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Description

Okra is an annual herb typically reaching 2 m in height, but some African varieties may grow up to 5 m tall, with a base stem of 10 cm in diameter.

The heart-shaped, lobed leaves have long stems and are attached to the thick woody stem. They may reach 30 cm in length and are generally hairy. Flowers are borne singly in the leaf axils and are usually yellow with a dark red or purple base. Some African varieties are photoperiod sensitive and bloom only in the late fall in temperate zones. It is largely to wholly self-pollinated, though some out-crossing is reported and it is often visited by bees.

The pod (capsule, or fruit) is 10-25 centimeters long (shorter in the dwarf varieties). Generally, it is ribbed or round, and varying in color from yellow to red to green. It is pointed at the apex, hairy at the base, and tapered toward the tip. It contains numerous oval seeds that are about the size of peppercorns, white when immature and dark green to gray-black when mature.

Distribution

The plant is immensely adaptable and is widely distributed in the tropics, subtropics, and warmer temperate zones. In essence, it grows almost everywhere anyone tries to plant it.


Within Africa Of all the native food crops, this is one of the most widespread within the continent. It is known from Mauritania to Mauritius, with most diversity centered around Ethiopia and the Sudan.


Beyond Africa It is now grown throughout southern Europe, Australasia, tropical Asia and America, the Caribbean, and the United States, where it is best known in the southern region but is also cultivated in Oregon and California. Turkey grows okra on a large scale.

Horticultural Varieties

Many cultivars have been selected for local conditions but in the main there are two types: the long and the short (quickly flowering) duration. The cultivars vary in plant height and in shape and color of the pod. With all the different cultivars and their variations, the particular kind of okra planted usually reflects what the local people prefer their dinner dishes to look like.

Although okra prefers a long, hot growing season, cultivars have been developed that are short in stature as well as fast maturing, and small fruited. These dwarf, short-duration types reach a height of 60 cm and require only 7 to 9 weeks to mature.

The okra seen in the temperate zones is fairly uniform. One survey of



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