Thursday, August 12, 2010

Unfinished business: Pandanus amaryllifolius

You may remember that last week I was very excited about receiving a Pandanus amaryllifolius I'd ordered from Gardino Nursery. I placed the order on a Friday, had confirmation it had shipped the following Tuesday, and received it in the mail on Friday again. Which, one week between placing the order and receiving the plant isn't bad at all.

And for about the first ten minutes, I was pretty happy. It was packed well, and the plant was a decent size:

The plant. Pot diameter is 5".

So naturally I set about trying to smell it, because smelling the plant and figuring out why anybody would want to cook with it was the entire point of getting one in the first place. And . . . nothing. The plant itself doesn't appear to have an odor. So I pulled off a leaf and sniffed the broken end. Nothing. Then I furiously ground the leaf between my hands and sniffed. I'd describe the smell as being about equal parts cut grass and mushrooms, but not the good, earthy, fresh-smelling kind of mushroom smell. It was more the musty, quiet-rot kind of mushroom smell.

So this was already pretty disappointing already. (The husband suggests that maybe there's no pleasant aroma until the leaves are cooked, that heat is a critical ingredient in the process. Which is possible. I won't know for a while, for reasons I'll get to.) I took some pictures to document the plant anyway, because even if it looks pretty much the same as P. veitchii, I like P. veitchii, and amaryllifolius at least has much tinier marginal spines on the leaves (they're still there, but only barely, and they don't hurt, plus amaryllifolius doesn't appear to have any spines at all under the leaves along the midrib, which is helpful). And I try to get pictures of all new plants anyway, in case I want to write a post about them later, or need to prove that they've grown, or whatever. And picture-taking went fine for a little while.

And then I turned the plant to get a different angle and discovered -- mealybugs!

See 'em?

How about now? Makes me shudder just to look at the picture.

So. More picture-taking, followed by an e-mail to Gardino, showing them the mealybugs and asking for a refund or replacement.

["Jeopardy" music plays]

A couple hours later, I got an e-mail back from Gardino, saying that of course they'd send a replacement, and they were very sorry for any inconvenience, and so on, which was both A) an impressively quick response and B) more or less exactly what I wanted to hear. I was told that someone would contact me within a couple days regarding the replacement.

On Sunday night, someone contacted me about the replacement. Specifically, he apologized, again, and said he could send a clean replacement but wanted to know whether I wanted them to treat the plant first for bugs, just in case some were hiding or whatever. (Which is fair: mealybugs will hide.) I e-mailed back Sunday night to say that I did want the plant sprayed. (I wasn't planning on cooking with it anyway: my interest had always only been in smelling the plant.) And that was the last of the communication, as of Wednesday (yesterday) night. I don't doubt that they're sending a replacement plant, but I'm surprised they didn't say when they were sending it.

I'm undecided about whether or not it's worth hanging on to the first plant. I can't imagine I'll ever trust it not to have bugs, but at the same time, throwing it out seems like an overreaction. So far, I've given it a rubbing-alcohol rubdown, followed by being neemed to within an inch of its life for three or four days in a row, and then I put it outside on the north side of the plant room, this being the only spot I had available for plants that couldn't handle full sun where it wouldn't get mealybugs on anything else I cared about.

The Neoregelia to the left is the same plant that had scale a while back, and then flowered. It still has scale bumps on it, but I'm not sure if those are actual living bugs, or just dead scale that just haven't fallen off yet. I couldn't find any on the tops of the leaves, or the undersides -- all I see are around the base. But I've decided not to continue taking the risk. The Neoregelia will continue to live outside until it burns up, cleans up, or freezes.

So overall, Pandanus amaryllifolius has been a disappointment so far, though very little of that is Gardino's fault, and they've been very nice about fixing the part that was their fault. So I'd buy from them again, why not.

The question remains: I would like to know how one is supposed to get a pleasant, edible-type smell out of the plant, 'cause musty grass doesn't really do it for me. James Missier? Autumn Belle? Anybody?


Paul said...

When I lived in CA, a bangla friend of mine's mom had one growing in the ground and it smelled lovely- she would cook with it. Per my own experience, a lot of plants won't stinkpretty in pots. Totally different family, but one example - I had a double datura metel that was potted for 2 yrs. It would bloom, but never smell. When I finally put it in the ground, the blooms had that unmistakeable musky citrusy smell. The blooms also turned yellowish.

Death to all mealybugs, too. I hate them, bloodybejesus.

Pat said...

Good news.

Heated pandan leaves at 100°C for 10min at pH 7.0 produced a clean pandan aroma. Heated samples had 10 volatile compounds as listed in Table 3. The major volatile compound in pandan was 3-methyl-2(5H)-furanone (with a harsh, sweet, medicinal odor) followed by ACPY (pandan odor). 3-Methyl-2(5H)-furanone was also the major volatile compounds in unheated pandan...

Sorry, I couldn't find a paper that states that mealy bugs are good for your plants.

Pat said...

You might want to give them an amino acid/wetting agent foliar spray to get the strongest flavour.

Unknown said...

I really need to get a Panadus of my own. I'm glad everything was sorted out without too much trouble. You know, if you cook the leaves WITH mealybugs you could get some extra protein. What a great solution!

Rohrerbot said...

That's funny!! I suppose you wouldn't notice them when used in cooking:) Hold onto may surprise you yet....I've that happen on several occassions:)

Han said...

When I was a child, my mother used to cook rice with pandan leaves. She just cut few leaves, knotted them and put them in the pot on top of rice and water. She took them out when the rice is cooked, then the rice has slightly pandan taste/smell.

She baked pandan cake too, the cake was green and had strong pandan taste. Unfortunately I don't know how she baked it.

Steve Asbell said...

I. Hate. Mealybugs. I just can't get rid of them and they always hide in the leaf axils. In the garden I have plenty of predators to keep them in check but not on the balcony.
I don't know about the pandanus, but I'm sure it has to be the right one. I've been wanting one for my Thai spice garden but will probably wait til I buy one in person so I can smell it.

mr_subjunctive said...


Still nothing as of Saturday. Which leaves me scratching my head a bit.


The link you provided seemed pretty clear that heat is critical to the process (and incidentally confirmed for me that there really is a musty/mushroom smelling-compound in there somewhere, which was gratifying). I'll have to try this out soonish and report back. I'm intrigued by the description of the odor as popcorn-like.


Well, I suppose mealybugs probably would digest the same as anything else. Can't say the idea of eating some is making me particularly hungry, but on the other hand there's a certain primal, warrior-eating-the-heart-of-his-enemies-to-acquire-their-strength thing going on there, which has a tiny bit of appeal.

Han: I think maybe I linked to something in the Pandanus profile about using P. amaryllifolius in cake. Or surely it can't be that tough to find a recipe on-line. I'll look into it.

Rainforest Gardener:

I think one of my mealybug outbreaks came in on some used plastic pots, of all things. They've taken a really long time to eliminate, too. And I'm not actually positive that they're gone, though they at least seem to be contained.

I don't think you'll be able to tell if you've got P. amaryllifolius by the smell, though, 'cause they don't really have a smell in person. Maybe if you brought a cigarette lighter with you, you could confirm the smell directly. Though people might not like you running around burning the plants.

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I am from singapore and we use pandan leaves abundantly in our cooking. However, I hv also experienced the same thing and I think its true that you get more smell from those planted in the grounds (as opposed to that of a container).

However, since land is so scarce here in SG, most people grow pandan in pots. We make lots of pandan tea. Get a pandan leaf, tie it into a knot or tear it into smaller pieces and then add it to your pot of tea. the taste does come out subtle and nicely!

A singaporean who grows pandan

Anonymous said...

hi, I am really fond of the smell of pandan. I was told that the smell is not immediately apparent when the leaves are first torn. I recently bought a plant myself but haven't torn any leaves yet.
Apparently seaweed solution is good for you plant

Unknown said...

I use a lot of pandan leaf. In my country, this one use for cooking, potpourri, etc. When I was young my mom use to cooked with coconut oil and strain it for your hair and skin.
I think your plant that you bought need more sun as the color should dark green and as soon you cut usually you can smell right away. I bought last year through ebay is just from cutting, I put in my green house and growing well until we got freezing for couples day and I forgot to bring inside and died now. Right now I hunting again but this time I will buy that already in pot. If you want pandan cake recipe let me know.

Anonymous said...

Several months ago I got my Pandanus amaryllifolius (use for cooking) from a Vietnamese vendor at the WagonWheel Flea Market, Pinellas Park, FL. They were selling it for US$6! The plant is currently in the ground and growing nicely, and soon, before the weather turns cold, it needs to be dug out and put in a pot and bring indoors.

Mmatch said...

The crushed bit of a leaf should offer a confirmatory smell that it is what you were told it is.
Kind of like fresh popcorn.
It smells (without cooking/heat) EXACTLY like the smell/taste of cooked Basmati rice (aka Jasmine rice or popcorn rice ... available in most major supermarkets for years now).

Autumn Belle said...

Oh, Mr Sub, I hope it is not too late as I stumble upon this post only now! I think maybe you've got the wrong variety? The ones we have are P. amaryllifolius (Syn: P.odorus) are very fragrant - can smell the scent even from the leaves, with our without crushing/breaking. Should smell like Thai fragrant rice, bread flowers (Vallaris glabra) or cocconut flavoured rice "nasi lemak". Try some Malaysian, Nyonya, Indonesia or Thai dishes to get the fragrance - Thai Pandan Chicken and deserts, Malay nasi lemak rice, etc. Giant pandan leaves are used to wrap Chinese dumplings.

Unknown said...

If you let the cut leaves wilt a little you will find they become VERY fragrant - in fact they will scent a room. Hope this helps

Anonymous said...

I have the exact same problem and have wondered whether it is the wrong variety. It is in a pot too, and it is winter, so we'll see how it smells in summer. Currently the only smell I can get out of it is one akin to rhubarb flowers, and if you know what that smells like then you can understand why I wouldn't want to cook with it just yet.

Anonymous said...

My pandan plant's leaves are only aromatic about 10 minutes after harvesting. The plant itself is not aromatic. Is that normal?

mr_subjunctive said...


I genuinely have no idea. I was never able to smell the plant itself, but then, I could never smell the leaves after they were cut, either. It's possible that I didn't actually have the right species of Pandanus (My plant didn't last very long here; apparently it doesn't make a very good houseplant. I assumed that it would because P. veitchii does very well for me), or that the scent is related to the conditions in which the plant is grown.