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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Growing Persian shield, identifying pokeweed and lumpy squash causes

Persian shield is a dramatic tropical plant that

Persian shield is a dramatic tropical plant that will thrive in sun or shade, but it needs to come indoors in the winter. Credit: Simone Samulik

DEAR JESSICA: I have a beautiful purple-leaf plant I raised from clippings. I would love to know its name and how to take care of it. Is it an annual or perennial? I’m not sure how to handle this through the winter.

— Simone Samulik,


DEAR SIMONE: You’re growing Strobilanthes dyerianus, commonly called Persian shield. The striking metallic purple-hued tropical plant grows equally well in sun and shade. It can tolerate heat well, but does wilt if not watered regularly. Mulching, even in containers, can help.

Persian shield is treated as an annual in our climate because it cannot withstand our winters, but it’s not a true annual, as it does not naturally complete its life cycle in one year. Grown indoors, it will provide dramatic color year-round.

Water it regularly, aiming for moist, but never soggy, soil. The plant may grow leggy over the winter, but pinching back leaves from branch tips after it resumes an active growing stage next spring will encourage a shrubbier habit.

DEAR JESSICA: I have taken some photos of a weed in my garden and was wondering whether you can identify it and let me know whether it’s a hazard. If it is, please inform me on how to remove from my property.

— Nick Koridis,

Rocky Point

DEAR NICK: That’s pokeweed, and it’s toxic to humans and animals if ingested. It’s also quite difficult to eradicate. For now, remove and discard (in the trash, bagged in plastic) all those berries before they drop seeds on your soil. Then, as soon as you can, dig the plants up.

Dig deeply to ensure removing every last bit of the roots. Then leave the roots out in the sun to dry a few days before throwing them out in the trash. Take care not to leave even a broken piece of root behind or it will come back. Next year, if you see the plant starting to grow, dig it up right way, while it’s small.

DEAR JESSICA: A random vine began to grow in my yard, and I thought perhaps you could tell me what it is. It looks like a mix between a squash and a zucchini and has the spots of a watermelon with the bumpy texture of a gourd. Is it edible?

— Alison Massa,

via email

DEAR ALISON: That looks like a yellow squash plant affected with mosaic virus. The disease, typically spread by aphids, causes bumps and yellow and green streaks or blotches on fruit. Foliage may be distorted, as well.

The disease can affect all cucurbits — squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and melons — and usually is responsible when any of those become warty, although lumps also could result when fruit is left on the vine too long.

Mosaic virus-affected curcubits are, indeed, edible, and consumption poses no harm. You’ve probably even bought some at farmers markets or grocery stores, unaware of the cause of its bumps.

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