Test Your Knowledge - May

An okra blossom
An okra flower
Karen Russ - ©HGIC, Clemson Extension

Yes, this is an okra flower. Like all the other choices listed, okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is in the Mallow family, Malvaceae. This family of plants is also sometimes called the Hibiscus family. Okra is a surprisingly (for anyone who has not grown it) ornamental vegetable. Like other relatives, it has a typical showy hibiscus-type flower - light yellow with a dark burgundy center. Okra leaves are large, deeply lobed and have a bold, tropical appearance.

The red-leafed okra varieties, such as ‘Red Velvet’, ‘Royal Burgundy’ (a 1988 All-America Selection winner) and others, are especially attractive as focal points or backdrops in flower borders. Numerous other varieties – often with red in the name - have deep red pods and bright green leaves. Red okra seeds are often shared between gardeners as “passalong” plants, and many of these have red pods and stems, but green leaves. ‘Little Lucy’, a 1998 All-America Selection winner, is a truly dwarf, red okra that grows to only 2 feet tall. It has red leaves and stems. The 3-inch-wide peachy yellow flowers are veined with red. ‘Little Lucy’ okra is terrific used either in flower borders or containers. ‘Silver Queen’ okra has pale lime-green pods that contrast with the deep green leaves. Red or purple okra pods turn green when cooked and are not startling on the plate.

A red-podded, green-leaved okra
A red-podded, green-leaved okra.
Creative Commons license 2.0, MGShelton, flickr

Okra is an annual and is grown from seed sown after the soil has thoroughly warmed in spring. Seed should not be planted in the spring before the soil temperature is about 65 °F at the 4-inch depth. The optimum soil temperature for seed germination is 70 to 95 °F. Okra can be grown on all soil types, although sandy loam soils high in organic matter are the most desirable. It is important that the soil be well-drained. Plant okra in full sun for best productivity.

For more information on growing okra, either in a vegetable or flower garden (or both!), see HGIC 1313, Okra.

For information on growing okra’s other ornamental hibiscus relatives, see HGIC 1179, Hibiscus.

Karen Russ
Home & Garden Information Center

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