Spiteful but beautiful

Every year I try to grow something new and I do have a bit of a thing for the Solanum family (Solanaceae). I have grown the prickly Solanum sisymbrifolium before but never dared eat the fruit so thought I would give it another try this year. Because the Chiltern Seed catalogue listed several others I thought I would try Solanum pyracanthum (also listed as S. pyracanthos and S. pyracanthon) too for a change. Both are frost-tender perennial shrubs but can be grown as annuals. My S. pyracanthum are still small but they are already fascinating and beautiful.

solanum pyracanthum3

After the disaster early in spring when I lost a lot of seedlings I had to sow this again and without heat but the seedlings still appeared within three weeks in April. Though slow to get going the young plants, now in 10cm pots, are growing strongly and although there are no flowers the plants have a lot going for them. The leaves are felted grey and attractively lobed but it is the prickles on them that are the real ‘wow’ factor. The midribs of the leaves are golden orange and along them are thick, stout, prickles of the same colour, shaded purple at the base. They are more or less symmetrically arranged across the leaves and also thickly up the stems. Solanum pyracanthum is also known as the porcupine tomato and is native to Madagascar. There are 1500 species of solanum and the number keeps increasing as more species are added, including the tomato which used to be Lycopersicum esculentum. The porcupine tomato has pretty purple flowers and should reach at least 1m high though I have seen reports of it getting three times that. In warm (frost-free) climates it may become a weed but I think this is doubtful here. The small fruit are reportedly edible but not very good eating but I will grow this purely for its ornamental value.

solanum pyracanthum

Solanum sisymbrifolium is more familiar to me and I think it should be more widely grown. Although the prickles are less beautiful and are more annoying than ornamental, being profuse but not so showy, the flowers are really pretty. Sown at the same time as S. pyracanthum, the plants are much taller, already 30cm high and most are in flower, with terminal clusters of bloom. The flowers are quite large (about 3cm across) and almost white with a lilac flush. They open fully during the day but close at night. This is sometimes called the Lychee tomato and has bright red fruits that are partly enclosed in the five spiny sepals. I have never had the courage to eat them but will give them a try this year.

solanum sisymbri

So far the plants are in the greenhouse but I will plant some out and keep some inside. I have grown it outside before and it has made a large, bushy plant 1m high in the past although it usually needs staking to keep it upright.

solanum sisymbrifol

I am also growing some wonderberries, ground cherries and tomatillos this year, all closely related to solanums and I will post on these as well as the above solanums as they start to do their thing!

Other useful and better known solanums

S. capsicastrum Winter cherry – ornamental

S. crispum Potato vine – ornamental

S. laxum -ornamental

S. lycopersicum Tomato

S. melongena Aubergine

S. tuberosum Potato

S. rantonnetii Potato bush – ornamental

S. nigrum Black nightshade – weed

S. dulcamara Woody nightshade – weed/ornamental

S. muricatum Pepino (my seeds did not germinate this year)





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5 Comments on “Spiteful but beautiful”

  1. joy
    July 14, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    yes wow I also loved these

  2. thelonggardenpath
    July 14, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

    Wow! That’s one amazing plant! Solanum appears to be a very diverse species. We did enjoy growing tomatillos one year – must do it again! We just love Mexican food!

    • thebikinggardener
      July 15, 2014 at 7:41 am #

      Yes, I am growing them again – they taste really interesting with that crunchy texture. And I agree – i love Mexican food too – yum!

      • William Granada
        August 31, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

        Dear Bikinggardener, greetings.
        On the net I found your post on Solanum pyracanthum, I liked!
        I mention, here I’ve been trying to germinate several Solanum species, but it has been somewhat difficult, even when I have numbers for this protocol, interests me more is to obtain seedlings, to study the physiology of germination.
        I want to consult you: in your experience have made protocols to achieve germination of species of Solanum, which I recommend.
        Thank you for your attention, I’m here to order.
        William Granada

        • thebikinggardener
          September 25, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

          Hello. Thank you for visiting. I did not find any special difficulty in germinating the seeds and do not know of any solanums that need stratification but Solanum is a big genus and some must need special treatment. I just sowed the seeds under perlite and they were kept in a temperature of about 20c and they germinated within a month. I am sorry that I do not sell the seeds. Best wishes

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