The genus Tithonia in the daisy family (Asteraceae) includes 10-15 species of bushy annuals, perennials and shrubs native to Mexico and Central America that have large, brightly colored daisy-like flowers on thick stems. Mexican sunflower, T. diversifolia, is a vigorous, drought tolerant warm season annual that is easy to grow in the ornamental garden with other common names of red sunflower of just tithonia.
Tithonia plants grow 6-12+ feet tall, with a large central stalk. If you prune them they grow into denser “bushes” In Hawaiʻi these plants grow excellent as attractive privacy barriers. They are also excellent for permaculture applications where chop and drop is preferred.
Gliricidia sepium is a fast growing nitrogen fixing legume tree. Excellent permaculture tree for establishing food forests quickly. Best planted by 2-4 ft woody cuttings but smaller semi woody cuttings can be used. Several small slits are cut at base of cutting to encourage rooting. Gliricidia will typically be a 8 ft tree within a year from planting, growing up to 30 + ft if left unpruned. Great for chop and drop and free fertilizer. Plant 10-15 ft from fruit trees and when cut back (up to 2x a year mulch) is used to feed neighboring fruit trees.
The Gliricidia tree releases nitrogen from nodules that form on the roots system every time it is cut back this in turn feeds all plant life around it with nitrogen saving a lot of work in hauling in manure and fertilizer. Good to plant in planned orchards before fruit trees are planted to act as a nurse tree providing windbreak, and semi shade to young vulnerable fruit trees. Once established it will provide quick shelter meaning less grass and weeds to maintain around trees. Can be used in conjunction with fast growing shrubs like cassava and other quick shorter legumes to make a swift transition from grassland to forest. Can be used on garden edges if regularly pruned to provide constant source of mulch to protect tropical soil and suppress garden weeds, or tilled in for green manure 2 weeks before planting.
Gliricidia is a fixture in shade grown cacao production where it got its nickname “mother of cacao”. However In most systems it is phased out once fruit trees establish a canopy and by then has provided 100’s of pounds of free nitrogen and tons of mulch. If planted with bananas and cassava and other shrub / tree perennials parallel to slope or contour in rows it will provide nearly complete shade around plantings. This method is a great way to phase out grasses and weeds from polyculture systems in the lowland tropics. This ultimately saves on a huge amount of labor and gas that would be spent hand weeding, mowing and weedwhacking in the early stages of orchard establishment.
Sissoo spinach (also called Brazilian spinach, and whose scientific name is Alternanthera sissoo) is a low growing 10-20 inch herb. Culinarily, people use sissoo leaves as a decent spinach substitute. Sissoo also thrives in the tropics in poor or rich soil and can easily be grown from cuttings. This type of spinach can be eaten raw but is usually cooked.
Landscaping with Sissoo Spinach Cuttings
Sissoo spinach really shines as a ground cover and a edge plant. It fills in fast and can also be dug out as a whole plant, replanted and kept moist. It practically just reanimates if weather is not too hot and it fills in understory of shrubs and taller herbs very nicely. This works great for planting on the edge of lawns and trails because you can mow right up to it and it maintains a nice aesthetic and provides a sense of food security as a bonus.
I love to use it in combination with African blue basil, and or comfrey. All of these plants fill in space quickly shade the ground bellow and create a very beautiful look. Getting your edges planted first with plants like sissoo and comfrey means less encroaching weeds will bother your garden, lawns, or paths and less weedwhacking and weeding has to be done when mower can mow close to your edges. Once well established they are almost . free.