About Mirabilis (plant)
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The mauka or chago is cultivated as a root vegetable in the Andes, at cold, windy altitudes above 2700 meters. The above-ground portion dies back with frost, but the root is quite hardy. It grows to a height of 1 meter, and bears edible tuberous roots that can reach the size of a man's forearm, with a dry weight composition of about 7% protein and 87% carbohydrate. Yield can reach 50,000 kg/ha given two years maturation time. Great interest in this root crop has been generated by its ability to be grown in conditions that do not favor other root crops.
The roots of some forms if eaten directly can irritate the mucus membranes, and should be sun-dried and boiled before eating to eliminate the irritating substance. Bolivian forms are more often irritating than Ecuadoran forms. The cooking water of the 'mauka makes a satisfying sweet drink while leaves may also be eaten as a leaf vegetable or used raw in salads. Once the root has been exposed to the sun the astringent, bitter taste is replaced with sweetness. One of the traditional preparations the boiled roots are mixed with honey and toasted grain. Ecuadorians have both sweet and salty preparations.
The mauka was an important root crop to the Inca empire and was considered a "lost" crop until being rediscovered in the 1960's and 1970's in three separate distant locations in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. There is a possibility that the plant's continued use and survival in three separate locations was due to the Inca policy of transplanting valuable food crops and communities throughout the empire.
The four o'clock flower or marvel of Peru is the most commonly grown ornamental species of Mirabilis. It is from tropical South America, with flowers in a range of colours. The plant has become naturalised throughout tropical and warm temperate regions. In cooler temperate regions, it will die back with the first frosts, regrowing in the following spring from the tuberous roots.
The flowers usually open from late afternoon onwards, hence the first of its common names. In China, it is called the "shower flower" (Chinese: 洗澡花; Hanyu Pinyin: xǐzǎo huā) or "rice boiling flower" (煮饭花; zhǔfàn huā) because it is in bloom at the time of these activities. A curious aspect of this plant is that flowers of different colours can be found simultaneously on the same plant.
The plant does best in full sun. The roots should be soaked before planting.
Mirabilis longiflora, of the southern United States is not as showy, is less hardy, and is less often grown. It is night flowering, the flowers are mostly white, long and tubular, strongly scented.