Solanum - African Holly, Aubergine, Bittersweet, Brinjal, Christmas Cherry, Eggplant, Garden Huckleberry, Jerusalem Cherry, Melongene, Potato, Scarlet Eggplant, Sunberry, Tomato Eggplant, Wonderberry, Woody Nightshade
DESCRIPTION: This is a large group of tender and hardy, herbaceous, shrubby, or climbing plants. They are found wild in many countries, but mainly in Costa Rica, Chile, tropical Africa and Europe. Several kinds are found in North America. Many are grown for decoration, but two are grown as vegetables. These vegetables are S. melongena variety esculentum, the Eggplant, and S. tuberosum, the Potato. The Solanums can be distinguished by their flowers, which are rotate (wheel-shaped), five petaled, white, purple, or blue, with five stamens set close together. The flowers grow in pendant clusters in the axils of the leaves. The different kinds will be described below.
Ornament - S. Wendlandii is a pretty climbing plant for a greenhouse that doesn't fall below 45 degrees in the winter. If develops a thick, woody stem that is clothed with large, shiny leaves. The leaves may be ovate, pinnate, or divided into five or more sections. The pale blue flowers grow 2½ inches in diameter. S. Pseudo-Capsicum, the Jerusalem Cherry or Christmas Cherry, is a very decorative potted plant for the home or greenhouse. It has dark green shoots and small, oblong leaves. It produces small, white flowers in the summer, which are followed by roundish scarlet or yellow berries, ½- to 1-inch in diameter. S. Dulcamara, the Woody Nightshade or Bittersweet, is a dainty vine or semi-shrubby climber that may eventually grow to 8 feet. It has lavender-blue flowers followed by brilliant scarlet fruits. It foliage and fruit is poisonous, though, especially when wilted. S. nigrum's cultivated kinds are known as the Sunberry, Garden Huckleberry and Wonderberry. Some of the wild types are poisonous, especially the wilted foliage. The plant looks like a weed and isn't grown for ornament, but the garden forms are cultivated for their fruits, which are used in making pies. More kinds that are grown for ornament are mentioned below in the varieties section.
Eggplant (S. melongena esculentum) - This vegetable is also known as Brinjal, Melongene and Aubergine. This old Asian food has gained popularity in the U.S. because of the development of early-maturing varieties that produce fruit over a wider range of temperatures. Modern Eggplants form erect bushes with large, fuzzy leaves and stiff, hard stems. They usually grow 1½ to 2 feet high, but some kinds adapted to the South can grow up to 3 or 4 feet. There are a variety of shapes and sizes, some being large, plump and ovoid to long and slender. Domestic varieties come in purple, purple-black or white and Asian varieties come in yellow, green and purplish red.
Garden Huckleberry - This tender annual grows 2½ to 3 feet high. These robust, spreading plants are covered with large leaves and a profusion of white flowers. The flowers are followed by clusters of glossy, black berries, ½ to e inch in diameter. This variety is different from S. Nigrum, the deadly nightshade, which should be avoided.
Potato (S. tuberosum) - This is a very popular vegetable and there are three main kinds sold in America. One kind is the mealy, dry tubers for baking, second, is the moist-fleshed white potatoes used for boiling and frying, and the third kind is the red-skinned "new potatoes" for boiling. White, russet and red are only a few of the colors and different flavors that are available. However, commercial growers are hesitant to offer potatoes with unusual characteristics such as yellow flesh or purple skin. At one time, more than 800 potato cultivars were grown in their ancestral home, the Andes. Potato plants grow 12 to 18 inches high and up to 4 feet wide. Some kinds produce flowers, which won't affect the tuber's growth. Small fruits that resemble little green tomatoes might follow the flowers, but do not eat these, because they are poisonous.
Ornament - They may be grown outdoors during the summer and brought in before frost kills them off, or they may be grown as annuals and raised new every year. They shouldn't have excessively dry or wet soil, because this will cause their leaves to fall and they will die. They should be grown in soil that has good drainage and consists of equal parts of peat, loam and leaf mold, with an addition of sand. The shoots should be trained to wires or trellis. Liquid fertilizer may be applied once in a while.
Eggplant - Transplants should be set in the garden 2 or 3 weeks after the frost-free date. Cold shock can kill them. Transplant in evening to make the transition easier. The plants should be set 2½ feet apart and covered with bottomless plastic gallon jugs to protect from wind and cold. The jugs should be removed after 2 or 3 weeks. In most areas, Eggplants will benefit from black plastic mulch, but in the lower South and warm West, soil temperatures can rise too high under it. Verticillium wilt is a serious and widespread soil-borne disease. Some gardeners grow Eggplant in containers just to avoid it. Eggplants are ready to harvest when the fruits are half-grown and the skin is still shiny. Mature fruits have dull skin, the seeds turn dark and the flesh may be acrid. Use pruning shears or heavy kitchen scissors to snip off the tough stems. Wear cotton gloves if the stems, leaves, or caps of fruits are spiny.
Garden Huckleberry - Plant this as you would Tomatoes, preferably using black mulch, which makes it easier to collect ripe fruits that drop. Pick up all the fruits because they can be bothersome volunteers. When harvesting, pick only the ripe fruits, but don’t eat them raw. Cook them for use in pies or preserves, or mix them with dark-colored vegetables. The black juice will stain, so be careful.
Potato - Don't grow more than a dozen or so plants if you don't have dark, cool (40 degrees F.) storage area that is protected from freezing. About 4 months are needed from planting to harvest. So, if you have a small storage space and garden, consider faster-maturing vegetables. Potatoes need an acidic soil with a pH of 4.8 to 5.4; so, set aside a space in the garden for only them. Potatoes also need magnesium and calcium, but instead of using lime, use gypsum (calcium sulfate) and Epsom salts (for magnesium), which won't raise the pH. Adding 3 inches of sphagnum peat moss also helps. Straw mulch should be added under the vines as they grow to make sure the small tubers aren't exposed to the sun. Potatoes tend to set tubers near the surface and if the soil washes away and they are hit by sunlight, they will turn green and bitter. Another way to prevent this is by setting seed pieces on a deep layer of rotting straw or hay, covering them with more of the same and then ridging up the soil 2 or 3 inches deep to hold down the organic matter. Mulched tubers will grow large and are exceptionally smooth and easy to wash. Harvest your Potatoes by carefully digging, with a fork, the soil that is 2 feet from the center of the plant. Work your way in, sliding the tines under the tubers so they can be lifted without being punctured. After one pass through the bed, turn the soil over again to find more Potatoes. Don’t wash or bruise the tubers. Store them in a completely dark, cool place. If they start to sprout, rub off the eyes when peeling; sprouts shouldn’t be eaten.
Ornament - These may be increased by seeds or cuttings. Seeds should be sown in well-drained pots or pans of finely sifted, sandy soil. Moisten the soil and set the containers where the temperature will not drop below 50 degrees. When the seedlings have two leaves, they are set 1½ inches apart in a pan or box filled with light, rich soil. Water and shade from direct sunlight until they are established and then expose to full sunlight. When they're large enough, they are planted in 3-inch pots and a couple of weeks later, the tips of the main shoots are pinched off. When side shoots appear, they are repotted to larger pots and the tips of the side shoots are pinched off. They may eventually be set outside or remain inside. Cuttings may be made from 2-inch side shoots and inserted in sand and vermiculite.
Eggplant - Seeds need warm soil (temperature 70 to 80 degrees) and are usually started indoors, 8 to 10 weeks before the frost-free date. The baby plants need strong sunlight or fluorescent light in late winter. They aren't set out till a few weeks after the frost-free date.
Potato - These can be started from true seeds or pieces of tubers. Certified seed potato tubers are free of major diseases and can be ordered in early spring or bought at seed and feed stores. True seeds are becoming more and more popular. When you start from tubers, cut them into "seed pieces". These segments contain 2 or more eyes (buds) and a chunk or potato tissue to nourish the sprouts while they are forming roots. Each piece should weigh 2 to 3 ounces; if they are smaller, they usually start off slowly and sprouts from larger pieces or small whole tubers can revive if hit by light frost. Set the pieces 3 to 4 inches deep and half this depth if the soil is heavy clay. They should be a foot apart in rows that are 3 to 4 feet apart. Start as early as green peas as long as drainage is good as in sandy soil or in raised beds with compost rich soil. In areas with cool summers and a 5-month or more growing season, planting can be made in mid-spring. If commercial seed potatoes aren't available, you can use seed pieces from your own summer harvest as long as you air-dry and treat them with fungicide to reduce rotting. When they germinate, spread some straw over them, but not so much for mice to hide in it. Add more straw if a heavy freeze is predicted. If you are going to plant true seeds, start them indoors, 8 weeks before the frost-free date. The temperature should be 70 degrees. Transplant the seedlings to individual pots and set them out (after hardening off) when the weather is still cool, but after danger from frost has passed. If they are started too early or hardened off too much, they can begin setting tubers when they are too small to bear the burden.
Ornament - S. crispum; S. jasminoides (Potato Vine); S. Wendlandii; S. Pseudo-Capsicum (Jerusalem Cherry or Christmas Cherry); S. Capsicastrum (False Jerusalem Cherry); S. aculeatissimum; S. integrifolium; S. Rantonnetii; S. Seaforthianum; S. Dulcamara (Bittersweet or Woody Nightshade); S. nigrum (Wonderberry or Sunberry); S. marginatum; S. aviculare (lacinatum); S. giganteum (African Holly); S. macranthum.
Eggplant - Oval fruits: Dusky, Beauty Hybrid, Florida Market (for the South), Early Beauty. Long fruits: Ichiban, Agora.
Garden Huckleberry - S. melanocerasum
Potato - Potatoes grown from tubers include the red varieties: Red Pontiac, Red LaSoda, Norland Red, Sangre. White varieties: Kennebec, White Cobbler, Katahdin, Russet Centennial. Those grown from seed include: Homestead Hybrid and Explorer.
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