Exotic Solanums

I just finished seeding tzimbalo melon pears, pepino garden berries and cocona. About to order seeds for the Naranjilla, litchi tomatoes and wonderberry. Exotic solanums have always fascinated me and i’m excited to see how they do in the garden this year. Anyone here have much experience growing these or any other unusual solanum relatives?


I’ve seen some exotic solanums used as root stock for others (like eggplant). You can find videos of it on youtube. Seems to be worthwhile if you are in a climate where nightshades are perennial (or have a greenhouse).

i have the wonderberry. low maintenance and heavy producer of some bland berries.

I went on an exotic Solanum kick last year and grew all of these and more. By the end of the year I was really down on Solanums. Honestly they don’t taste very good! Don’t want to ruin your fun, but keep your expectations low.

I didn’t get to taste Naranjilla or Cocona but I did taste the others. Pepino was my favorite - if you can ripen them properly they are like an enhanced cucumber. Tzimbalos were just bitter as all hell. I though they were underripe but they didn’t never got beyond bitter. Wonderberry and Litchi are incredibly seedy, and the flavor is not good enough to make up for it in my opinion. I’ve heard Naranjilla and Cocona need to be juiced and sweetened to be palatable.

I also grew Tamarillo (no fruit yet), Kangaroo Apple (BITTER), Dwarf Tamarillo (BITTER), Coconilla (no fruit yet), Jaltomato (taste is similar to Wonderberry), few species of Physalis aka Ground Cherry (some were excellent, others inedible), and wild tomatoes (wild for a reason).

Pepino and Tamarillo are the only ones to survive outside all winter. They’re pretty cold tolerant. Generally the rest are as hardy as a typical tomato or eggplant. I kept a Naranjilla, Cocona, and Coconilla alive in my greenhouse so I get a chance to taste the fruit.

I heard the Cockroach berry, S. capsicoides, is a good tomato rootstock,and when you graft a tomato onto it, the resulting plant starts to assume a tree-like form similar to a tamarillo which sounds very appealing. Tried to grow seeds of it last year, was not able to germinate them. I heard similar things about grafting eggplant. Would be interesting to experiment with.

I grew a tamarillo tree at a garden I worked at at school several years ago. I liked the fruit, but it does the same kind of smokiness you find in suriname cherries and I know that flavor isn’t appreciated by everyone. Dwarf tamarillo is also one of the seeds I sowed under the grow lights today, if the fruit is similar to the tamarillo I think i’ll like them.

I’ve had good experiences with the physalis/ground cherry/cape gooseberry/poha berry (so many names for this plant) though that was with fruits I tried at a produce show, not any that I or saw grown in a garden. I’ve heard that if the husks aren’t ruptured, they can keep at root cellar temperatures along with butternut squashes, sweet potatoes etc for three months or more.

I’m not to keen on trying to grow the naranjilla because all the literature seems to indicate that low humidity and temps over 85F just kill it. I’m up in a very windy, hot and dry high desert climate.

Consider my expectations tempered, though I did have high hopes for the Litchi. I heard they tasted like very sweet strawberries, though only at the top ripeness where they’ve already fallen on the ground. Did you run any grafting experiments with tomatoes or eggplants?


Some of the literature I read said that it’s much better when processed into jams, etc, like elderberries.

I almost ordered wonderberry seed last year, but all the reviews I found indicated they weren’t worth the effort. Best for cooking with lots of sugar…another crop only good for marketing!

I tried tzimbalo melon pears a few years back and wonderberry this year. Neither were particularly good. They both have an aspartame-like flavor that’s kind of gross and unsettling.


I’m growing several unusual solanum species. Pepino melon golden and purple, solanum alternatopinnatum, solanum robustum, solanum sisymbriifolium, tamarillo, physalis…

Solanum robustum flowers

Pepino melon golden and purple flowers



I like the true wonderberry as well as black nightshade berries for eating out of hand but they have to be much riper than those shown. The individual berries must be ready to drop from the cluster before they are very edible. Here they are just weeds so you can pull up a whole plant and just select the ripest fruit. I wouldn’t fool with trying to process them though.

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I grow tamarillo in a container here in VT. After trialing lots of subtropicals for a future attached greenhouse, its one that I’ve found rugged, forgiving, and reasonably fruitful. Ive had the same tree for ~7-8 years. It winters over fine in my cold sunlit basement, and lives outside ~ mid April - Early Nov. against the south wall of the house. I harvest about 2 qts. of fruit, which is left to hang until ripe usually somewhat after the tree has been brought in. Its an unusual taste for sure. I like to peel them and dip them in sugar. They’re sort of passionfruit-esque with a distinct Solanaceous bite that is kind of pleasing in an odd way.

This year, I’m growing out some harder to find Naranjilla / Lulo relatives from higher elevations in Ecuador. Specifically, I’m growing two types of “Naranjilla de monte” : Solanaceae pseudolulo and Solanaceae stramonifolium. Both are weedier wilder cousins of Lulo that I’m hoping will be more precocious, early ripening (smaller fruit), and hopefully less sensitive to daylength. I’ve read that daylength sensitivity / photoperiodism has made greenhouse cultivation of naranjilla impractical, so I’ve avoided growing it to date. I had a friend bring this seed back from a fruit collector/seedsman in Ecuador. Fingers crossed!

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Can you cover them with blackout fabric to shorten the day, like they do in a chrysanthemum greenhouse?

If that were all I was trying to grow, then yes. I have a couple of irons in the fire

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My naranjilla started flowering mid-August last year when day length was around 13.5 hours. I had the first successful fruit set the first week of October when days were still just under 12 hours long. Not sure if the delay in successful pollination was due to the change in day length or because daytime temperatures were too warm in September and August (we had multiple days over 100 degrees). I hand pollinated the flowers for the first month and nothing took. Anyways, at least for my plant, it doesn’t seem like days need to be that short for fruit set. I currently have it in an unheated greenhouse and it has continued to set fruit periodically, seemingly without pollination. The fruits set in October are still unripe though probably close to full-size.

Hmmmm, I’d think Napa would be sort of ideal except for daylength. Sounds like it’s been more of a novelty for you too, though


It’s a bit too cold in the winter and a bit too hot in the summer where I am at. Vallejo down where the valley opens onto San Pablo Bay would be a better location. I started six seedlings last February and all but two died the first week in June we hit 100 degrees. The other seedling made it until the middle of July. My remaining plant has lasted through multiple heat waves surprisingly well with just a bit of crisping on the leaf margins.

Pretty sure the frosts this winter would have killed it if I had left it outside though. Or at least damaged too many leaves for the fruit to ripen. My tamarillo has frozen back to a couple feet. We’ll see if it resprouts. The pepinos were overwintered under my south-facing porch and have lost some leaves but are otherwise unharmed.

I haven’t had any ripen yet. I think the plant needs a bit more warmth than it’s currently getting for the fruit to mature.

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That’s all helpful info. I hadn’t realized Lulo would be after so much heat. The tamarillo seems not to like intense heat, from what I’ve seen. I’ve read that as well.

Well these are likely a little lower quality than the ones I harvested a couple of months ago, but my Tamarillo is still ripening fruit. My basement gets down around 38 for a good chunk of the winter, for the sake of comparison. It’s looking good going into spring. It held more leaves than most winters, has flower buds ready to go, and not too many aphids. It’s really an aphid magnet while overwintering it in the cold.

I also have 3 Physalis peruviana that were grown from seed last year. They’ve produced and ripened a couple of dozen fruit since I dug and potted them and brought them in around mid-Nov. Decent flavor and productivity considering the cold and lack of steady and strong sunlight. I’m looking forward to watching them explode this season when I pop them in the ground in my high tunnel!


I wouldn’t say that they’re after a lot of heat. Just slightly more warmth and maybe more sun than we’ve been getting. We’ve had very little sunshine this winter (I think Seattle has had more sunny days than my part of California, actually) and consequently the greenhouse hasn’t been much over 55-65 degrees during the day for months on end. Lulos, and I think many Solanaceae in general, are aphid magnets too.

I haven’t had a tamarillo long enough to judge heat tolerance long-term. Mine was fine with a couple days in the 90’s last fall but it did abort flower buds. On the other hand, Cyphomandra abutiloides will take 100+ all summer long. If only it didn’t taste like poison. Probably some good hybridizing potential there.

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