Tropical Gardening Helpline: These cilantro-like varieties last longer in Hawaii

  • Culantro is often confused with cilantro by name and flavor but is a different plant better suited to tropical gardens. (Photo courtesy / westcoastseeds.com)
  • The Porophyllum coloratum papalo is a small leafed herb that mimics the flavor of coriander. (Courtesy fairdinkumseeds.com)

Ronnie asks: I have tried growing cilantro but it seems to bolt really quickly here. Is there another plant with a similar flavor that will last longer in my Hawaiian garden?

Tropical Gardener answer: Yes, actually three different plants have a similar flavor profile to cilantro. All are easy to grow here and seeds are available through online sources and eventually can be found at the Community Seed Library at the Kailua-Kona Public Library.

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Two varieties of the herb papalo are closely related to cilantro in flavor. Porophyllum ruderale and Porophyllum coloratum both are in the Compositae (Aster) family with relatives like asters, daisies, and sunflowers. The two varieties are quite similar but P. ruderale from Mexico has slightly larger leaves that the Bolivian native P. coloratum.

Papalo, sometimes known as papaloquelite, is not commonly grown here but a few local gardeners love the flavor and find it doesn’t bolt as quickly as cilantro. The blue-green leaves of this plant have a flavor that has been described as a mix of cilantro and arugula. It is generally used raw and added just before serving in salsas as well as other Mexican sauces and dishes.

Papalo thrives in full sun but is less likely to bolt in partial shade. To maintain leafy growth, you need to prune flower stalks when they appear. Succession planting is the best way to ensure that you always have plenty on hand.

Seeds for P. ruderale are available at johnnyseeds.com and at southernexposure.com. Seeds of P. coloratum are available at fairdinkumseeds.com. These sites also have more information on the plants.

The other cilantro alternative is culantro (Eryngium foetidum) which is in the Apiaceae (parsley) family like her cousin, true cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). Though the plants are related and the spelling of the two herbs is close, they are different in several ways.

Cilantro is a temperate climate plant native to areas of southern Europe, northern Africa and southwestern Asia. Culantro is indigenous to tropical America and the West Indies. It is used in many Latin American and Caribbean dishes as well as some Far East recipes. Though closely related botanically to cilantro, culantro has a distinctly different appearance and its leaves produce a more volatile and pungent oil.

Several of its common names refer to the plant’s appearance. Long leaf, spiny or serrated coriander are some of the names used to describe this herb. It is also known as saw-tooth, or saw-leaf herb, cilantro de monte, cinlantro habanero, Mexican coriander and ngo gai in Vietnamese.

The plant is small with lance shaped, dark green leaves that form a rosette with leaves up to eight inches long. It produces a leafy stalk with spiky light green blossoms that will eventually form seeds. To keep it in leaf production, the flowers should be removed as soon as they appear. If you want to collect seeds let a few of the plants flower and produce seeds.

Like cilantro and its other imitators, this plant will flower and bolt less often in a partial shade location. During long summer days in hot, high-light locations culantro will bolt. Unlike her cousins, culantro actually does best in rich, moist but well drained soils that are in a warm, not hot, location.

Seeds for culantro are widely available online. This plant produces a long tap root soon after seed germination and should be transplanted with care avoiding damage to the tap root.

Several online seed sources for culantro include Amazon and westcoastseeds.com.

Watch for seeds of these plants to be stocked in the Community Seed Library in a month or so. You might want to grow all three to decide which flavor you prefer and which one grows best at your location. Meanwhile, collect some Mexican and South American recipes as well as some from Southeast Asia that call for coriander to prepare for your harvest.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: “Hooulu Farmers Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

“Waimea Town Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea

“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7 a.m. to noon next to Thelma Parker Gym in front of Thelma Parker Library.

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honokaa

Plant Advice Lines

Anytime: konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu

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Mondays and Fridays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or himga@hawaii.edu