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Shoo Fly Plant

For starters, a music lesson without any audible music. Maybe kids are still learning this traditional children’s song in grade school and many adults already know it. Ah yes — there’s a plant connection too. ’Tis said houseflies, white flies and mosquitoes won’t stay in the same room, but only the gardener who grows Shoo Fly Plant will know for sure.

SHOO FLY, DON’T BOTHER ME

Here are some words:

Shoo, fly, don’t bother me

Shoo, fly, don’t bother me

Shoo, fly, don’t bother me

For I belong to somebody.

’TIS SAID

… houseflies, white flies and mosquitoes won’t stay in the same room as the Shoo Fly Plant if they can escape. But this is not a houseplant and you would not normally grow it indoors! What about barn flies? Only the farmer who plants a few outside his barn door will know for sure. Who says farmers can’t garden? Not me!

Now some history. Shoo Fly Plant traces its roots to South America; thus the original name: Apple of Peru (Nicandra physaloides) but there’s absolutely nothing edible about it. The blue flowers are quite pretty and Chinese Lantern-like seed pods that follow are equally attractive in dried arrangements. But as pointed out… the belief is held Shoo Fly is most often grown for insect repellent properties. Even a single specimen in a large pot looks impressive on the patio and it may well help keep mosquitoes away too. Can’t say for sure though whether its chemical properties do indeed ward off those biting critters. I probably wouldn’t be in a rush either to rub any of the leaves or dried seed pods on my skin. Remember — just because something is natural doesn’t mean you can’t have a negative reaction to it.

A gardener who grew Shoo Fly relates this experience. One year he had to reseed. Only a few self-seeded smaller plants reappeared. He claims to have weeded them out too well. Seems the key is to find the right balance between rampant self-seeding and relentless, wholesale removal.

MORE TRAITS AND TEASERS

Nicandra physaloides is the original variety that owes its common name — Shoo Fly Plant — to the fact that some gardeners believed (and many still do) that it repels white flies when grown alongside of gladiolus, tomatoes and other plants afflicted by that pest. Even deer are said to find it distasteful and are deterred. Give Shoo Fly lots of room to spread its wings and you’ll not be disappointed. It can grow from a metre high to a vigorous and stocky six-footer and has the largest leaves of its two counterparts.

Shoo Fly has a reputation for attracting many hard-working pollinators, including those wee helicopter-like hover flies. This unusual plant actually begins to flower when only six inches tall and continues to flower as it reaches toward its full height potential. Germination is easy and it’s not necessary to start any indoors. Because Shoo Fly is a self-seeding annual, it can become invasive as pointed out, but only if you let it. Another way to prevent and/or control self-seeding is by deadheading the spent flower heads.

It’s the appearance and notoriety that beckons gardeners to Shoo Fly plants. They make a statement not often seen in any garden and can take on the appearance of a small shrub with long, arching branches that produce a profusion of flowers. Each bloom only lasts one day, but every plant produces such multitudes of them. The flowers are followed by very showy pods in green and purple which resemble miniature Chinese Lanterns. Each pod can contain 100-plus seeds. As fall arrives the pods turn brown and hang from the branches like rows of Christmas decorations. They can either be cut for dried flower arrangements or left in the garden to provide winter interest in the bleak months.

NOTHING EDIBLE ABOUT SHOO FLY

… even though it’s a relative of the family that includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and ground cherries. Shoo Fly is considered a poisonous plant with at least some measure of toxicity. To appreciate its good side, wear garden gloves when working with the plants. Just keep these points in mind and you won’t go wrong. Remember — not everything that’s grown natural is considered safe. Thousands of people have severe allergic reactions from eating peanut butter, yet it isn’t banned from store shelves.

NICANDRA PHYSALOIDES “VIOLACEA”

… is the third Shoo Fly Plant yet to be described. In this instance, both the stems and Chinese Lanterns are an incredible indigo. This quite attractive plant has bicoloured flowers with the upper section showing an indigo blue and the lower part white. It usually reaches at least three to four feet (a metre or higher).

Wavy-toothed, green leaves are reminiscent of some tomato varieties that have wispy leaves and are also similar in appearance to thin and narrow leaves of ground cherry plants or solanums, such as Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry. But there the similarity ends.

By the way, citrus-flavoured fruits of Aunt Molly’s cherries are encased in a paper husk that turns brown as the tomato fruits ripen. It’s a sprawling plant that bears generous numbers of cherries that are useful eaten fresh out of hand, in fruit salads, with ice cream or preserved. Seeds for Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry are available from McFayden’s in Brandon, Man., R7A 6N4; phone 1-800-205-7111.

DO YOU HAVE DIABETES OR KNOW SOMEONE WHO HAS?

A trio of my adult friends deals with it day in and day out. I’ve picked up a few blood sugar tips from them along the way that I’ll share. To keep it stable during the night, Richard eats a small snack of about 200 calories before getting into bed. Linus is personally fond of eating several celery sticks with three or four cashews, alternated other days with almonds or walnuts. A third option mentioned by Rudy is to eat a small apple. Having a small pre-bedtime snack keeps their blood sugar levels stable during the night. The benefit for them appears to be sound sleep and waking up refreshed instead of being tired from having low blood sugar.

Here’s a musical note for the voice box. During the two years I took yodelling lessons, my yodel teacher Toni often reminded me to eat a small piece of apple and then run through the four throat exercises I had learned.

WASH YOUR FRESH PRODUCE IN BAKING SODA AND WATER

Every time I visit the fresh produce section of any store, there’s something I always look for before I buy. I’m lovin’ it when I see signs that say: Product of Canada or Canadian Grown. I absolutely resist buying, as much as possible, any imported fruits and vegetables.

Baking soda… has never been truly given the credit it’s due. Simply said — it has more uses than I can shake a stick at. Here are a few. Give fruits and vegetables a baking soda bath. Just fill the sink with water and a couple tablespoons of baking soda and scrub off any dirt; and who knows what else. It’s a safe and effective cleanser. Keep your drains clean and running free too by pouring some baking soda down the drain weekly, followed by either hot water or vinegar. The latter will give it some bubbly action.

Baking soda is famous for its deodorizing ability and fighting off smelly stuff. Many people sprinkle it on the carpet before vacuuming to help absorb odours. Also, sprinkle some in the bottom of garbage cans for the same purpose.

When dusted under the arms, it’s a healthy alternative to antiperspirants or deodorants. Try B.S. (you know what I mean) as a safe but effective body and facial scrub, or even the hair. This one I really love. Sprinkle some in a pair of smelly sneakers. (I call ’em runners.) Use baking soda any place that needs freshening and an improved, clean smell. It has enormous health-promoting value too, but that’s a column in itself. †

About the author

Columnist

Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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