RE: Persisting Taro, Bok

From: on behalf of maurice major
Sent: 	Monday, April 14, 1997 6:42 PM
To: 	Julius Boos
Subject: 	Persisting Taro, Bok

Aloha Aroiders,

I just got back from a camping trip to Nualolo Kai, a remote valley on the
north shore of Kaua`i, Hawai`i. Connected to the large (ancient Hawaiian)
temple there is a taro pond, inland of the coastal sand dunes and at the
bottom of a large talus slope (funny valley, much wider than it is deep).
Rather than being stream-fed, this pond appears instead to lie on the fresh
water lens that occurs near coasts in these parts. I suspect that the water
percolates though the talus at the back of the valley, and evetually flows
out to the ocean. The pond is lower than the surrounding ground, but
cultural stonework is so pervasive here that I cannot say for sure whether
Hawaiians excavated down to the water, or built up around it. In any case,
the pond, which is about 10 by 15 meters in area, is surrounded by a 2 to 3
m high wall of stacked, waterworn rocks. All very picturesque after we
cleared the castor bean plants--for the first time in my archaeological
career, I felt like Indiana Jones.
But the point is that there is taro (Colocasia esculenta) still growing in
the pond. The water is more or less stagnant, yet there was very little corm
rot, probably because the water temp is quite cool, but possibly also
because of the variety. Nobody has cultivated the taro for the better part
of a century (at least until this week), yet it persists in a nice little
stand, competing somewhat with a sedge and ferns, but holding its own. I am
working on getting the variety identified, and will see if it is known for
its ability to grow in this environment. All I know is that the leaf was
good (hey, I am growing the corms, not eating them--yet).
There is also an account that is widespread among archaeologists here of a
terrace being excavated, then taro sprouting from the back dirt. The
deposits were allegedly over 200 years old, yet the taro grew. The
paleoethnobotanist cannot believe this, and suspects that cormlets from a
shallower (ergo younger) sediment were what sprouted.

Soooo, do any of you have experience with how long taro can survive
untended? I am talking about cultivated varieties here, and not some wild
cousin. How about subterranean dormancy?

PS. Regarding the bok ha thread, "bok" is used for many leafy vegetables and
cabbages by Asians here, which may be why people are talking about eating
the leaf of the mystery aroid. However, many south Pacific Polynesians have
enthusiastically started growing Xanthosoma species for the "food" (the
corm, Polynesians also eat the leaf, but the corm is called the food). In
many cultivars, the secondary corms are what is eatend, rather than the
central ("mother") corm. Tongans have told me that the cormlets have less
crystals than the mother, and this is why they eat it. One variety is
currently undergoing a rapid increase in popularity, and is being grown
Maurice Major
Department of Anthropology			Phone:	(808) 847-8282
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum		FAX:	(808) 842-1914
1525 Bernice Street
Honolulu, HI 96817-0196

Dear Maurice,  I really enjoyed the note re:  Taro in Nualolo Kai Valley!  It 
is a plant that I`ve always been interested in, both for consumption AND from 
a historic point of view.  I`ll put a copy of a paper written together with my 
brother and published in "Aroideana", Vol. 16, 1993, where we discover the 
probable source of "wild dasheen" [Taro] on Trinidad, W.I..  We also list a 
paper by J.W. Purseglove in "Tropical crops,Vol. 72,Monocotyledons", 
1972,published by Longman, London that you may want to consult, as this is 
where we obtained our info.. 
  The "wild" Taro on Trinidad has persisted {and thrived as a weed!] For quite 
a number of years; we could probably find the exact date if we needed to.  
Do`nt know any thing re: persistant dormancy, but would hazard a GUESS that it 
was persisting and actually growing, but as a tiny insignifant plant, untill 
the recent clearing provided the improved conditions for it to quickly grow to 
a noticable size.  We also noticed that the "wild" cultivars on Trinidad 
reproduced by long, thin stolons, NOT corms or bulbils [tiny cormlets] as in 
the other varietes grown.  This may be the case where you are.
  Yes,  "Bak" or "Bok" or "pak", seem to be an oriental word meaning something 
like "spinach" ;the word following, "Ha" , in the case of Alocasia, "Choy" in 
the case of "Chinese" cabbage in Trinidad, tells you what type of spinach it 
is. In one of the dialects from India used in Trinidad, W.I., the word used in 
a simular situation is "Bhagii", and there is another used in the W.I., 
probably with African roots, "Calallo". 
  All of the Xanthosomas grown as food are harvested by taking the cormlets 
off of the "mother" plant, except for the yellow one grown in the Greater 
Antilles where the main corm is used. [At least as far as I know!]
 I hope the above is of some interest to you.  Any sign of Cyrtosperma 
merkusii [swamp taro] cultivation where you are? Any one looking into it?
                                          Reguards,    JUlius.

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