Our editor Therese Ciesinski discovers fall fruits resembling bunches of miniature pumpkins that area ideal for decorative seasonal arrangements.
A few weeks ago a friend gave me a gift. It appeared to be clusters of plastic mini-pumpkins, and I shuddered inwardly, since plastic plants are an affront to all that is natural and wholesome in this world. Plus, they get dusty.
Close examination revealed that they were not plastic at all. Every one was real. Tiny, almost unnaturally shiny orange, yellow and green “pumpkins” dangled from fibrous green stems. Whimsical and weird at the same time.
This I had not seen before. So I asked The Great Oz (Google), “What manner of plant is this?” and he replied: Solanum aethiopicum. Common name: pumpkin on a stick.
The name brings up images of those deep-fried novelty foods sold at state fairs across the country. And pumpkin on a stick is indeed edible, but apparently not too tasty (all reports say it’s bitter). Even so, this eggplant relative is used in some Asian cuisine, but in this part of the world it’s not grown as an edible, but for its usefulness as an autumnal decoration.
This year, look for it at florist’s shops to decorate your fireplace mantel or Thanksgiving table. Next year, why not grow it. Start seeds indoors six weeks before your last frost date and plant outdoors after the chance of frost has past. Give S. aethiopicum full sun, rich soil, and space them about 3 feet apart. Plants get to be about 3 feet tall with large green leaves. Harvest in about 75 days, when the fruits have reached a deep orange color.
Find seeds at:
Therese Ciesinski, Garden Variety’s Editor-at-Large, is the longtime former editor of Organic Gardening magazine. She has won multiple awards from the Garden Writers Association and has lectured across the U.S. on gardening, horticulture and living an organic lifestyle. A New York University graduate, Therese has been a master gardener in both Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. She lives in a little log cabin next to a trout stream in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where she maintains a shade-shrouded garden. She loves roses but her sunlight-challenged property has left her trying to fall for hostas instead. She enjoys home renovation projects, travel and is a self-confessed “picker” who buys and sells antiques and vintage finds, especially industrial objects.
I’ve seen these before and am glad to be reminded of them. I manage a small community garden and I’m always on the lookout for plants, especially non-toxic ones, that will appeal to children and encourage them to become interested in gardening. Like all Solanums, I expect the foliage to be poisonous, but I’ve never seen a child interested in eating the leaves (still, I’ll keep an eye out). Planting these seeds and growing these plants will be a fun project for next spring–thanks for this post!
The foliage is not poisonous, it is eaten similar to spinach, according to all my research. It may be bitter due to excess alkaloids. The fruit is usually eaten while green, and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is said the leaves are more nutritious than the fruit. They may be difficult to germinate, which is why they aren’t widely grown. But to use them strictly for ornamental purposes is truly like wasting food.
Reblogged this on MissingHenryMitchell and commented:
Here’s another plant I need to add to my “must-have” list for next year. I want to always make room for the slightly bizarre and curious things the plant world has to offer us.
Oh they are fabulous! I’d love to have those for fall decorating. It is lovely to see something that little bit different. Lovely post! Dana