Chinese evergreen


The chinese evergreen is even worse than tofu.


Greens for gardening, not eating

I try to be as open-minded as I can. Honestly. I know that there are certainly some who don’t consider me the most liberal and tolerant of individuals, but I do try. But there are some things in life that I will never understand. One thing that comes pretty high up on that list is vegetarianism.

I just don’t get it. I can kind of understand those who simply don’t like the taste of meat – it can’t be that much different from the way I react to the thought of eating durian. Does that make me an eateverythingexceptdurian-ian? Probably.

Vegetarians certainly have some interesting alternatives. I believe that nut cutlets are a popular choice, although I’ve never tried one. Tofu, on the other hand, has found its way onto my plate on a number of occasions. “Try it,” my veggie dining partner will always say. So I do.

My reaction is always the same – it’s nasty. It’s supposed to take on the taste of the ingredients and sauce around it. It probably does, but the stuff itself will always be bean curd, in various stages of solidity, with a gooey taste that’s inevitably rather unpleasant in all of them.

I can rationalize that people who don’t like meat choose not to eat it, but what I can’t understand are the misguided individuals that actually like the taste and smell of the stuff, but choose not to, presumably because they like the idea of cows being left to eat grass and moo in fields, rather than being eaten.

I had a mate a few years ago who was a die-hard veggie. He used to come to my particularly carnivore-orientated barbecues, clutching his pack of veggie sausages. We’d leave a bit of the grill available for him, so that none of our nasty meat juices would taint his animal product-free offerings.

I tasted one once. Only once. It had a taste reminiscent of boiled cardboard. Absolutely bland – if this cylinder of nothingness represents the joys of vegetarianism, then I have to feel rather sorry for them. I find that food tasting of something – anything – significantly enhances the experience of eating, personally. But that’s just me.

And what is it with the veggie tendency to imitate meat? Why would they possibly want to do that? Veggie sausages? Veggie burgers? Why bother? If they hate the stuff so much, does it really make sense that they’d want to eat food that was in any way similar? I have a tip for any veggie burger-lovers – if you really want a burger, nip down to Don’s Mall and get the real thing.

Back to my barbecue guest. The daft thing about the whole scenario was his reaction to the sizzling meat fumes wafting through the air. “That smells wonderful,” he’d always say. “I wish I could eat that.” We could never figure out why he tortured himself in that way, and stuck vehemently to eating veggies.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with veggies, it has to be said. Indeed, Phuket has a festival named in honor of them. For me, thanks to a childhood dinner table where plates had to be cleared every meal, I’m actually rather partial to greens to this day. Having said that, there are some things that despite having on the green and leafy tendencies that you wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

The Chinese Evergreen is one of them. The technical name is aglaonema, but it’s better known to Thais as the ba-saam-sii. There are around 20 different varieties of the plant, but probably the most often-seen in these parts is the aglaonema silver queen.

Aglaonema is a versatile, low-light, low-growing, durable plant that will put up with some pretty neglectful treatment. The foliage is either silvery green with some dark green or the reverse, mostly dark green with light green or creamy streaks. They’re related to the dumb cane in that they’re part of the araceae family, but they’re a different genus; the main difference is that the stems of the Chinese Evergreen are white in most cultivars, rather than green.
The leaves are rather distinctive. They’re kind of rubbery, about 30 centimeters long, and appear singly on the end of short stems.

Whenever you see these things in garden centers they’re always under that black, sunscreening netting stuff. There’s a good reason for that – although they enjoy Phuket’s tropical heat, they aren’t exactly sun-worshipers, so you’ll need to keep them in a shaded spot. Direct sunlight will cause leaf scorching.

Aglaonema is also a perfect houseplant. Unlike many of its tropical relatives that crave direct light, this one will be quite happy indoors; they’re tolerant plants that do well in a range of environments. They prefer a bit of humidity if possible, but they’ll adapt to a room with air con, so they’ll do well in living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. If the leaves start to develop brown tips, move it out of the aircon – it’s whining.

Aglaonema is native to the Philippines, parts of tropical Asia and Africa. The scientific name is derived from two Greek words: “aglaos” meaning “bright”; and “nama”, a filament or thread referring to the striking stamens produced within the flowers. Apparently, it’s a popular plant with the Chinese, to whom it symbolizes long life and presumably explains the name Chinese Evergreen.

Don’t go mad with the water on this one. New growth will be stunted and the stalks could rot if the soil is kept too moist. If the soil is too dry, the aglaonema’s lower leaves will turn yellow and drop. I wish the water requirements of all plants were this easy.

You might want to prune it a bit on occasion, too – just remove discolored lower leaves. You can also pull off the occasional greenish blooms (unless you actually like them), but always remove them when they die. The center new growth can be pulled out to maintain the stalk’s compact growth, if you like it that way.

These things are expensive in areas where they’re not native. If you want to buy one of these as a houseplant in the States, you’ll be looking at a bill for $75 to $100 for something of a sensible size. The same thing here shouldn’t cost much more than 200 or 300 baht.

I haven’t seen my old barbecue guest for years – I wonder if he’s finally realized that meat-eating is the way to go. He can’t still be craving meat and denying himself the pleasure. If he is, I just hope he doesn’t get bored and give Chinese evergreens a go. I can’t say I’ve given them a try, but I’ll bet they’re even worse than tofu.

I’m off to McDonald’s.



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