James H. Schutte
SOLANUM melongena 'Purple Rain'
Plant Common Name
Eggplant, Purple Rain Eggplant
The 'Purple Rain' eggplant causes neither sorrow nor pain for gardeners, only delight. It heavily produces purplish burgundy fruits with white flecks. The white inner flesh is mild with few seeds, if picked when no longer than 6 inches (15 centimeters). The shiny fruits develop on tall, well-branched, bushy plants that excel in warm weather. It continually flowers and displays fruit among the velvety green foliage. The harvest season begins 115 days after sowing from seed, or 66 days from robust seedlings.
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. 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 followed by fruit. 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.
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.
The attractive and productive ‘Purple Rain’ is a worthwhile cultivar for the edible landscape. Whether planted in kitchen gardens, borders or patio containers, its beautifully ornate fruits and lavender flowers will add interest and appeal. Excessive heat and irregular watering, along with waiting too long to harvest can lead to fruits being quite seedy and bitter in their flesh.