chaya (aka tree spinach)
Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) aka spinach tree is one of my favorite plants in our zone 9b food forest. For so many reasons:
- One of our most visited pollinator plants.
- Fast growing, great for chop & drop.
- super easy to propagate by cuttings
- edible when cooked.
- great survival plant.
Chaya as a pollinator plant
The flowers on a chaya plant are in bloom often and serve as a great food source for many bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects.
The male and female flowers bloom from a long stem that emerges from in between the leaves. After the flowers are pollinated, a larger, round green seed pod will emerge.
Chaya growing characteristics:
Chaya quickly grows to 6+ feet in height and the wide leaves will spread about 4 feet wide.
I had a 6 foot tall chaya that became too big for the space, and rather than removing it, I just cut it down. I left a 2 foot tall trunk so I could use it as a plant stake. But a few weeks later, it had fully recovered and was a big beautiful tree again.
I have spread Chaya cuttings all throughout the food forest and they grow well no matter where I put them.
They grow in a variety of soil conditions on the property, they are drought tolerant and can handle moist soil.
Just like their lack of preference for soil conditions, Chaya also doesn’t really mind if it gets full sun or part shade.
They are one of the few plants that have survived in the corner planter that receive full, blazing sun in the summer, and spend the winter in full shade.
Chaya grows best in zones 9-11. My chaya trees are some of the first to show frost damage if temperatures fall to the low 30s.
These resilient plants are both drought tolerant and tolerant of moist soil.
I have chaya growing in several wet, low-lying spots as well as some high and dry spots.
I cut off yellow leaves and cut the tree back throughout the year, as needed.
Chaya is so easy to propagate from cutting that you can simply cut off a branch and throw it in the yard where it will soon grow, and root itself into the ground.
Raw Chaya is toxic, but cooked chaya is commonly eaten across the globe for it’s wonderful medicinal properties. I have read you have to refresh the water during cooking, and that it is not recommended to breath in the vapors as it’s being cooked or boiled. Then, it is simply prepared and cooked like spinach to be used in wraps, omelets, soups, and stews.
For now, I grow it because it is easy to grow by cutting and it is one of my best pollinator plants.
I haven’t noticed my chaya trees serving as a host plant for any insects. There are never any bites taken out of the leaves, which may be because they are toxic.
when and how to plant chaya
When cut, it will bleed out a white sap.