Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ornamental solanums
Mag spoiler*

For most of you this word will bring to mind various edibles such as peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. You probably also know that deadly nightshade belongs to this genus, and is part of the reason why some early Europes did not dare eat the love apple, a.k.a. the tomato, which they considered strictly ornamental.

But what you may have thought was only your personal observation - that solanums can be quite attractive - is shared by many. It was hard for me not to snap this picture my potato 'banana fingerling' in flower.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Banana fingerling potato plant grown in a tire stack 2006

Beyond the natural beauty of some of these edibles, there are varities grown just for their good looks. In some cases, they don't leave any non-toxic bits for us to nibble on. (Maybe they'll act as trap crops and leave the real prize alone. That's what my chinese lantern seems to do with the Colorado Potato Beetle. It loves my physalias but has yet to ravage my crops.)

You've probably come across varities of hot pepper and eggplant that are touted more for their appearance than their taste such as:

Black Pearl Hot Pepper

Chilly Chili Hot Pepper

Easter Egg Plant

Fairytale Eggplant

But did you know that the following plants also belonged to this illustrous club? (Fellow Ottawanians... not frost hardy)

Potato Vine (Solanum jasminoides) - okay the name is a bit of a give-away.

Blue Potato Vine / Climbing Chilean Potato Tree (Solanum crispum)

Divorce Vine (Solanum wendlandii) - intriguing name

Seaforth (Solanum seaforthianum) - Here it is competing with wisteria.

Some bush specimens with attractive or just plain weird fruit:

Jerusalum Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum) - grown as a houseplant.

Nipple Fruit (Solanum mammosum) - you have GOT to check out the picture, fruit not edible.

Kangaroo Apple (Solanum laciniatum) - beautiful flowers

Copper Firethorn / Porcupine Tomato (Solanum pyracanthum) - this one's fun, lots of spikes!

The tomato has a lot of cousins, such as the Pepino, Narajilla, tomatillo, ground cherry, wonderberry, and current tomato all of which are tasty in their own delectable ways. So while, I appreciate that there are strictly ornamental solanums out there, I have no great desire to grow them (except maybe for that porcupine tomato if only to give the squirrels a fright).

Here's my pick for a very attractive solanum with great taste:

Fish Hot Pepper - a varigated hot pepper used as a traditional condiment with seafood.


Wiki Entry of the Tomato
Wiki Entry on Solanums
Dave Entry on varigated tomato

*The magazine plot spoiler will become a regular on this blog. I will take a title from a popular gardening magazine and use it as inspiration (no copyright infringement here) for a post. This post will not (unless blind luck intervenes) replicate what would be found in the magazine but you also won't have to fight through advertisement or intentionally confusing indices to find the information. Enjoy!

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