Where To Locate the Elusive, Legendery "Tree Collards"
What is a "Tree Collard"?
Likely of African origin, this is a variety of collard green that forms a hard, woody stem and can grow anywhere from 4 to 10 feet tall. Famous for prolific, and abundant greens that taste sweeter after a light frost, this is not to be confused with the "Walking Stick Kale" from England that is not grown for human consumption. The true Tree Collard is a plant that has been propagated from cuttings since its discovery by an unknown gardener.
In Riverside, CA, this amazing and abundant vegetable is the official city green, and few gardens are without a quality plant from a local swap meet or nursery. Outside of Riverside, the plant is rare and difficult to source.
It may flower and produce seeds, but the seeds do not grow true. Therefore, the only way to acquire this legendary plant is to look for cuttings.
Cuttings are simple enough, but take months to develop. In the gardening trade, that means it is not a great candidate for propagation without a strong interest among local gardeners, willing to pay a premium for all that work.
NOT this one! They taste like rubber!
I Think I Found it On-Line... Wait, Is this "Walking Stick Cabbage" the same thing?
Gardeners looking for the plant need to go on-line and seek out a source for the "Tree Collards" that is reputable, and does not confuse the "Walking Stick Kale" from England for the "Tree Collard" from Riverside, CA.
Confusion on-line is exacerbated by the tendency of Brits to use the word "Kale" to describe what Americans call "Collards". For years, I just called everything the same thing and drove my American wife nuts when she couldn't figure out which one I meant, and I couldn't quite explain that, to me, they were basically the same thing!
Collards are actually a cabbage developed for warm weather not to bolt too quickly. They are cabbage that do not form the hard, tight head that helps the vegetable keep for long periods in cooler climates. Kale is more like a lettuce, and used like lettuce in climates that are too harsh for the delicate lettuces and mescluns and sorrels.
So, when poking around, be careful to avoid any British sites. We tend to get the two plants mixed up. They aren't the same thing.
Look for California gardeners and gardens!
For on-line Ordering...
Avoid Amazon. Look to go direct from someone like www.bountifulgardens.org who will occasionally carry the tree collards among their vegetables. The purple leaves are a clue while searching on-line that you have located actual tree collards, and not a walking-stick kale variety.
Sacramento gardens and gardeners will also occasionally carry the plants. eBay has been known to carry them from time to time, often in the winter months when the cuttings can be taken. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Purple-Leaf-Tree-Collard-Cutting-/380538973066
Getting active on message boards with other gardeners can also lead to cuttings. Be a good gardener and pass along the cost of shipping to the person kind enough to send you a cutting to root. They need to be sent priority mail, and this can be pricey.
Getting tree collards to Australia, UK, or elsewhere in the world, would be difficult with restrictions on live plants, and the cost of shipping them so quickly to ensure survival!
Tree Collards are Here... What Do I Do With Them?
The tiny cuttings arrive, and they do not look anything like the massive, 10-foot-tall cabbage that you've seen in pictures. In fact, it's a puny, little thing, maybe in a pot or maybe not.
First, the roots are very delicate. Be very gentle handling this little chap. Hopefully you were able to procure a variety from a grower that has already potted the cutting. If not, you will need to immediately get your little chap into the soil.
The cutting should look like a heart. Cut off the bottom inch or so just before planting a cutting. Drop him in there and keep him moist. In a couple months, you should have a viable plant going.
Get the little fellows out into the fields in spring, and be very gentle. They are delicate. They will need sturdy supports to keep them from tumbling over. (Now's maybe a good time to use that Walking Stick from the Jersey Kale...)
They eat all the calcium in the soil, so a regular addition of diatomaceous earth will discourage troublesome pests in the soil, and encourage the healthy growth of the tree collard, which will produce a bounty of fresh veg for years!