677 Tropaeolum majusCommon Names: nasturtium, garden nasturtium, Indian cress Family: Tropaeolaceae (nasturtium Family)
Nasturtiums are bright and happy little flowers, that even the Grinch could not help but love. Many cultivars have been derived from Tropaeolum majus, including climbing types and dwarf, bushy types. All have rounded or kidney shaped leaves with wavy-margins. The leaves are pale green, about 2-5 in (5.1-12.7 cm) across, and are borne on long petioles like an umbrella. The flowers typically have five petals, although there are double and semi-double varieties. The flowers are about 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) in diameter and come in a kaleidoscope of colors including russet, pink, yellow, orange, scarlet and crimson. A white flowered cultivar was bred in the 19th century but apparently has been lost. The five sepals are united into a cuplike calyx, and one of the sepals is modified into a nectar-bearing spur 1 in (2.5 cm) or more long. All parts of the plant have a peppery taste, similar to arugula or water cress.
The Alaska Series are small, growing to 18 in (45.7 cm), bushy plants with single flowers and white mottled leaves and are sometimes classified as T. minus; the Jewel Series have double flowers; and the Gleam Series are trailing or climbing plants that can get 2-5 ft (0.6-1.5 m) long; each comes in a variety of colors. The cultivar, 'Peach Melba' is small, to 12 in (30.5 cm) tall, with petals that are pale yellow with orange centers; 'Salmon Baby' has pink flowers with fringed petals; and 'Hermine Grasshof' and 'Burpeei' have double, bright red flowers that do not produce seed; they must be propagated from stem cuttings.
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, is native to the South American Andes from Bolivia to Columbia.
CultureGarden nasturtium does best in light, sandy soils. Too much nitrogen fertilizer will produce an abundance of foliage and few flowers. Light: Does well in full sun or light shade. Nasturtiums appreciate a little midday shade in summer. Moisture: Nasturtiums are fairly tolerant of drought, but do best with regular watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 11. Plant this annual in spring in zones 4-8 and in winter in zones 9-11. Nasturtiums cannot tolerate a hard freeze, but usually will sprout back after a light frost or freeze. Nasturtiums do best with warm days and cool nights. They stop flowering in the heat of summer. Propagation: Plant nasturtium seeds after the last frost in the garden where they will be grown, as they do not transplant well.
The dwarf, bushy nasturtiums add rainbows of cheerful color in annual beds and borders. Use the trailing forms on low fences or trellises, on a gravelly or sandy slope, or in a hanging container. Many gardeners include nasturtiums in the salad garden. Nasturtiums are attacked by aphids, and organic gardeners like to plant lots of them all around the vegetable patch to serve as aphid "lures." Nasturtium flowers, leaves and immature seed pods have a tangy taste like water cress, and the colorful flowers really brighten up a green salad. Add some nasturtium flowers to an herb vinegar. The immature pods can be pickled. The mature seeds can be roasted for eating out of hand or used like black pepper.
Nasturtiums are perfect for introducing kids (and beginners of any age) to gardening. The seeds are very large making them easy for smaller children to manipulate. The plants germinate quickly, grow rapidly and have large showy flowers. The fact that they are edible (as opposed to toxic!) makes nasturtium the number one plant for budding gardeners.
Nasturtiums are very easy to grow and the seeds are large and easy for children to handle. They are pretty, fairly long-lasting flowers and the young gardener will be proud to make an arrangement of cut flowers or add them to the family's salad plate.
Hummingbirds insert their long bills into nasturtium flower spurs to sip the nutritious nectar. When they do this, they get some pollen on their faces and then they do the nasturtium's bidding by delivering the pollen to another flower.
Steve Christman 4/23/00; updated 12/7/03, 5/16/05