This online guide has been created for you to successfully grow a variety of plants that thrive in the tropics, using native seeds and plants to get growing with wise advice from fellow backyard gardeners and farmers.   You are welcome to add your wisdom and share growing and harvest tips and recipes. Send to
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Tropical Garden Grow Guide

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Chaya is insect and disease resistant and very easy to grow.
Botanic name: Nidoscolus chayamansa) or (Cnidosolus acontifolius)
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
73% to full sun
Soil Preference
Grows well in most soil types in Belize
Soil Ph
Depth to plant
12" - 18" Stems are planted at least 6" deep
Generally starts producing leaves in 1 month or less
Can grow to be 12'. For easy harvesting, best to prune to about 6' in height
About 12" between stalks. Some grow chaya as a living fence

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Featured plant for the month of June
(Submitted by Mary Loan)

Chaya, also known as 'tree spinach', is a very easy-to-grow leafy green vegetable that grows on stalks as a nutritious and delicious perennial plant.  There are two main varieties, wild and cultivated.   Wild chaya has thorns that sting.  Both cultivated and wild chaya have a sticky white sap that can cause itchy skin for some.  Harvesting by wearing a plastic bag or glove helps.  Ask your friends and neighbors for a few stems, or ask on this page to meet up with folks who have chaya stems to share. 

To grow:  Find a sunny spot close to your house.  This makes it easier to harvest when you are making dinner.  Pull the weeds from the planting area and with a spade or shovel loosen the soil to at least 12 inches deep and 12 inches across.  Cut a few stems of chaya at least 12 inches long.  Plant each stem at least 6 inches deep and water well each day until leaves sprout from the sticks.  Then, water about once a week if there is no rain. Be careful not to overwater.  Plants sprout leaves for harvest in a few weeks.  Once chaya is growing, beware; plants can grow to be 20', so be sure to prune the chaya before the tops grow too tall for you to reach, generally 6-8' in height.  Pruned tops of plants can be deleafed and planted around your garden or shared with family and friends.

Recipe: Pick a handful of chaya leaves, using gloves or a plastic bag over your hands if you are sensitive to the sap.  Rinse, then cut the leaves into 1/2 inch slices with a knife or scissors.  Gently boil or steam the leaves for a few minutes until tender; add them to any recipe that calls for greens, such as stir fries or soups  Once cooled, the leaves can be added as a 'smoothie' ingredient.

Chaya must be cooked to release the cyanogenic glycosides.  Information on the internet recommends cooking chaya for 5 -20 minutes. It seems 5 minutes is adequate for steaming or boiling the leaves.

Health benefits of chaya include: rich in protein, iron, vitamin A, fiber and calcium. The Chaya plant flowers attract bees and butterflies
Please add your chaya growing advice and recipes and share with all.

More Chaya Info
(Submitted by Maruja Vargas)

Some comments. Cyanogenic glycosides are carried off in the steam coming off from the boiling water.  It is only necessary a few minutes of boiling to release the glycosides. I recommend one not lean over the pot and inhale the steam! The boiled chaya leaves can then be fried, such as the locals do who love fried chaya and eggs.  Older locals here also finely chop the leaves without boiling, and then fry them.  I suspect that the combination of the finely chopped pieces and the extreme heat also releases the glycosides.

Historically, it also recognized that the glycosides are also released (structurally, mechanically), by extremely fine chopping, such as the mashing of the leaves in a blender. As each small morsel of the mashed leaf is exposed to the atmosphere, the glycosides are released. The traditional beverage of the Yucatan is a blended drink of fresh pineapple pieces, fresh chaya leaves, water and ice. It is served in all restaurants in Yucatan.

Finely chopped fresh chaya can be added to the boiling water prepared for rice, beans, soups, etc. As chaya can sometimes be 'tough',  chopping it finely seems to improve the final dish. 

Harvesting: I suggest that the chaya be harvested by cutting an entire stem (not the main stalk) say at 4 to 6 feet height. The leaves can then be removed and the stem replanted into the soil.  It does not seem to serve the plant well if only the leaves are plucked off leaving the stem..  Experience shows me that the new leaves generally emerge at the end of the stalk. This is the reason for harvesting the entire stalk at 4 to 6 feet height.