Monday, September 10, 2012

FAQ: Litchi Tomato

What's that plant? and other frequently asked questions

The litchi tomato is neither a litchi nor a tomato, though it is a member of the nightshade family. It is also one extremely hostile plant. The whole thing is covered in thorns: stems, both surfaces of the leaves, and the husks that wrap around the fruit. And these are big, long, extremely sharp thorns that will draw blood, even through your gardening gloves. I speak here from experience.

Why, you ask, would I plant such a thing right smack in the middle of my vegetable garden? Particularly given that it gets to be about five feet tall, with long sprawling thorn-covered branches sticking out everywhere?

Because the plant label said its fruit tasted like cherries, that's why.

What's that plant?

Solanum sisymbriifolium, also known as "litchi tomato" or "Morelle de Balbis"

So, does it taste like cherries?

Not exactly. It reminded me of kiwi fruit. Definitely interesting.

What kind of plant is it?

It's a nightshade, like the tomato, eggplant, and potato.

Where does it come from?

The plant originally comes from South America.
This one was grown by Sweetwater Nursery, in Sebastopol, CA.
I purchased the seedling at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, in Berkeley, CA.

Left: the flowers look like the ones that my potato vines should have produced. Right: immature fruit in spiny green husks.
Ripe fruit. I pick it with gloves and pruning shears.