Given the relative scarcity of English language cultivation information available online, we thought we’d put together this brief overview of and tutorial on how to grow Phyllodium pulchellum. Currently, the seeds themselves seem to be somewhat hard to find too – at least through Western outlets – but where there’s a will, there’s a way! This guide is therefore the result of much research and limited time for practical experimentation, so let us know if you’ve experience of growing this fascinating species and we’ll update it as necessary…
Phyllodium pulchellum (syn. Desmodium pulchellum, Dicerma pulchellum, Hedysarum pulchellum, Meibomia pulchella, Zornia pulchella) is a downy perennial shrub of the Fabaceae, widespread to parts of Australia, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
Generally growing at altitudes of between two hundred and two thousand metres, pulchellum prefers to grow in forests and thickets, on grassy fields and wasteland, hills and mountains, roadsides and (sometimes) watercourses. It’s a delicately attractive, insect-pollinated species, covered in fine grey-white hairs and growing erectly to roughly two and a half metres tall.
The plant’s branching stems tend toward woody, sprouting with green oval-ish leaves which are up to approximately thirteen centimetres in length. Tiny (five or six millimetres long) white flowers are joined by hairy, oblong-shaped fruits, podlike and often multi-jointed.
As with some of the (formerly) related Desmodium species, Pulchellum has long been used in various Asian traditional medicine – notably by practitioners of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Parts and/or decoctions of the plant have treated (and are still being used to treat) ailments including abdominal pain and sickness, abscesses, blood clots, bone pains, colds and fevers, contusions and sprains, convulsions, delirium, diarrhoea, eye disease, haemorrhage, headache, liver and spleen problems, jaundice, malaria, menstrual and post-partum problems, poisoning, puerperium, rheumatic fever and rheumatism, snakebite, toothache, ulcers, urinary dysfunction and weight gain. Moreover, modern scientific studies suggest the plant possesses anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant and anti-diarrheal properties. The plant also has nitrogen-fixing abilities and is further used in traditional Indian brewing, as an insect repellent and to cleanse property of bedbugs.
Perhaps due to both its expanded habitat and its popularity in various medicinal traditions, pulchellum has earned so many informal name in so many languages that we’ll dedicate nearly a whole paragraph to them! Here’s all the names we could find: ‘Ang-prom’, ‘Angel Locks’, ‘Apa-apa sapi’, ‘Birkapi’, ‘Calaicai’, ‘Calayacay’, ‘Caliacay’, ‘Chapor’, ‘Dheknanadak’, ‘Gaan-gaan’, ‘Huan ye xiao huai hua’, ‘Jatsalpan’, ‘Jatasalpar’, ‘Jatasalpara’, ‘Jeetedari’, ‘Jenukaddi’, ‘Jian ye a po qian’, ‘Jotasalopornni’, ‘Jutasalpani’, ‘Kadukuralite’, ‘Kadumuduru’, ‘Kadunhuralite’, ‘Kalaikai’, ‘Karrantinta’, ‘Kattumutira’, ‘Ked linz no:yz’, ‘Ketipes’, ‘Klet plaa chon’, ‘Kodakotirichunddo’, ‘Kondotinta’, ‘Krishnopornii’, ‘Lin wan zii shu’, ‘Lodhrah’, ‘Lodram’, ‘Long lin cao’, ‘Manguit’, ‘Pai chien cao’, ‘P’ai chien ts’ao’, ‘Pai qian cao’, ‘Pai qian shu’, ‘Payang-payang’, ‘Phyllodion gracieux’, ‘Prae kraoy’, ‘Salperni’, ‘Sarivi’, ‘Serengan kechil’, ‘Showy Desmodium’, ‘String of Coins’, ‘Takamala’, ‘Thap’, ‘‘Tigure’, ‘‘Toungtamin’, ‘Uchiwa-tsunagi’, ‘Ursi’, ‘Wu shi ye’, ‘Ya po qian’, ‘Yaa klet lin’ and ‘Yaa song plong’.
Hopefully we’ve kept your attention thus far, so read on if you want to learn how to grow Phyllodium pulchellum from seed!
How to Grow Phyllodium pulchellum from Seed
- Phyllodium pulchellum seeds
- Organic fertiliser (e.g. seaweed emulsion)
- Plant pots
- Potting mix
- Seedling tray (or similar container – we recycle plastic tubs and bottles for this purpose)
- Translucent plastic bag (or the end of a plastic drinks bottle)
- Fluorescent lights (optional)
- Fungicide (optional)
- Microwave (optional)
- Reportedly, Phyllodium pulchellum seeds enter a state of dormancy subsequent to their first month of existence. To wake them up, either soak them in hot but not boiling water for a few hours prior to planting, or else soak them in cold water for at least a day.
- Mix up your potting soil. It needs to be well-drained, so we suggest using something along the lines of 75% coarse sand to 25% coco coir or peat moss, or else a store-bought potting mix blended in equal proportion with coarse sand.
- (Optional:) Pasteurise the potting mix in a microwave to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria and other nasties interfering with Phyllodium pulchellum’s development.
- Fill up your seedling tray with the potting mix. Save enough to make a fine top layer a few steps from now.
- Carefully sow each of your seeds onto the surface of the soil, spacing them a few centimetres apart from each other.
- Very lightly, mist the area directly above the seeds (indirectly, so that the spray doesn’t disturb the seeds).
- Sieve the remaining potting mix to remove any larger organic debris, then sprinkle a very fine layer on top of the seeds.
- Cover the tray with a clear plastic bag (or the end of a plastic drinks bottle). This will help to maintain a suitably friendly microclimate in which the seeds can germinate.
- Place the container somewhere with a lot of bright, filtered sunlight (or you can try using fluorescent lights on an eighteen hours on, six hours off daily cycle).
- From this point onward, it is vital to ensure that the soil is never allowed to dry out completely. Maintain moisture at a damp, but not sopping wet, level and all should be fine!
- Dependent on the many factors involved (e.g. seed viability, genetics, climate, etc.), germination will take anywhere from five days to over a month. Researchers and enthusiasts generally seem to report germination rates somewhere in the region of thirty to sixty percent, provided the seed is healthy and of good quality.
- Once your seedlings are a few centimetres tall, transfer them from the tray and carefully separate them into individual pots (filled with more well-drained potting soil and perhaps a pinch of organic fertiliser).
- Place the young plants somewhere in bright but filtered light. Partial sun is good (or under grow lights). If growing indoors, try to do so in a well-ventilated location, so as to minimise the risks of unwanted pests (such as the dreaded Mealy Bugs)!
- Thoroughly water each seedling, but don’t soak them. Remember, never let the soil dry out completely – this species likes it moist!
- Once your pulchellum plants are well-established, slowly introduce them to full sun, watering as needed.
- Keep the plants moist and pot on to larger containers as needed, fertilising them biannually.
- Once mature, regularly cut the plants back by approximately one third subsequent to flowering to encourage them to become bushier and to produce more flowers.
- Well done, now you know how to grow Phyllodium pulchellum from seed!