18 Interesting Plants You’re Probably Not Growing (But Should Be)
One perk of growing your own food is you get to decide what you grow.
And that means you get to decide what you eat.
So you're not limited to the same, old, arguably boring varieties the supermarket stocks. You can make your meals as interesting and exotic as you dare.
Of course, when it comes to garden planning, experts often suggest growing plants you know you like to eat. And that’s solid advice. (In fact, I’ve recommended this approach myself.)
But on the flipside, if you don’t try anything new, how will you know what you like?
It’s in that spirit that I recently spent some time seeking out odd and interesting plants just waiting to be grown. So if you’ve got a few growing seasons under your belt and are looking to try something more adventurous — or if you’re just adventurous by nature — here are 18 unique crops you can grow with Tower Garden.
18 Interesting Vegetables and Fruits to Grow
Let’s kick things off with one of the weirdest crops on this list.
The characteristics of the achocha plant, also known as the Bolivian cucumber, vary depending on species. Its fruit — which tastes like a cucumber when picked early and like a bell pepper when picked later — may be smooth or have soft spikes.
And as you can see in the video above, some varieties, um, explode.
Achocha is an ancient crop (originally grown by the Incas in South America) and belongs to the same family as cucumbers and squash. Neat fact: Achocha is nearly immune to common cucurbit pests like squash bugs, vine borers, and powdery mildew.
2. Alpine strawberries.
If you like strawberries, you’ll love this wild, intensely flavored variety. Alpine strawberries produce small, delightful fruits all season.
Grow alpine strawberries just as you would common strawberries.
Credit: Connie Ma
If you’ve tried to grow spinach (particularly in warmer temperatures) and failed, this red-streaked, leafy green is for you. Amaranth is one of the only greens that will grow well in hot, humid conditions.
Credit: Oregon State University
4. Black (Indigo Rose) tomatoes.
The Indigo Rose tomato originated at Oregon State University. The team there bred red and purple tomato varieties with the goal of yielding an antioxidant-rich crop.
As a result, these tomatoes are not only visually striking, but are also reportedly healthier (containing antioxidants known as anthocyanins) and more savory than your standard tomato.
That said, you grow them just as you would a common tomato.
Credit: Emma Wallace
Coming in various interesting shapes and sizes, calabash is known by another, more descriptive name: bottle gourd. This is because growers often let the fruit dry and then use the remaining outer shell as a natural container.
Growing calabash is much like growing squash or cucumbers.
Also known as Mexican or watermelon gherkins, the cucamelon looks like a miniature watermelon. But it tastes more like a tangy cucumber.
Cucamelons have needs similar to those of cucumbers — lots of sun and warm temperatures. That said, cucamelons are actually more cold tolerant and pest-resistant than cucumbers.
Whoa, whoa, whoa… why would you grow a weed in your Tower Garden? It does seem a bit counterintuitive. Most people are trying to eradicate dandelions from lawns and gardens, not nurture them, after all.
But — packed with vitamins, calcium, and more — dandelion greens offer more healthful benefits than some of the more standard crops you find in the produce aisle. And true to the phrase, “grows like a weed,” dandelions flourish even with neglect.
But beware. Dandelion greens tend to taste a bit bitter.
8. Italian chicory.
Want to add a little dramatic flair to your garden? (Is it just me, or does that look like blood splatter?) Consider planting Italian chicory, also known as Castelfranco radicchio.
Aside from its macabre appearance, this salad green isn’t much different than common chicory. It’s just as hardy and offers the same bittersweet flavor.
The result of 15 years of research and testing, Kalettes are a cross between two celebrity superfoods: kale and Brussels sprouts. In case you’re wary of how such a mix came about, rest easy. Tozer Seeds developed Kalettes through traditional, non-GMO plant breeding methods.
The company markets its hybrid crop as one that “combines the best flavors from Brussels sprouts and kale, resulting in a fresh fusion of sweet and nutty.”
This bizarre-looking crop goes by many names: kiwano, horned melon, African cucumber, blowfish fruit, and more. But one thing is certain — it produces some otherworldly fruit.
With an orange, spiky outer and a green, juicy inner, this fancy fruit has a tart taste and cucumber-esque texture. Like other cucurbits on this list, kiwano grows well in a warm, sunny environment — the kind squash and cukes love.
I’m convinced kohlrabi is from another planet. Coming in purple, green, and white, the crop could certainly add an alien-like element to your garden!
As a member of the cabbage family, kohlrabi prefers cooler temperatures. And it has a sweet, mild flavor that’s been described as a cross between a radish and a cucumber.
12. Long beans.
Also called yard-long beans (because the beans can grow from one to three feet in length), long beans can grow by inches in a single day. A traditional crop in Asia, long beans grow well in hot, humid environments.
Unlike traditional green beans, long beans aren’t very enjoyable boiled or steamed. But they’re excellent sautéed or stir-fried.
Credit: Guilherme Jofili
Rather than buy your next bath sponge, why not grow it? Belonging to the cucumber family, the luffa (also commonly spelled loofah) is known for its fruit’s fibrous interior. Once dried, this skeleton can be used as a scrubbing sponge.
You can also eat luffa fruit when it’s green and relatively small. Multipurposing for the win!
Varieties of this intriguing flowering vine grow natively in much of the United States. In fact, that’s how I first discovered it — blooming among other wild plants alongside a road.
As you can see, the plant’s beautiful flowers have an unusual structure. For this reason, large bees, hummingbirds, and bats primarily pollinate the plant.
Many species of passionflower produce small, sweet fruits. And the plant’s foliage is often used as an herb for its reputed calming effects.
15. Purple cauliflower.
If you liked the black tomatoes above, you’ll probably be interested to know that other crops — such as cauliflower — come in unusual colors, too!
This cauliflower produces purple heads that, like the Indigo Rose tomatoes, contain anthocyanins. So in addition to its unique appearance, it may offer more health benefits than standard cauliflower.
Mesmerizingly symmetric, Romanesco’s signature pattern makes it a natural fractal.
This fascinating crop is comparable to cauliflower and broccoli, its close relatives, in both flavor and growing requirements.
I tasted sorrel for the first time last week. And wow — what a surprise!
The leafy vegetable’s younger leaves have a sharp, sour taste when eaten raw. For that reason, it’s used sparingly (much like an herb) in salads. More often, the crop is added to soups or sauces.
Like most greens, sorrel prefers to grow in cooler temperatures.
A staple ingredient in Mexican and Central American cuisine, the tomatillo’s tart fruit grows in an inedible, papery husk.
Tomatillo plants require cross-pollination. So you’ll need to plant at least two crops to ensure a good yield.
So, What Will You Grow?
I have lots of new plants I can’t wait to try growing! (I think kiwano and Indigo Rose tomatoes might be at the top of my list.)
What about you? Will you grow any of these 18 crops? Have you grown some already?
Let’s continue the conversation below.
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