaphiles to make a big deal out of moringa growth rates, but I can't help it. The photos of M. drouhardii and M. hildebrandtii are a seedlings from mid-2014 and they are already taller than me (to my infinite relief- bigger trees are less susceptible to goats, ants, etc.). See photos below.
A Moringa drouhardii seedling, not even a year old.
Moringa hildebrandtii, about a year old.
Here is a story that illustrates how perfect the climate and soil are here for moringas. I collected seed of Moringa borziana in southeastern Kenya in 1997. The seeds sprouted in 1998 and were kept very small in the greenhouse in Missouri until last year. I planted it out in late 2014 and immediately the powerful tropical sun burned the stem. This happens commonly in plants that have been grown in the shade and then are planted in full sun. It often helps to “compass” plants by keeping track of which side faced south and has therefore built up more sun resistance. Moringas almost never complain about sun, so in this case I hadn’t bothered. I wondered what to do, because the stem was dying from the tip down. Should I dig it up, disturbing the plant even more, or let it settle in? Large Moringa borziana tubers in the wild sit with their apices well below the soil level. The upper parts of the tubers always have abundant scars from old, dead stems. So I had reason to think that the the little M. borziana could re-sprout from below ground. I buried the tuber a little deeper and made the water basin a little wider, and sat back to wait. Two months later, the plant was over 50 cm tall, bigger than it has ever been, so a major success and a huge relief!
Happy Moringa borziana
The big accomplishment of February was to finish the inventory of the plants in the botanical garden, assigning each a unique number so I can keep track of them in my records. Each plant gets three labels, two metal ones and one plastic one. The plants are still small to attach the labels with nails to the trunk, which I will do as soon as possible, but in the meantime we need to be very paranoid about keeping track of the identity of the trees, given that they lose so much value for research if the identity is lost. The next step is a map of all of individuals, so that if a label is lost it is still possible to reconstruct the ID. There are a few botanical garden apps for just such situations, but I haven't found one I'm entirely happy with yet.
Moringa concanensis from the Palni HIlls, Tamil Nadu.
Another collection of Moringa concanensis, a rather variable species.
I am very excited about this plant. I collected a sapling Moringa hildebrandtii near Ambohimahavelona in southern Madagascar in 1998. The plants grew too big in the US to transport, so I took cuttings. This is a rooted cutting of one of them.
It's starting to look like a little forest in this area, which shows part of the India and Madagascar sections.
Moringa ovalifolia works on its tuber for a long time. This individual has never had leaves so large, so it is clearly very happy in its new home.
A view of the India section and the oleifera living fence.
So we're still in the stage of babying the trees, but we're getting there. In a few years, the trees should pretty much take care of themselves, but in the meantime the Collection is already meeting its goal of driving moringa research.
I was worried that it would be hard to grow Moringa peregrina here. The rainfall here is about 750 mm per year, considerably higher than in most of the places where Moringa peregrina grows. Also, I was worried about a moringa catch-22: Moringa peregrina plants can take a long time to grow aerial stems in pots, but I didn’t want to plant them out in the ground in the botanical garden until they grow aerial stems. Like many species of Moringa, Moringa peregrina has a tuberous juvenile stage. It grows, often for many years, as just a tuber underground, throwing up slender shoots every year that then die back to the tuber. Only after the tuber reaches a certain size does the plant form an aboveground stem that does not die back every year. Even in the first few years this stem can still die back all the way to the tuber if there is a very severe drought. But eventually the stem remains year after year, the beginning of the life of the plant as a tree. With a little patience, though, and relatively large pots, the M. peregrinas have started to form large enough above ground stems, 10-40 cm tall, that I feel confident about putting them out in the ground.
Other species, like Moringa concanensis or M. drouhardii grow in dense tropical dry forest. They compete well with weeds and other forest plants. Moringa peregrina often grows on bare rocky slopes where they are the only tree in the landscape. Not accustomed to competition, I wanted to make sure that the peregrinas would do well when planted out. I was also worried that the relatively high humidity here would be a problem. It doesn’t rain 8 months of the year here, but we are so close to the coast that the humidity is always high. So I was concerned that the plants might be vulnerable to fungal infection and rot. Once the plants are established and growing in pots, though, we have had no losses, and they are doing just as well as all the other species.
So, in June we made a trial planting of four M. peregrinas of various provenances on the driest, most exposed portion of the ridge that runs through the collection lot. It seems like the perfect place for the drought-loving M. peregrina. Their aboveground growth has been slow to date—the tallest plants are just 40 cm tall—and I suspect they are busy allocating resources to roots. But they are holding their own and producing aboveground growth much faster than I have ever seen in pots. So we declared the planting a success and in September started about 10X10 meters of a steep, west-facing slope for planting out more Moringa peregrina.
Because Moringa peregrina grows in the open, we wanted to plant them out on the most competition-free slope possible. The Taminco company here in Mexico very kindly donated 20 liters of metamsodium, a soil fumigant. After a good rain had soaked the soil, we diluted the metamsodium, which in this case came under the evocative trade name of Mercenario, and poured it into the soil. We watered it in and then covered the entire parcel with plastic and weighted down the plastic around the edges. After a month, we took off the plastic and let the soil air out. Metamsodium is wonderful because it kills absolutely everything—weed seeds, plants, nematodes, fungi, provided that it is sufficiently concentrated and goes deep enough.
Plastic covering the fumigated soil, about 10X10 m
Just after removing the plastic-- looking very good!
Here a couple of months after removing of the plastic. Looks like Arabia to me! Time to plant Moringa peregrina.
After a month’s airing out, we noted with a little dismay that there were some Antigonon vines coming back from their underground tubers. This is a horrible weed that roots everywhere and produces very firmly rooted tubers everywhere. The vine itself is fragile so it is impossible to pull the tubers out. A perfectly designed weed but a nightmare to control as it reaches up, sometimes overnight, to grab onto the moringas and smother them. This is almost certainly not the fault of the Mercenario but our not watering in the fumigant well enough on in all areas.
Undaunted, we whacked back the Antigonon and planted out a little over a dozen Moringa peregrina saplings to see how they do. Now, just a few days after transplanting, they look great, with no transplant shock apparent. Given that it grows in fairly readily accessible places like the Golan, Egypt, etc., someone else must grow M. peregrina in the Americas, but I don’t know of anyone. Check back and hopefully in a few years in this space I will be telling stories about the first flowering and fruiting of M. peregrina here, so far from their native habitat.
A happy Moringa peregrina in the new peregrina section.