Oh dear. I really have been remiss in providing updates and photos of the garden in its first year. The last photo I posted was on June 29. We were headed to Denver and I wanted a record of it before I left. Until that time June was still a bit wet and sometimes cold. A heatwave struck while we were gone and the garden really took off from there.
Kangaroo apple (Solanum laciniatum) is another in a line of marginally edible, strange solanums that I am growing this year. I say “marginally edible” because the fruit is edible when ripe and poisonous when green. Still, I’m not convinced it’s worth eating. Edible and worth eating are two different things entirely. Morelle de balbis fruit is edible, but is it worth growing if food is your priority? Not so much. Even still, I am growing that again this year, too.
The kangaroo apple is a subtropical plant that needs warm weather and a long season to produce fruit. I started my seeds very early — as early as January or February. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which and I lost my original tag.
TIP: I write the sow date on the tags when I sow seeds as a way to track each plant’s progress later on. This is especially helpful when growing long season plants like kangaroo apple. If they don’t set fruit in time then I can gauge how much earlier I need to start the following year in order to be successful.
I purchased my seeds from Solana Seeds in Quebec.
I’ll update you on the progress of this plant as the season develops. I’m very curious about the fruit.
This pretty blue flower is shoofly aka Apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes), a strange solanum that I am growing for the first time this year.
I purchased the seeds last year at the Montreal Seedy Saturday but was unable to grow them as I quickly ran out of space. I’m STILL trying to find space for some of the seed I bought at that event. This year I wanted to make it a priority and sowed the seeds indoors quite early to ensure they would be a nice size by late spring. As you can see, they are already flowering.
Homegrown Mosquito Repellent?
Besides the beautiful blue flowers and Chinese Lantern-like seed pods, Nicandra is often grown for its insect repellent properties. Apparently people rub the dried seed pods, seeds, and chafe on their skin to ward off biting mosquitos. If this really works it could be a bit of revelation for me as I do not like using Deet and I am the first person to get bit (and viciously) no matter the size of the group I am with. Despite the fact that it is natural, I think I will do some more research into the plant’s chemical components before I go rubbing it into my skin or on my hands and face. If you’ve had any experience using this plant as a repellent please weigh in through the comments. I’d love to hear of your experiences.
Until I’ve done my homework and am thoroughly satisfied of its safety, I’m resigned to happily appreciate the look of the plant in the garden. As an added bonus (and despite its reputation) the flowers are attracting pollinators like this wee hoverfly. And I am in favour of anything that will bring in pollinators to our previously barren backyard.
Warning: Nicandra is a self-seeding menace and extremely invasive. I plan to keep on top of deadheading as I do not need the added hassle of weeding hundreds of seedlings next spring.
Furthermore, despite its resemblance to edible solanums such as ground cherry, Nicandra is NOT EDIBLE. The fact that it is considered a poison is one reason why I am not jumping to rub it all over myself until I learn more.
I am currently on a long flight to Thailand. Either that or I am currently in Thailand and passed out from a bad case of jet lag. I haven’t worked out the math. Before leaving for the trip, I assessed my seedling situation and decided that plants that were busting out of their seed starting pots would need to be repotted into larger containers if they were going to have a shot at thriving during my time away.
It’s surprising how much plants can grow in two weeks time!
I also decided to do this in consideration of our house sitter who is significantly over-loaded with plants to care for while we are away as well as a fussy, prima donna cat that will probably hiss and swipe at him at least once before our return. Plants that have overgrown their containers tend to dry out quickly and he’s got enough on his plate between my ever-expanding collection of houseplants and the myriad of seedlings I’ve got on the go in anticipation of gardening season.
It’s mid-September (let’s pretend I did not say that out loud), and the glorious Morelle de Balbis plant is bearing ripe fruit. This process began a few weeks ago but I withheld my judgement until several were ready for picking.
I’ve had several opportunities to try them now and can report that the taste is, in a word, insipid. I read several descriptions shortly after purchasing the seeds and the fruit I am picking from our yardshare garden does not meet some of the more flattering accounts. They do have a slight citrus note, but watermelon and cherries… Please. Either my palette is unrefined or others’ are overambitious. Mind you I am basing my entire assessment on a single plant grown in a rather wet year, but still.
The texture of the fruit is very similar to a tomatillo or ground cherry. I suspect that cooking might be in order for the remaining harvest. If I can manage to harvest it all. Those spikes are deadly. Like a tomatillo, the husks pull back from the soft part of the fruit as they mature. This leaves a little bit of room to manage them but not much. Davin was unable to pick even one the other day without spearing his fingers on those spines. He claims they are poisoned in some way and that the ensuing welt was bigger and more painful than it should have been for a spine of that size. This is one crop I’d happily leave to the critters, but I doubt they’ll be bothered when there are still so many passive foodstuffs left to steal.
So let’s tally up the score. Litchi tomato is a hostile and belligerent plant that threatens personal injury at every turn and produces tasteless fruit that is damned near impossible to harvest.
Will I grow it again? YES!
Regardless of the outcome I’m glad I tried this plant and will definitely grow it again, especially when I’ve got more space. The flowers are gorgeous and have attracted an abundance of pollinators to the garden. Watching it’s progress has been a delightful experiment and a good start to my explorations in Solanum Family oddities. In the future I will grow it for show only without the expectation of a useful food crop at the end of the season.