Rhubarb–That “Pie Plant”

Author: Meera, April 2, 2014




rhubarb takes up a lot of space because of its big leaves

Rhubarb takes up a lot of space because of its big leaves



In my grandmother’s time, rhubarb’s moniker was the “pie plant” for the simple reason that the tart flavor of its canes nicely tempers the cloying sweetness of other fruits.


Rhubarb, long treated as a fruit, is actually a vegetable. In bygone days when tariffs on imported vegetables were higher than on fruit, a New York court decided in favor of labeling rhubarb as fruit for the purposes of taxation and tariff regulations.


One of the first edibles in the spring garden, rhubarb pushes up leaf stalks or canes (what botanists call petioles) with large leaves. The leaves are are high in oxalic acid and thus poisonous to consume (when harvesting, cut off the tops and discard; snap off the canes for cooking).


Rhubarb stalks or canes, when cooked with sugar or apples (to sweeten), are delicious in pies, jams, sauces and fruit tarts.


Rhubarb is easy to grow (in warm climates, it grows year-round). In cold climates, its leaves and canes will die but the rhizome root will generate new shoots come spring. But if it blooms, cut off the bloom to ensure the root continues to produce canes.



You really don't want the rhubarb plant to bloom as the plant will stop producing canes

Do not allow the rhubarb to bloom; the plant will stop producing canes and may become weakened



The plant can also be grown in large containers or in greenhouses. It is not fussy about soil, produces new canes year after year, and loves sunlight.


Consumers love those red canes, but rhubarb canes, depending on the variety, aren’t always red–some are light green or pink speckled. The flavor of the light green canes, the type growing on our farmette, has the most robust flavor.


While creating a space for some new plants, we decided to dig out one of our rhubarb plants. That little rhizome I put in the ground four years ago had produced roots 20 inches into the earth. Above ground the plant had grown roughly three feet high and as wide. We will divide it and replant, since it’s a good idea anyway to divide every 3 to 4 years.


We grow Victoria, an old variety with a tendency to flower (or bolt). We prefer to remove those flower spikes in order to keep the plant producing new canes and leaves. Blooms tend to waste the plants resources, see http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/rhubarb/rhubarb-bolting.htm. Also see, http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/rhubarbflowers.html


In an upcoming posting, I’ll include some recipes for using rhubarb from your garden. In the meantime, consider the different varieties available and perhaps try planting a new and different cultivar. See, http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/varieties.


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