Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Welcome to August

As the summer heat continues to pummel the country LITFM presents a new summer article regarding a neat plant you may not have heard of; Solanum quitoense; commonly called Bed of Nails. Before I get into this weird and wonderful yet somewhat rare member of the nightshade family I would like to mention that the results of the Nightshade trials are fast approaching, results are due in August and believe me the results were not at all what was expected. Also I've been asked to be a guest on the Cumberland County Progressives TV show to talk about the book and some garden stuff. It airs on Time-Warner cable channel 7 and you can expect it will be posted after taping on the progressives site via Vimeo the Cumberland County Progressive's site is here:


As soon as I know what days the show will air you can find it posted right here, and now here is a garden fact.

With the summer heat so high watering is harder then ever but did you know that if you follow four basic rules your effort is cut in half?

1. Determine if your wilted plant is wilting due to heat or dryness.

2. Always check pots, planters and raised beds thinner then 2 feet first.

3. Try not to waste water wetting leaves, this may damage some plants or promote fungal diseases.

4. Most plats under drought stress badly need about 1" of water a week, you can provide some of this by watering the base of the plant while counting aloud to 60. Note that fruiting plants may need signifigantly more and thus you can easily double the amount or reduce it as needed.

The above  Bed of Nails plants are quite young, but  in shape and form except for the large amounts of fuzz resemble eggplant in appearance

Solanum quitoense - Naranjilla (aka Bed of Nails)

This is one of those plants that is so bizarre that it screams for more attention. Commonly mistaken with it's cousin the Devil's Thorn (aka Firethorn Nightshade) which is Solanum pyracanthium. Bed of Nails has more then ornamental value. The first thing to know about these strange members of the nightshade family is that they are covered in fine prickly hairs. These hairs can get lodged in the skin not unlike the fine needles on most cactus. Needless to say mature specimens have more developed needles and thus you want to wear gloves and plant these plants before the needles are developed. A mature Bed of Nails is a sight to behold. Large seemingly fuzzy leaves have brilliantly purple colored spines jutting out at somewhat regular intervals along the leaf margins and veins. The same spines appear along the stems which makes for a striking green, gray and purple color combination. Additionally some of the foliage may take on a purple hue which addes to the surprise value of the plant. I know what your thinking, 'Well thats nice and all but what do I get for all that prickly madness?'. Simply put Bed of Nails produces edible fruit. The fruit itself is a common staple in certain south American cuisine. The fruits, roughly the size of a golf ball, are often cut in quarters and eaten fresh with a little bit of salt. Otherwise the fruit can be squeezed for juice and be drank or used as a citrusy flavoring. Some recipes go so far as to use the Naranjilla juice as a replacement for lemon or lime juice.
There is one precaution about Naranjilla you should know, it looks exactly like a similar plant called Devil's Thorn that I mentioned earlier. Because of genetic variability with Naranjilla, it may be hard to tell the plants apart at times. I do not know if Devil's Thorn is edible so you should remember that the fruit of Naranjilla when cut in half while ripe will always have a green ring roughly where the seeds are.
As far as care goes Naranjilla is undemanding, it can tolerate drought if the soil is decent and can form impenetrable but annual thickets once established. For our climate it is an annual, but it will return from seed if positioned well. In climates further then hardiness zone 9 it should be treated as a annual. Otherwise you can harvest overripe fruit and collect the seed for next year. Occasional fertilizer treatments will aid it's growth greatly and if you want a heavy yeild feed it weekly. With summer temperatures reaching record levels this year I would advise you pay close attention to maintaining good watering practices.

A good book that details Both Solanum pyracanthum and Solanum quitoense is Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellenchamp and Paula Gross on page 206-207.

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