Green Culture Singapore
Feature Article for January 2006
Research & Pictures by Tan Boon Kiat & Wilson Wong
Online on 6 January 2006

Figure 1: The jade-green arrow-shaped leaves is an auspicious sign in Chinese Culture as it signifies continuous improvement.


Chinese New Year is around the corner and arrowheads will once again make their appearance in the vegetable vendor's basket. The bulb-like corms of the arrowhead, which serve as an underground storage organ for the plant, are usually imported from China for the festive season.

The arrowhead is a member of the Alismataceae family. It is a semi-aquatic plant that is botanically known as Sagittaria sagittifolia. Unlike other Sagittaria species, the arrowhead we are familiar with rarely flowers. The plant is native to China and Japan where they are cultivated in the large scale. It's attractive, jade green arrow-shaped leaves point skywards and to the Chinese, this is an auspicious sign as it signifies continuous improvement .

More importantly, the pointed end of the corm resembles the genitalia of a baby boy and to the Chinese, nothing is more important to being able to pass down the family name than to having tonnes of riches but with no heir to inherit your fortune or business. The Chinese believe that one needs to perform countless wholesome actions and accumulate many merits in our past lives before you are granted sons in the present life. Parents will cultivate arrowheads for newly wed couples hoping that they will rise to the ranks of the grandparents in the same year. It is no wonder many Chinese plant the corms to herald the New Year!


GETTING STARTED

The easiest way to grow the arrowhead is via its corms which I believe have already hit the market by the time you read this article. Rush to the wet market now before all the good ones are snapped up by kiasu Singaporeans. Arrowhead corms usually arrive in Singapore in around a month before Chinese New Year. Sometimes you may be able to buy ready-to-grow corms at the vegetable stall. The experienced vegetable vendor would have anticipated the last minute demand and began to soak some corms to initiate root and shoot growth so as to be able to supply to these customers. But growing them yourselves is very easy and economical as there is no need to foot the extra for a full grown plant. Corms are cheap! Fortunately, a month's time is all that you need to grow a pot of arrowhead plants showing luxuriant growth with large arrow-shaped leaves held up by 30cm petioles!


SELECTION OF CORMS

Figure 2 (above left): CORM of the Year for 2006!
Figure 3 (above right): Succulent corm with no yellow or brown spots
Figure 4 (below left): A green healthy growing tip.
Figure 5 (below right): Some remains attached to the base of the corm.

The first step to success is to select healthy succulent corms (Figure 2) - ensure you choose those that are not injured or rotten. Do not use corms that have brownish or yellowish spots on their surfaces (Figure 3) and bases.

Next, make sure the growing tip is green, rigid (Figure 4) and is not broken or bruised. This is where the FIRST leaf or where LIFE will appear. It will be very inauspicious if the corm fails to sprout which I will not elaborate further for obvious reasons.

You have to make sure there are some remains attached to the base of the corm (Figure 5). Do not select flat base corms. I have experienced cases where the corms crack at their base and new ones have to be bought during the eleventh hour for replacement. Cracked corms are again inauspicious. The remains will rot away naturally as the corm grows.

Figures 6 - 9 (Above): Sometimes, the offshoot is hidden.

I am not teaching you to be superstitious. I always select corms with some offsets attached (Figures 6-9). Not all corms will have offsets. If you are lucky to find one or two, quickly grab those. These are the gems. Not only your daughter-in-laws will bear you sons, but also your great daughter-in-laws and great great daughter-in-laws etc. Your family tree will flourish and there will always be continuous incense at the altar offered by your descendants.

Finally, select the smaller corms over the bigger ones (Figure 10) as the former is easier to sprout and is more vigorous. Leaves are of the same size regardless of the size of the corms. I have waited for close to 3 weeks before they start to sprout and you can imagine how pressurising it is.


POTTING UP

Figure 10 (above left): The smaller corm on the right is flavoured over the bigger brothers.
Figure 11 (above right): Fill the pot with substrate till the neck of the corm. Top up with water till all the corms are submerged including the growing tip. The corms were potted on 31 Dec 2005, about a month from Chinese New Year.

The next thing to do is to pot up the corms using either soil or water as the growing media. There are two options: soil or water. If you intend to grow the arrowhead past Chinese New Year, it is advisable to grow it in soil. The $2 top soil sold in most nursery centres will do the job. It is not necessary to purchase aquatic soil. Some people even use soil straight from their gardens and obtain good results if not better. For containers, you can use an ornate ceramic or terracotta urn, a fiber glass trough or even a recycled plastic pail. Top up the soil to a depth of about 15cm deep and plant the corms at a depth just enough to cover their necks. Fill the entire set-up with water to a level of about 10cm from the soil surface.

If you only intend to grow the arrowhead plant just for the festive season, you can plant the corms in just plain glass marbles and smooth pebbles. Put an inch of substrate at the bottom and pot up enough to cover slightly above the neck of the (Figure 11) corm for better stability to avoid top heaviness as the corms establishes. Adding substrates after the plant has matured will not help to anchor the plant anymore. It is therefore crucial to lay a good foundation at the beginning by giving a generous helping of substrate depending on the size of your pot. It is important to note that corms will float in water and hence you would need to weigh it down using several large pieces of pebble to secure the corms in place. Forget about using brown LECA balls (commonly used in hydroculture) as they are not heavy enough to weigh down the corms.


A POINT TO NOTE

Some of us soak the corms in water to ensure they produce some roots first before potting them up. This method is not recommended. This is because corms may float in an awkward position and the growing tip will, as a result, grow at a slanted angle. One will have a difficult time trying to plant the corm upright thereafter. Too many adjustments may bruise the tip and in extreme cases may break it. Thus it is best to pot up the corms immediately without disturbing the growing tip too much. Once the growing tip is broken, the Chinese believe that your son will become a daughter.

Whichever method you use to grow your plants, make sure the substrate is fine and smooth and does not contain anything that is sharp. This will prompt you to exclude sand and volcanic rocks from the growing mixture. The sharp edges can cut the corm's surface thereby injuring it. The injury then invites infection that can cause the corm to rot. Rotting of the corm one of the chief causes of collapse and premature death of the plant - something certainly not welcomed during the festive season.


LOCATION

Position the corms in a brightly lit place. Do not expose them to direct sun or the young leaves will burn.


CARE

Remember to watch out for mosquito breeding. For plants that are permanently grown in garden soil, it is advisable to rear a few guppies to gobble up larvae. Try not to feed them too frequently as this will discourage the fishes from eating the larvae. If you grow your plants in container of pebbles, do change the water and rinse the root zone thoroughly once the water turns cloudy.

As the plants grow taller, it may become necessary to stake them. Try to shelter the plants from strong winds as the succulent leaf stalks snap easily. Leaf edges will turn brown when the location is too windy. Cut away any yellowing leaves. Feeding is usually not necessary - the supply of nutrients provided by the corm is usually sufficient.

As the plant matures usually after 3 weeks of planting, it will grow thick anchor roots to support the plant. The anchor roots also double up as feeding roots and during this stage of growth, the corms will decay slowly. Depending on the depth that you have potted the corms and the amount of substrate you use in the initial potting stage, the plant may or may not collapse. If they do, staking is required and usually they will not do well since their soft stems may have already snapped at the corm level. The soil alternative may prove to be better. By the time the plant deteriorates, new year is almost ending and is a matter of time before you throw them away.

You can continue to grow the soil-potted arrowhead after Chinese New Year and who knows, they may produce little corms for you.


USES

The sliced corms when fried taste heavenly good. Better than potato chips. After you have tasted this, We doubt you will like your potato chips anymore. The interior of the starchy corm is cream-coloured and is peeled, sliced and fried which are best consumed while watching your favourite television programmes during the new year. Corms should be sliced as thinly as possible to enhance its crunchiness when fried. As the corms are very starchy and tend to stick to one another when left for too long, it is best to lay all the slices individually on a tray etc before throwing them in the frying kwali.

The most time consuming part is the frying process. You have to slowly wait for the slices to turn from cream to a golden yellow colour. They burn very easily just in a split second if you are too slow and full concentration is therefore demanded when frying these chips. During frying, you have to constantly stir the chips to prevent them from sticking to one another.






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