Popular in Indonesian, Malaysian, and Philippine recipes, pandan leaves are floral, grassy, and sweet, much like vanilla beans. They create green food coloring and give basmati rice, jasmine rice, and white bread their characteristic aromas.
Unknown in the wild, the only way to create a pandan plant is through cuttings and suckers. Pandan is a wholly human-created plant that has been around since ancient times. When I say human-created, I do not mean someone was splicing genes 5,000 years ago. Instead, people cultivated pandan vegetatively for specific traits. Plants generated in this way are called cultigens.
Pandan plants are available for purchase, or you may be able to get a cutting from a friend. As always, place new plants in quarantine when you bring them home. Just in case.
Being tropical plants, pandan plants prefer moist, loose soil. They grow best with plenty of bright sunlight but can also grow in partial shade (or in your living room). When watering your pandan, keep the leaves and crown free of water. If your pandan is in a container, it is best to water from the base, filling the saucer instead of from above. The addition of a small amount of vermiculite can lighten the soil, as well as improve its moisture-holding ability. In winter, pandan plants need significantly less water. In summer, they need more to prevent sunburn.
Pandan pests and diseases
If the leaves start yellowing, it is probably due to overwatering. Allow the top 2 or 3 inches of soil to dry before adding water. Too much moisture often leads to root rot. Yellowing leaves may also indicate aphid, mealybug, or mite infestations.
Profoundly cheaper than vanilla, a pandan plant might be just what you’ve been looking for!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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