It seems like almost everyone I have talked with recently laments, where has the summer gone? As a matter of fact, where did September go? It seems like yesterday that it was Memorial Day and all of the summer residents to Maine were just rolling into town and we were rolling out our summer annuals. When I look back at photographs taken early in the season, it is amazing to see just how small all of these plants were in May. June was cool along the Maine coast but once July came, things warmed up and carried us through September. As the temperatures warmed, our plants grew. Some plants grew more than others and these are the ones we are noting to use again in different ways for next year’s displays.
This week’s plant was one of the show-stoppers of our summer display. We had an exhibition of Lunaform pots at CMBG all summer long. In our Burpee Kitchen Garden, there were 4 matching pots that our kitchen gardener filled to the rim with plants. The centerpiece of this arrangement was Solanum quitoense or “bed of nails plant.” The common name for this tomato relative comes from the nearly inch long, purple spikes that emanate from the leaves, stems, and main stalk of the plant. Another common name is naranjilla, although this is primarily associated with the non-spiky plant grown more for its fruit, than its leaves. A plant native to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, it can grow up to 8 feet tall in cultivation, although in our short summer of Maine, we will be lucky if ours reaches 3-4 feet in height by the end of the summer. It is an annual so we can propagate ours through cuttings or by saving the seeds from the fleshy, bright orange fruit.
An individual leaf on these plants can be over a foot in length and 10″ or more in width. They are fuzzy, light green with a purple tinge, and the afore to mentioned purple spikes. People who have never seen these plants before cannot believe that such a macabre plant really exists. I remember when I saw one for the first time 15 years ago at Swarthmore College. I did a double take and then of course, immediately wanted one.
I would suggest that you grow this annual out of the reach of children. The spikes not only look sharp, they are sharp! Grow these plants in a rich, well-drained soil in part-shade to full-sun. The warmer your climate, the more shade I would give this plant in the middle of the summer.