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SOLANUM aethiopicum

Image of Solanum aethiopicum

Marco Schmidt, Wikimedia Commons Contributor

Family

Solanaceae

Botanical Name

SOLANUM aethiopicum

Plant Common Name

African Eggplant, Scarlet Eggplant

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

The scarlet eggplant, sometimes colloquially called "pumpkins on a stick," resembles an eggplant but with small, colorful, gourd-like fruits. This tender perennial is native to tropical, sub-Saharan Africa. Scarlet eggplant is highly variable across its native range, as some plants have prickly leaves, while others produce fruit that are either round, tear drop-shaped or flattened and grooved. Horticulturists place these different strains into one of four groups: Gilo, Kumba, Shum or Aculeatum. In Africa, people eat the leaves as a vegetable and the cooked immature fruits. Scarlet eggplant's food use is highest in equatorial African nations. It's mainly grown as an ornamental bedding plant outside of Africa, especially in China.

Scarlet eggplant is a herbaceous, semi-woody subshrub, but it may be grown as a perennial or annual crop. Its large pointy leaves with short pointed side lobes look like those of an eggplant or oak. The leaf blades may or may not have spines, and are a medium to light green with bluish cast. The bushy plant becomes open in habit with many branches. It doesn't require staking. The white to purplish, five-petaled flowers occur during warm weather. After insect pollination, fruits form. They are at first green and then then enlarge and transition to yellow-orange, orange and finally some shade of ripe red. Depending on plant genetics, a scarlet eggplant's fruits may be perfectly round, globose or a flattened sphere or short cylinder. Lots of seeds are in the flesh.

Grow scarlet eggplant in full sun in a fertile, moist but well-drained soil. Frost, soggy soil and excessive drought kill the plants. Grow this species in like manner as tomatoes or eggplants, starting seeds indoors and then transplanting into the garden once soil warms and no frosts occur. In tropical, frost-free regions, scarlet eggplant often fruits better in the warm dry season, as high humidity and copious rains can undermine plant vigor and health. However, plants in the Gilo or Shum groups are much better in humid tropical climates. Those in the Kumba group excel in warm, more arid regions.

Use scarlet eggplant as a curious but pretty addition to a flower bed or vegetable garden. Cut fruit-bearing branches to use in autumn vase bouquets. Or, if you choose to eat the leaves, boil or wilt them to remove the bitter toxins. Only eat immature fruits, ideally cooked in stews or soups. Mature fruits taste much more bitter and contain more toxins typical of members of the nightshade family. But, taste and bitterness of fruits varies a lot among the numerous plants in the four horticultural groups. A few cultivars - such as 'Striped Togo' - have been selected specifically for their better fruit flavors or ornamental beauty.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 8

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tender Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    3'-6' / 0.9m - 1.8m

  • Width

    3'-5' / 0.9m - 1.5m

  • Bloom Time

    Indeterminate

  • Native To

    Middle Africa

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Purple, Lavender

  • Fruit Color

    Red, Orange Red

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Light Green, Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Light Green, Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green, Light Green, Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green, Light Green, Blue Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    Yes

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Semi-Evergreen

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Container, Cutflower, Herb / Vegetable, Mixed Border, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes