This week's Plant of the Week immediately drew my attention while visiting the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in North Carolina last week. The interesting spines caught my eye right away! It's called Naranjilla (Solanum quitoense) and it's a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes.
According to a Purdue Extension article, Naranjilla is a spreading, herbaceous shrub that can get up to to 8 ft high with thick stems in its native habitat, believed to be the most abundant in Peru, Ecuador and southern Colombia.
What I found most interesting of course were the spines on the leaves, which can be few or numerous, occurring on petioles, midribs and lateral veins, above and below, or the leaves may also be completely spineless on some plants. Young leaves, young stems and petioles are also coated with purple hairs.
Paired with 'Campfire' coleus it made for a striking display!
The fruits, which will look similar to tomatoes, have a brown, hairy coat that protects the fruit until it is fully ripe, when the hairs can be easily rubbed off, showing the bright-orange, smooth, leathery, fairly thick peel. The fruit supposedly has a citrus flavor that is described as a cross between lime and rhubarb and the juice is used to make a popular drink in South America. Unfortunately, in our northern temperate climates, these interesting fruits won't appear, so we enjoy it as an interesting foliage plant.
Interested in trying this plant out in your garden next year like I am? I see several sources of seed online and transplants could be started indoors along with your other tomato transplants.
While at the garden, I also came across Solanum pyracanthos, known as the Porcupine Tomato, which was equally as interesting!