22 October 2009

Solanum Integrifolium or Solanum aethiopicum L. - How to Grow and Use Pumpkin on a Stick or Ornamental Eggplant



Fall decorations are popping up on porches and in front yards. Stacks of square hay bales, pumpkins, squash, corn and sugar cane stalks become fall symbols of the end of the harvest season.

Most of these grow too large for the average home garden. Pumpkins and squash can take up an entire city lot as they sprawl and make fruit.

One of the unique plants gardeners can grow for seasonal table arrangements is Pumpkin on a Stick, which grows upright and has 2-inch fruits. Introduced as “Scarlet Chinese an ornamental curiosity” by Vanderbilt University in 1879, they are still grown to amuse guests and decorating homes.

The Latin name is Solanum Integrifolium or Solanum aethiopicum L. Other names include: Pumpkin Tree, Pumpkin Bush, Hmong Eggplant, and Mock Tomato.

All Eggplants are in Solanaceae or nightshade family. Found in India, China and Africa, 2500 years ago, eggplant fruit was pea sized, orange and bitter. By the 1500s, German plantsmen had developed yellow and purple cultivars.

Today’s gardeners grow the round, purple-skin variety and the slender Asian varieties for eating. In hot climates the plants are perennial but here they suffer when temperatures drop to 50-degrees and die at first freeze.

Eggplant flowers are perfect, meaning they self-pollinate. Insects can cross-pollinate varieties though so if you want to save seeds, plant different varieties well apart from each other.

Whether you contain their size by planting them in pots or in the ground and let them grow 2 feet tall and wide, give Ornamental Eggplants sun and plenty of water. Bella Online calls them a spectacular fall floral because they embody the essence of fall and are exquisite in color and form.

The small blue-ish white flowers grow in clusters and attract butterflies and bees. Early in the season the fruit is green, then it turns red orange in the fall. The stems are dark purple and the leaves are serrated blue-green with purple veins and sharp spines.

Ornamental Eggplant is not an appropriate selection for a children’s garden. Other inedible flowers and leaves in the same plant (belladonna) family include: Potato, tomato, pepper, petunia, Angel’s Trumpet, and Datura.

Botanical Interests (www.botanicalinterests.com) recommends starting the seeds indoors 6 weeks before last frost (March 1 in zone 7). The seeds want 75 to 85 degree heat to sprout. Put the starter cells on a heat mat or on top of the water heater or refrigerator. Check them daily and remove them from the heat the minute they come up. Give them 12 hours of light from florescent bulbs to prevent weak stems

Our plants came from Moonshadow Herb Farm in Muskogee. Owner Sharon Owen bought the seeds online at www.onalee.com where they are called Ruffled Red (Red Ruffles).

In our garden the main problem was brown striped Colorado Potato Beetles. Once they were removed the plant resumed its leaf, flower and fruit production.

Watch for flea beetles, aphids and red spider mites. A little insecticidal soap spray will keep them under control. Or put a row cover on the plants until they flower.

To harvest the seeds, allow one of the fruits to become overripe on the plant.

Dry the fruit for decoration. Remove the leaves and hang the stems upside down. Use the fruit on the stem in a vase or cut them off for a fall wreath or centerpiece.

Many Internet sites say ornamental eggplant is used in Asian cuisine but I found nothing in Asian cooking sites to support that. However, when the roofers were here this week, one of them took a bite of a fruit and said it was sour enough to draw his mouth and had a hot aftertaste.

6 comments:

pete said...

if your readers are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed, interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at http://www.plantmaps.com/usda_hardiness_zone_map.php

Arturo said...

Pumpkin on a stick is known locally as "Paitan" [means, bitter]. This is grown and eaten as a vegetable by some tribal groups in the mountains and forest areas in Davao City, Philippines. The bitter taste goes very well with other vegetables when mixed in a local mixed vegetable dish cooked by boiling...

Unknown said...

Hi, I just wanted you to know that I am Hmong and I have always eaten the Hmong Red Eggplant even as a kid. I think that it is more of a local delicacy and not presented much in popular SouthEast Asian dishes. Furthermore because of its naturally bitter taste, the inclination to hide the taste takes over. In my family we don't mask it but embrace it and it is delicious!

Martha said...

Hmong Red Eggplant commenter - Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to our knowledge.
I know what you mean about enjoying bitter flavors - there are many that I enjoy also.
M

Fifio Ribana said...

In west africa it is eaten while still green, it tastes kind of like green pepper.

Martha said...

Fifio - It is difficult to grow here because the potato beetles love the plant so much!
Interesting that it is eaten green like a fresh pepper - here it is mostly ornamental.
Thanks for stopping by and participating!