James H. Schutte
SOLANUM melongena 'Machiaw'
Plant Common Name
This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.
Eggplant is an easy, warm-season vegetable that’s well worth the effort. Though perennial in its native Africa and Asia, most gardeners grow it as an annual vegetable crop. A healthy, mature plant has large, fuzzy, green leaves and an upright, bushy habit. Fruits are generally ready to harvest in 90 to 120 days after sowing from seed, or only 50 to 70 days when planted outdoors from robust seedlings.
The felty green leaves of eggplant sometimes have a purplish hue and appear on bushy, upright plants. When temperatures and warm and accommodating, star-shaped lavender flowers with protruding yellow anthers appear on mature plants. Elongated or pear-shaped fruits of purple-black, lavender, pink or even white follow. All have dense, spongy white flesh inside and lots of small, flat, round seeds. For best flavor and smaller seeds, pick the fruits just before they reach full size. Size varies from cultivar to cultivar; some fruits are “baby” sized and others very large. It pays to pick fruit at the peak of perfection; overripe plants develop dull, soft skin and flesh and an unpalatable taste, and under ripe fruits tend to have tough, bitter skin.
Like many warm-season vegetables, eggplant grows best in full sun and light, rich garden loam. Feed and water regularly for best performance and harvest. The fruits can become quite heavy, so it is wise to stake the plants. Floating row covers, pyrethrin sprays and/or insecticidal soap will help provide protection from flea beetles, which otherwise will ravage or even kill plants. These tiny, shiny, black bugs are the most prevalent eggplant pest. They chew lots of small, poked holes in the leaves, which weaken plants and diminish yields. Eggplant is strictly a summer crop in temperate gardens but in tropical and sub-tropical regions, it is grown in fall and even winter gardens. If starting plants from seed, start indoors several weeks before planting, and plant outdoors two weeks after the danger of frost has passed.
The flavors, shapes, sizes and colors of eggplant fruits vary across the globe. Beautiful purple and white striped cultivars are common in Italy and France. In Thai cuisine, they favor small, round, stripy eggplants with green, purple, white or yellowish skin and a stronger flavor. Indian cultivars tend to be smaller, oval and rosy purple or white, and many Chinese and Japanese cultivars are long, slender and delicately flavored.
Eggplants are best eaten sautéed, roasted or in casseroles or stews. Most cultivars have tough, leathery skin that should be removed before cooking. If provided good care, a single plant will produce lots of fruits for moussaka, eggplant parmigiana, or ratatouille.
Most eggplants are bred for eating, but some are highly ornamental and will also add interest to flower gardens or containers.