Follow-up: magenta greens

Following up on my posting yesterday, “Flirting with magenta” (about three plants with magenta flowers), Randy McDonald has sent me a piece from the site Speed River Journal: An urban naturalist’s progress: “Magenta spreen, a worthy spring green” on 5/29/19 by Van Waffle — about the plant often known as tree spinach:


(#1) Close-up of Chenopodium giganteum leaves (from Wikipedia)

Magenta spreen (Chenopodium giganteum) is a delicious spring vegetable readily available from my garden. It is a close relative (same genus) of lamb’s quarters and quinoa.

It self-sows abundantly but is easy to control. You can harvest the vigorous seedlings to use as you would spinach. It’s mild-flavoured and doesn’t become bitter with age. The young leaves show this startling magenta colour that tends toward amaranth red [many Amaranthus species have red leaves] as the plant matures. In small quantities it can be eaten raw, but in large quantities it should be boiled two minutes to remove oxalic acid.

Some technical details from Wikipedia:


(#2) A young plant shooting up

Chenopodium giganteum, also known as tree spinach, is an annual, upright many-branched shrub [in the Amaranthaceae, or amaranth family] with a stem diameter of up to 5 cm at the base, that can grow to a height of up to 3 m [almost 10 ft; they’re not called giganteum for nothing].

The younger leaves of Chenopodium giganteum are hairy with a magenta colour and the older become green.

… The young shoots and leaves of Chenopodium giganteum can be eaten cooked like spinach, where most of the oxalic acid and saponins are removed during the cooking process, especially if boiled for 2 minutes at 100 °C (212 °F). However, the leaves are also edible raw in lower quantities, for example as a salad. The seeds can be prepared similar to rice or quinoa or can alternatively be ground into flour, which is then mixed with cereal flour for bread making.

Due to the partially pink coloured leaves, Chenopodium giganteum also has an ornamental value.

Finally, about the name magenta spreen / magentaspreen, from the SF Chronicle‘s website: “Plant of the Week: Magenta spreen / Pretty and productive crop carries peaceful name” by Pam Peirce on 12/17/05:

Magentaspreen (Chenopodium giganteum), which probably originated in India, is cultivated in China and many other parts of the world. It is not native to the Americas. Alan Kapular, of Peace Seeds in Corvallis, Ore., obtained the seed from a French botanical garden and introduced it to American gardeners. He also gave it the common name magentaspreen. Why “spreen”? Kapular and a friend had been joking about the fact that whenever they talked about plant shoots, the word “shoot” made them think of guns, so they made up the word spreen instead. When it came time to choose a name under which to sell a plant with magenta shoot tips, magentaspreen seemed natural.

Not a deeply satisfying account, but then invented names often don’t have much of a backstory.

A note on color names. In my 6/13/17 posting “Trailers” (on trailing plants), there’s a section on the color fuchsia, which in several contexts is identical to the color magenta (a purplish red color, with roughly equal parts of red and blue).

And in Wikipedia‘s story of magenta:

Magenta took its name from an aniline dye made and patented in 1859 by the French chemist François-Emmanuel Verguin, who originally called it fuchsine [after the flower of the fuchsia plant]. It was renamed to celebrate the Italian-French victory at the Battle of Magenta fought between the French and Austrians on June 4, 1859, near the Italian town of Magenta in Lombardy.

Some of the (many) plants with intense purplish red leaves are said to have fuchsia leaves, some magenta. I’ll treat them as equivalent.

Now, just three of these plants.

Coleus. First an old friend on this blog, coleus (in the genus Plectranthus), here in a photo by China Alicia Rivera on the Artmajeur site:


(#3) “Fuchsia and Purple Plant”

Cordyline. In my 5/10/18 posting “Festival burgundy”, discussion of cordylines (or ti plants), which come in a number of reddish shades, including fuchsia:


(#4) Cordyline rubra, or palm lily

Alternanthera. And now back to the Amaranthaceae. Photo from the Costa Farms site:


(#5) Alternanthera ‘Brazilian Red Hots’

From Wikipedia:

Alternanthera is a genus of flowering plants in the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae. It is a widespread genus with most species occurring in the tropical Americas, and others in Asia, Africa, and Australia. Plants of the genus may be known generally as joyweeds, or Joseph’s coat. Several species are notorious noxious weeds.

… Some Alternanthera are used as ornamental plants:


(#6) Alternanthera ‘Party Time’

2 Responses to “Follow-up: magenta greens”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    That story about the origin of the color name “magenta” is a fascinating oddity, of which I was hitherto unaware. It leaves unexplained, however, why the color was named after the battle.

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