Q: I purchased a plant last year in Hilton Head, South Carolina and need some identification help.
The plant was only know by the name ^solanum^ and this nursery had only one and knew nothing more. The plant grew to about 5 feet tall and had large light green leaves that resembled an open hand. The stalk and vein of each leaf had a row of thorns. The plant developed small fruits that later turned orange and have since dried and fallen off the plant. I kept some of the seed with the hope of growing more this year. What is this plant?
A: The plant you’ve described is one I first saw at Callaway Gardens. Though the spines are fearsome, the plant was a real show-stopper. It is kin to the tomato and eggplant. It’s common name is “naranjilla” but its scientific name is ^Solanum quitoense^ ‘Lulo’. The orange fruits you saw are filled with a jelly which tastes like a mixture of pineapple and lemon. It is used for drinks and sauces in the Andes.
You should have no problem growing more of the plants if you saved the seed. They can be planted now in soil-filled cups on your kitchen window sill or you can wait until late April, when the soil is warm, to sow the seeds outdoors. Naranjilla is not hardy outdoors during an Atlanta winter but the seed make it easy to grow and enjoy each year.