One of the biggest challenges for our farm is the poor soil. Mulch! mulch! mulch! is our motto. (And munch, munch, munch! is our practice.) We have been trying to improve it, from adding cow manure and red mud to “chopping and dropping” green manure and distributing the dry leaves of our honge tree among the saplings every year. I had written earlier about our efforts with plants like moringa and glyricidia. Given our limited success with these, I am always on the lookout for miracle plants that fix nitrogen and enrich the soil. So imagine my delight when I discovered Tithonia diversifolia, the Mexican sunflower.
I might have mentioned before that we are also flower challenged; in an effort to bring in more colour, I keep filching cuttings from our neighbour, Chitra, who has a gorgeous collection of flowers.
Trying to identify this particular flower (thanks, Google Lens, for being sensible for once instead of suggesting outrageous matches), I found that Tithonia, though not a legume, is some sort of super hero in the plant world.
“Mexican sunflower can be easily propagated by direct seeding or by… cuttings. It is easy to grow and does not require fertilizer or special attention. It tolerates regular heavy pruning… (and) is a fast-growing plant that tolerates heat and drought and can rapidly form large herbaceous shrubs. It is adaptable to most soils. It is found in disturbed areas, abandoned and waste lands, along roadsides and waterways and on cultivated farmlands. Mexican sunflower produces a nutrient-rich (N, K and P) biomass and its positive effect on subsequent rice and maize crops has been reported from Africa and Brazil... Its abundance and adaptability, coupled with its rapid growth rate and very high vegetative matter turnover, makes it a candidate species for soil rejuvenation and improvement, as a green manure or as a major component of compost manure. ” From https://www.feedipedia.org/node/15645
Tithonia has certainly proved its adaptability on our land, where “quick stick” glyricidia and moringa struggle to survive: can you belive these cuttings were shoved into a pot three days ago, and they already have leaves?
These were planted about three months ago, when the rain was shunning us; and they are already blooming away.
Tithonia is also considered invasive in some countries. But in this foster land of lantana and parthenium, I say – invade away!
Just now, thanks to a bountiful monsoon, everything is growing energetically. I have planted a dozen cuttings of Tithonua in the ragi and groundnut fields, the banana patch and so on, and am eagerly awaiting developments. Meanwhile, I’m investigating the soil improvement potential of winged beans, another wondrous and prolific producer that feels at home in our poor soil. Look out for more on this later. Say not the muggle naught availeth!