The Naranjilla

by Gene Joyner, Extension Agent I

IFAS Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension Service

The Naranjilla Solanum quitoense is a tomato relative native to the northern part of South America and it's cultivated usually at high elevations, between three and seven thousand feet. The plant can grow to heights of six to ten feet with very large spiny leaves, often measuring 18 inches long, and five to eight inches wide or bigger. The dark green leaves have purple veins on the upper surface and whitish or purplish on the lower surface.

All parts of the plant are very pubescent and contain many thorns. The globular shaped fruit usually measure an inch and a half to two and a half inches diameter at maturity. They are bright orange and covered with short brittle hairs, which can be easily removed by rubbing. When cut open, the fruit resembles a tomato with green, acid pulp and many small seeds. A delicious and refreshing green colored juice is prepared from the fruits and the fruits can be made into drinks, or used in preserves and pies.

Production of the naranjilla is pretty much year round, although more fruits are produced during the summer months because of better growing conditions. Plants can be propagated easily by seeds or superior forms by cuttings or even grafting. Most plants begin to bear at six to twelve months of age and continued production can be expected for three to four years, before the plants begin to decline.

Like tomatoes, naranjilla is very subject to root knot, nematode, and other soil problems, and this causes a gradual decline. You can escape this problem by growing the plants in large containers, with an enriched potting medium.

A close relative of the naranjilla, called cocona, from the upper Amazon of Peru, is similar except it has cream colored pulp and no thorns. Its fruit is larger and more acid than naranjilla, but is made commonly into pies, preserves, and jelly. The cocona seems to be better fruited for Florida's subtropical climate and the plants don't have as many problems as naranjilla, which still prefers a little elevation rather than being grown at sea level.

Plants should be put in areas where they have good drainage, as they drown very quickly if flooded for even brief periods. If grown close to salt water, protect from direct spray with other more salt tolerant plantings to avoid possible leaf burns.

In areas inland, where hard freezes or frosts occur, some damage will be gotten on these plants if you have temperatures below 32°F. Always, save seeds during the winter months in case the plant is killed by unusually cold events. By doing so you can restart them from seed in the spring.


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