Fo Ti Forms
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Colleen Bourke
Posted on: February 20, 2003

The photo on pg 20 of your current (2003) catalogue shows Fo Ti with sprays of small yellowish flowers. Indeed the botanical name Polygonum multiflorum suggests many small flowers.

I had two Fo Ti plants: one was a climber and the other was a creeper. The creeper did not last long but the other has grown up a tall tree and yearly provides me with fresh green veggies (I have never got around to doing anything with the roots and stems) and an abundance of vigorous cuttings. I mention the two plants with differing growth habits in case one was female and one was male. At any rate, I have never had flowers. Do you have any suggestions?

We too have never seen flowers. We have assumed that that’s because we are growing the plant in pots in greenhouses and it never reaches maturity as it might in the field in China. The photo used in our catalogue comes from a leading herb authority in China we have been working with.

We also have seen the two forms that you describe. A few years ago we obtained tubers of a P. multiflorum from China that produced plants with a weak growth habit that could be described as trailing rather than upright. This form also had slightly smaller leaves. We found that this form was difficult to maintain in a greenhouse setting and we eventually lost it. We are not sure why this form failed to survive in our greenhouses; we did not have the chance to investigate further. We decided that this weaker form would not be appropriate for our clientele so we did not obtain it again.

Are these forms of the same species or are they different species? We cannot be sure. Both are referred to as "he-shou-wu", but in China we often see that herbs of closely related species are called the same name in the medicinal herbs market. It seems that the Chinese herbal tradition uses names of herbs in a functional way rather than a botanical way. Nailing down the "correct" species can often be a frustrating exercise when there isn’t one correct species in the Chinese context.

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