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.