Variegated Tapioca Adds A Tropical Flare
To Texas' Summer Landscape
All but one (SuperSun Coleus in 1995) of the Texas Superstar™ plants
You don't have to worry about variegated tapioca "going out of bloom".
Instead, the plants offer foliage as colorful as most flowers with the
added advantage of providing a show all summer. Note the scientific name
of this selection is 'Variegata' because of its variegated leaves. The
common Tapioca which is native to South America (Brazil and Paraguay)
has green leaves. Often this variegated form will have a green sprout
or shoot appear. Any green shoots or foliage should be removed immediately
or it will become dominant over the variegated foliage. The normal, green
form of this plant will also grow much faster and larger than the variegated
form. The 'Variegata' screams "fiesta" in the summer landscape
and it is one of the few variegated plants on which the foliage will not
be damaged by intense, direct summer sunlight. Plants work great as centerpieces
where taller plants are needed in the center of circular plantings or
as backgrounds for lower growing annual bedding plants. Perhaps the premier
use of this variegated plant is as a patio or dooryard container specimen
where it thrives despite the reflected heat from concrete or pavement.
Tapioca is one of the common names of Manihot esculenta 'Variegata' as
is cassada, cassava, manioc, yuca, mandioca, shushu, muk shue, cassave,
maniok, tapioka, imanoka, maniba, kasaba, katela boodin. The reason we
chose the name tapioca is because it is the name of a favorite dessert
of mine - tapioca pudding. Tapioca is sort of like Poke Salad made from
Poke weed in the Southeastern U.S.-- if the cook doesn't know what he
is doing, the meal will kill you! Cooking destroys the prussic acid. In
South America, the green leafed Tapioca is grown for its enlarged starch-filled
tuberous roots. There is a bitter, poisonous- and a sweet, - nonpoisonous
variety of tapioca; however the skin stays poisonous and the sweet variety
must be peeled. There are hydrocyanic glucosides (HCN) in all parts of
the plant; these glucosides are removed by peeling and boiling in water.
The peeled roots of the sweet variety is what the original tapioca pudding
was made. I remember enjoying a version of this when I was a baby in Tennessee.
I wonder if they were trying to poison me?!? The root of the bitter variety
is very poisonous when raw but cooking destroys the hydrocyanic acid --
the cooking water must be discarded just as when cooking Poke Salad. The
young leaves are used as vegetable and contain a high amount of vitamin
A and C but older leaves are not often used. The bitter ones are grated,
diluted in water and pressed in a cylindrical basket-work "press"
to extract the juice. The paste of tapioca can be baked into pancake-like
bread while the extracted juice is fermented into a strong liquor called
kasiri. The juice can also be concentrated and sweetened until it becomes
a dark viscous syrup called kasripo (casareep). This syrup has antiseptic
properties and is used for flavoring. All of this is to warn folks that
variegated tapioca is a clone of a tropical food plant, however, the milky
sap of the foliage contains cyanide compounds and SHOULD NOT BE EATEN.
Instead of eating this beautiful ornamental plant, go to the closest fast
food place to satisfy your hunger. Also, don't worry about your pets eating
enough to hurt themselves because all parts of the plants contain distasteful
cyanide compounds and have a rough texture which is not very palatable.
Deer will eat tapioca but it does not spoil the venison.
Variegated tapioca is a heat lover being from South America and does
not grow vigorously until night temperatures are warm in spring In fact
the foliage will exhibit chilling injury when night temperatures dip much
below 50 degrees F. As long as it is hot, variegated tapioca will thrive
in most any well drained soil or container potting mix, tolerating a wide
range of pH. Variegated tapioca responses to supplemental fertilization
of a side-dress application (one cup full distributed evenly around the
plant) of a slow-release formulation every month and weekly irrigation
in lieu of rainfall-- the soil should be constantly moist and mulch should
be used. Plants will grow just as well in alkaline (South central Texas)
soil as they will in acidic (East Texas) soils. They are somewhat tolerant
to foliar salt exposure in the Coastal Bend area. Full sun brings out
the best foliage color, but plants will tolerate partial shade although
the foliage will be less dense and not as vibrant in color. Avoidance
of over-watering is critical to success-this is NOT a swamp plant.
Variegated tapioca offers a bold exciting tropical addition to our summer
palette of annuals used for foliage color in Texas. This plant has been
used at one time or another in every major Botanical Garden in Texas.
The first planting I was impressed by was at Stephen F. Austin and planted
by Greg Grant. I later learned that Paul Cox had used it at the San Antonio
Botanical Garden in the 1980's. Try some this summer and enjoy the foliage