Update on the Morelle de Balbis

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

When I wrote about the Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) last it was on April 30, 2010 when the seedling was still living in the greenhouse. It had just begun to produce its thorns and I was beginning to get a glimpse into what I’d signed on for.

It is now July 1 and the plant has been living outdoors in soil for just over a month or so. When it came time to plant, I decided to grow it in a large pot, rather than in the ground. The final mature growth of this thorny Tomato Family plant is estimated to come in at around 5′ tall. I had a feeling it was going to be fairly treacherous to grow. Planting it into a garden bed meant there would be a greater chance of scratching myself on the thorns. I am not a particularly graceful person. I bash into door frames fairly regularly. I live in small spaces and I garden in cramped quarters, which means I regularly come into close contact with plants whether I want to or not. As the Morelle de Balbis grows it becomes more and more apparent that this is not a plant I want rubbing up against my skin.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Shortly after planting. I used straw mulch to help lock in moisture and keep weed seeds from sprouting.


I did not have any room left in the big pots on my roof, so I decided to plant it in a container in “the new space.” Oh, didn’t I tell you? There is a FOURTH garden this year. The fourth is a yard share, located through a secret door in the back garden of friend. One of my goals for this year was to get a bigger garden space. And when it didn’t happen through the City allotment garden network, a friend stepped up and asked me to join their space. I am so grateful.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

With other gardeners in the space, I had to be especially mindful of this plant’s placement. As a part of the garden’s revamp in the spring, we decided to make use of a sunny spot along a fence by lining up large recycling bins for container growing. I planted the Morelle de Balbis in the furthest bin along the fence where I hoped it would receive minimal contact.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
About a month after planting. The Morelle de Balbis is in the centre and is flanked by two determinate tomato plants: ‘Black Seaman’ and ‘Whippersnapper.’ All are under-planted with different varieties of basil.


So far, so good. The recycling bins make excellent containers and all of the plants are coming along well. I’ve under-planted with ‘Sacred’ basil and it is turning out to be the happiest and healthiest crop I have ever grown.

The Morelle de Balbis is not yet at full size so I suspect the plant, and subsequently, its thorns, are only going to grow larger. Here’s what it looked like yesterday:

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved morelledebalbis1.jpg

Even the buds are thorny. Eventually the fruit will be thorny as well. I think I’ll be harvesting these with my über forceps and a pair of leather work gloves.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

These are the leaves; beautiful, but also thorny. Help!

If you’re interested in growing some unusual Solanaceae plants, Solana Seeds in Quebec carries a wide selection of seed. This year I’ve had the fortune of trading seedlings with another exotic edibles fan and am growing a few other plants listed on the site. I intend to introduce them when they get productive later in the season.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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14 thoughts on “Update on the Morelle de Balbis

  1. I’m incredibly clumsy (augmented by lack of sleep) so that beastie would tear my ass apart. She’s not for MY garden- but I’m enjoying the pictures of it posted here. Look, don’t touch..

  2. Amanda: Nothing to forgive. I didn’t say. It produces fruit like a tomatillo or ground cherry, but red and with thorns that cover the husk.

  3. z. briedis: I have no idea which image you mean as I don’t name by photos using a convention like that. Where is the image you are talking about?

  4. it was on the garden show and tell the day i posted the comment and when i hit the picture it moved me to your flickr account and was titled by that number but no descriptive notes otherwise. it was a thin petaled lily, red/pink and white stripes.
    sorry for the confusion. you rock.

  5. I Live in Louisiana, these grow everywhere here. In fact,very hard to control. Plus they hurt if you brush up against them. Funny how a plant here is considered a weed and another place considered a jewel.!

  6. Wow this looks amazing and even though i am extremely injury prone i would love to grow this. How would i get these seeds!

  7. I wonder if this is what John Wyndham had in mind when he wrote about Triffids. A spiny tomatillo almost doesn’t sound worth the effort, but looking at the pictures it has a fearsome beauty to it that I’m very glad to have seen, if not experienced. As other people have said, harvesting is going to be interesting …!

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