Pumpkin on a stick

FDA Compliance

Is it a pumpkin? Is it a tomato…? No! Pumpkin on a stick is actually an eggplant!

Seeds arrived in the mail from GardensAll Facebook community member, Kathlyn Pykosz Cairns, so we had to grow some! Gardeners with seeds in hand… #planted!

It’s been fun learning more about these and to see ours developing from lumpy green fruit to more and more resembling their namesake: Pumpkin on a stick plant.

Ornamental Eggplant

Also called “ornament eggplant”, ours are doing very well. Whatever has nibbled the leaves hasn’t been a problem. Likely because the leaves are large enough to sustain the photosynthesis necessary for the fruit.

Solanum Integrifolium, also call: “Pumpkin on a Stick”, and “Ornamental Eggplant”. Image by GardensAll.comSolanum Integrifolium, also call: “Pumpkin on a Stick”, and “Ornamental Eggplant”. – Image by GardensAll.com

Although the fruit looks a bit like a pumpkin… or an fire orange tomato, it’s actually an eggplant. The botanical name is solanum integrifolium. Sometimes the species gets confused with an African “cousin”, solanum aethiopicum, and there’s a lot of cross-over in the common names as well (see list below).

For ornamental pumpkin sticks, allow the fruit to dry on the stem.

Also common to Asia and South America, in North America, this nightshade eggplant is more often used as an ornamental, where people trim the branches “sticks”, strip the leaves and allow the fruit to dry on the stem. These bright colored “pumpkin sticks” are then used as decorative accents to flower arrangements, especially in fall.

Dried pumpkin on a stick, ornamental eggplant, favored for fall decor. Image by Kathlyn Pykosz Cairns for GardensAll.com

Solanum Aethiopicum Common Names

These are some of the more common English names for solanum aethiopicum.

  • Gilo / Jilo
  • African aubergine
  • African scarlet eggplant
  • Bitter tomato
  • Chinese scarlet eggplant
  • Ethiopian eggplant
  • Ethiopian nightshade
  • Garden egg
  • Golden apple
  • Love apple
  • Mock tomato
  • Pumpkin on a Stick / Pumpkin Stick
  • Ruffed tomato
  • Scarlet eggplant
  • Silverleaf nightshade
  • Tomato-fruit eggplant

Below are some photos of our pumpkin on a stick plants. We’re gardening organically, which means that plants, leaves and fruits are often not picture perfect. Here, the leaves of our ornamental eggplant bush have been mottled by flea beetles, a common garden pest and particular enemy to nightshades. This can be helped by natural pest control but we’ve gotten a bit behind on garden maintenance in this busy season.

Time to get some more beneficial nematodes!

However, appearance aside, the fruits are producing beautifully and appear unaffected by the straggly leaves. Perhaps it has allowed more energy to flow into the fruits in much the way some people advise trimming the leaves from tomato plants.

Ornamental Eggplant flowers are attractive to pollinators. Image by GardensAll.com “Pumpkin on a stick” flowers are nondescript, but pollinators like them. (Leaves ravaged by flea beatles, a common enemy to nightshades). Image by GardensAll.com Green pumpkin on a stick are less bitter than when fully ripe and reddish-orange. Image by GardensAll.com

The leaves of these ornamental eggplants have wicked thorns ALL OVER!

But are Pumpkin Sticks Edible?

Yes! You can eat the fruit of pumpkin sticks, and the green fruit extract. In particular, the leaves of the solanum integrifolium has been proven to have anti-inflammatory benefit, however, some varieties have many sharp thorns all over the leaves and stems.1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4123553/#sec5title

Pumpkin on a stick have lots of thorns all over the leaves and stems. Image by GardensAll.com Pumpkins on a stick have lots of thorns all over the leaves and stems. Image by GardensAll.com

After all, it’s eggplant, named “ornamental” in the west where it’s not a familiar taste or food. However, these can be bitter, and so most people in the western parts of the world prefer to use these ornamentally, especially in fall.

When young and green, or when orange and fully ripened. Native to Africa, the fruits are typically eaten green when they’re sweetest, however, they’re also used in recipes good for bitter fruits when they’re bright and ripe. Bitter foods can certainly be an acquired taste, and is totally dependent on how you prepare them.

The tender shoots and leaves as well as the roots are consumed for food and medicine in parts of Africa. There is a study indicating medicinal benefit of the fruit, as green extract, however, alway use caution and properly researched information, and if traditional healing or folklore, verify and validate carefully.

We’ve found one simple recipe to try and will search some more to test. Whatever turns out good, we’ll publish here.

Brazilian Jilo Recipe

Recipe from ThePerfectPantry.com2)

  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 6 African eggplant, sliced or chopped
  • 1-2 Onions, sliced or chopped
  • Garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Sauté onions, add garlic in olive oil. Stir for a couple minutes on medium heat. Add eggplant, continue to sautéing until onions are lightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you have recipes using this exotic vegetable, please share them in the comments, on the GardensAll Facebook page or via email.

RESOURCES

  • For more on solanum aethiopicum origins and scientific classification.2) 2)
  • For more on medicinal benefits of solanum aethiopicum. 2) 2)

Wishing you great gardens and happy harvests!

I’m LeAura Alderson, entrepreneur, ideator, media publisher, writer and editor of GardensAll.com. Pursuits in recent years have been more planting seeds of ideas for business growth more than gardening. However, I’ve always been interested in medicinal herbs and getting nutrition and healing from food over pharmacy. As a family we’re eager to dig more deeply into gardening and edible landscape for the love of fresh organic foods and self sustainability. We thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the creative ingenuity of the GardensAll community.

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References

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Solanum Integrifolium or Solanum aethiopicum L., is better known to dried flower arrangers as Pumpkin On A Stick. Its other names on garden information sites include Pumpkin Tree, Pumpkin Bush, Ornamental Eggplant, Hmong Eggplant (Laos and Vietnam ), Mock Tomato, Japanese Golden Eyes and Chinese Scarlet Eggplant.
Most of those names can’t be found on the Internet, nor could I find any information about their being used as bitter ingredients in Vietnamese dishes. I did find a reference to them on an . (The Royal Museum for Central Africa)
Seeds of Change offers this information “This unusual plant is actually an ornamental eggplant. When the fruit turns orange, remove all the leaves and display as a fresh or dried bouquet of flowers. A Curiosity certain to keep your friends and neighbors guessing. Like eggplant, it grows easily from transplants. “
Cheerful information but does not cover anything about the fact that everyone in our little gardener circle who tried to grow them this year also got to learn about Colorado Potato Beetles. The buggers ate the leaves off of all our plants.
I happened to be out there one day and noticed the damage and went to war, hand killing all of them. Now, the plant is growing new leaves and flowers.
The harvesting information is interesting. You just remove all the leaves from the stems and use them as is on their own stems when making fall arrangements.
Bella Online has the best information about how to use the fruit
“Pumpkin-on-a-stick is one of the most spectacular fall florals you can imagine. They’re becoming a very popular cut flower stem for autumn arrangements. They embody the very essence of fall on a single stem. These look just like miniature pumpkins. Both the color and shape of these small fruits are just as exquisite.”
So, I want to grow it again next year of course. Now that I know a little more about it, I want to see if I can do a better job with it and grow one of the bush-trees of Pumpkin on a Stick that the seed companies say is possible.
Anyone out there growing this and have tips for drying and using?

Pumpkin On a Stick

Dark orange fruits an inch or two in size hang on sticks, just right for a dried flower bouquet. You may have guessed they aren’t really pumpkins. Would you believe they are a kind of eggplant? Technically known as Solanum aethiopicum (or synonym S. integrifolium,) these novelties are a close relative of grocery store eggplants. “Pumpkin pepper” is another name used for this plant.

Buy at least one of these cuties and you’ll be set for life. Pumpkin on a stick is as easy to grow as its cousins, tomato and eggplant. All of these plants grow in warm soil and full sun. You can grow seed from the “pumpkins” that you buy for decoration, or get seed from a number of commercial suppliers. “Pumpkin pepper” is another name used for this plant. It’s not likely you will find young plants for sale next spring as you would tomato and eggplant. Plan to grow them yourself. This decorative plant would be a fun addition to a child’s garden.

Plant the seed ¼ to ½ inch deep in pots or garden. Start the seeds indoors if you would do so for tomatoes or eggplants in your area. They should emerge in a week or so, and will look like eggplant seedlings. Developing plants soon grow into a woody, three to four foot tall bush similar to an eggplant or sweet pepper plant. (Hint: If you grow many seedlings, label the pots carefully. They can look similar when small.)

If starting “pumpkin on a stick” indoors, give them fourteen hours a day of bright light for six or eight weeks. When nights are warm, start moving the plants outside. Plant into warm, average garden soil in early summer. Give them room – space plants at least 30 inches apart. Water weekly and fertilize like other vegetables. Use a tomato cage to make sure the branches don’t break in summer storms.

Pumpkin on a stick grows on a plant that looks like an eggplant. Small flowers are followed by green squatty shaped fruit. Fruits will ripen to deep reddish orange and will eventually dry right on the plant. Frost will kill the leaves on the plant; it may be perennial in zones that have only a short cold season.

Display the pumpkins right on the stick, or pick them off and fill a bowl. The fruits are naturally glossy and will keep their rich hues throughout the season. In fact, the dried fruits last for years, with their color darkening to a glowing russet-brown.

In other parts of the world, these fruits are called mock tomato, kumba, or scarlet eggplant. It is widely grown in Africa where it was developed from local wild plants. Both fruits and leaves may be eaten. Gardeners who are growing this plant for the first time, with no other knowledge of the plant, probably won’t be using this as a fun new dinner ingredient. Plants for a Future says the fruits are quite bitter. The leaves are also used as a vegetable in Africa, but they are bitter as well and may contain toxic alkaloids. African cooks know which leaves to pick and how to prepare them to avoid the alkaloids. (Don’t eat parts of this plant unless you have good advice on how to use them safely. I could not find any resources to help with that.) The plant is safe to handle and doesn’t pose any great danger to children.

Look for “pumpkin on a stick” this fall. These offbeat dried eggplants are ideal for dried flower display, and easy to grow in your garden next year.

Pumpkin On A Stick Plant Info – Learn About Ornamental Eggplant Care

If you love to decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving, then you should be growing pumpkin on a stick plant. Yes, that is really the name, or at least one of them, and how apropos it is. What is a pumpkin on a stick? Well, it looks exactly like a pumpkin on a stick. That said, it isn’t a pumpkin or even related – it’s actually an eggplant. Interested in growing pumpkin on a stick? Keep reading to learn how to grow ornamental eggplants.

What is a Pumpkin on a Stick Plant?

A pumpkin on a stick plant (Solanum integrifolium) is not a pumpkin. As mentioned, it is a type of eggplant grown as an ornamental, but because of how it looks, confusion is inevitable. Part of the nightshade family and related to tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, pumpkin on a stick looks exactly like small orange pumpkins growing on a stick, albeit a stereotypically thorned eggplant stick.

Otherwise, the plant has an upright habit with large leaves. Both the

stems and leaves have thorns. The leaves are dotted with small prickles and the stem with large purple thorns. The plant reaches a height of about 3-4 feet (around a meter) and 2-3 feet (61-91 cm.) across. The plant blooms with clusters of small white blossoms that are followed by small, pale green, ridged fruit.

As if there isn’t enough confusion, the plant has a number of other names, among them hmong eggplant, red China eggplant and scarlet Chinese eggplant. This specimen was brought to the United States from Thailand by Vanderbilt University in 1870 as a botanical, ornamental curiosity.

How to Grow Ornamental Eggplants

Ornamental eggplant is grown just as you would any other eggplant or tomato. The plant likes full sun and well-draining soil. Start seeds inside about 6 weeks before the average last frost for your area with temps of at least 75 F. (24 C.). Place them on a heating mat or on top of the refrigerator and provide them with 12 hours of light.

When the plants have their first two sets of true leaves, harden them off in preparation for transplanting. Transplant after nighttime temps are at least 55 F. (13 C.). Space transplants 3 feet apart (91 cm.).

Ornamental Eggplant Care

Once the transplants have been situated in the garden, ornamental eggplant care is fairly simple. Adjust the tying and staking as needed. Keep the soil moist and mulch around the plants to help retard weeds, cool roots and retain water.

Fertilize the plants as you would for tomatoes or peppers. Fruit should be ready to harvest about 65-75 days from transplanting. Be sure to dry the stems and fruit well. Hang the stems in bunches out in the sun or other warm but ventilated area until the leaves have died. Remove the leaves and display the stems in a dry vase or other container.

Ornamental or Food?

Use pumpkin on a stick in fall displays

Halloween is around the corner and people are starting to decorate with the many types of pumpkins available at the farmer’s market. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins, but I am in love with a diminutive one, which actually isn’t a real pumpkin, but an eggplant., specifically Ornamental Eggplant, (Solanum Integrifolium). For different types of real pumpkins, go to my Pumpkin Eye Candy post.

Pumpkin on a Stick seed packet at Botanical Interests

Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins, Solanum integrifolium, are not really pumpkins, but an ornamental used in stir-fried Asian dishes. I grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thanksgiving table and fall flower arrangements as it dries nicely and lasts a long time.

Native to Southeast Asia, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall with very large fuzzy leaves that grow from a purple thorny stem. It towers over other eggplants in my garden and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.

Bed of Nails

Culture

Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later. Insects like to gnaw on the leaves as you can see but deer and rabbits leave it alone because of the wicked thorns.

Started from seed in my greenhouse, by early spring, the plants (with stakes) grow quickly and are ready to plant in the garden as soon as we are frost free Pumpkin on a Stick growing in my veggie garden has thorns and can get tall (3-4 ft tall)

Harvesting

In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. When you pick a stem of pumpkins for fresh use, cut the stems and use as is. If you want to dry the pumpkins, hang the entire stalk upside down in a cool dry location, removing leaves. This treatment prevents the fruits from sagging. Fruits will shrivel and the orange color will intensify. For eating, pick the fruits when orange and use in stir-fries.

Cutting my pumpkin on a stick plants Remove all the leaves and hang to dry Available in the fall at trader Joe’s Pumpkin on a stick at the wholesale florist Pumpkin on a Stick used in a seasonal arrangement

These Tiny Pumpkin Lookalikes Are Just $9 at Trader Joe’s

Pumpkins on a stick have arrived at Trader Joe’s and are totally winning fall this year. All you have to do is plunk them in a vase of water and you’ll instantly give a room some seasonal flair, perfect for Halloween or Thanksgiving. But what makes these festive stems extra fun is the way they make people do a double-take. Those round, orange fruits might look like tiny pumpkins—the shape, coloring, and ribs are all spot on—but take a closer look and you might think they actually look kind of like strange tomatoes.

That’s because this plant is in the eggplant family, which is related to tomatoes and has nothing to do with pumpkins or the squash family at all. And yet, it is known by a variety of names such as pumpkin tree, pumpkin bush, and the previously mentioned pumpkin on a stick. To confuse things even more, it also goes by ornamental eggplant, red Chinese eggplant, and mock tomato. Botanically, it is known as Solanum integrifolium, and it’s native to Southeast Asia. Though its orange fruits are edible (they have a slightly bitter flavor), this plant is mostly grown for its decorative stems used for flower arrangements.

Even though they’re not real pumpkins, pumpkins on a stick mature and turn orange in the late summer and early autumn—ideal timing for including them among your fall decorations each year. Once cut, the fresh stems last for up to two to four weeks (just remember to change the water in the vase regularly).

Right now, you can find pumpkins on a stick at Trader Joe’s for just $8.99 per bunch (you get about six stems for that price). They’ll look lovely by themselves in a vase, or try mixing in a little greenery to set them off, like a few sprigs of eucalyptus or myrtle. While you’re at it, pick up a few of TJ’s sugar skull ceramic planters, too, and you’ll be all set for Halloween.

Pumpkin-on-a-stick, aka, Ethiopian Eggplant, aka Solanum aethiopicum, fruits of cultivar ‘Soxna’, Kumba Group

Pumpkin-on-a-stick is an attractive and fun fruit to grow, to introduce children to gardening or enjoy in a floral arrangement. But oh, it’s so much more!

Let me confess, I have not personally grown this “Pumpkin on a stick” (yet). After reading a variety of superficial articles on the subject, by award winning authors, about how “cute” this plant is to grow for “ornamental” purposes, it put a bee in my bonnet. When I discovered the extensive usefulness of this plant, I felt a more comprehensive article would be beneficial.

First, the particulars. This plant is in the nightshade family (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, etc.), not the cucurbit family of pumpkins, etc. It’s variously known as Ethiopian eggplant, Red China eggplant, Scarlett Chinese eggplant, and others. It was likely named “Pumpkin on a stick” to boost seed and plant sales. It is an heirloom, first recorded (I believe) in 1770. It’s grown in zones 4-10 – as an annual in cooler zones, and perennial in hotter zones.

This plant originated in tropical parts of Africa, so it prefers hot and humid climates for it to remain a perennial. It was brought to Brazil through the slave trade and numerous cultivars produced, such as the ornamental variety. It sometimes is difficult to germinate, which is the main reason it’s not cultivated more widely. It’s grown year-round, and as a principal crop, in Africa, India, and other countries.

Solanum aethiopicum (pumpkin on a stick) was domesticated from the wild Solanum anguivi Lam. There is ongoing research about the benefits of Solanum anguivi Lam., but similar benefits can be derived from the domesticated plant.

Ornamental plants can be fun to grow, especially to engage children’s interest. But when our personally owned land or community garden plots are limited, it’s often not ideal to use the space for anything other than very useful plants.

I like to grow things with multiple uses. For example, a sunflower is a beneficial, attracting insects to the garden, and it can be harvested for its seeds for humans or wildlife. But it goes beyond that. The leaves can be used as mulch, the stalks can be used as a trellis for climbing beans, the roots are great for opening up the soil for aeration.

So when it comes to this attractive and ornamental fruit, “pumpkin on a stick,” the case is no different.

Edible Uses

Along the trail, around the time of the colonial era, information was lost about the usefulness of the plant. It is a principal crop in Africa for good reason. Not only is it a food (leaves, roots and fruit) but is also used for its medicinal properties. I imagine that since the leaves are so nutritious, they would make a great mulch if they are relatively disease-free.

The fruits are eaten raw or cooked, usually when the fruit is still green (the riper, the more bitter due to alkaloids). The fruit is often used in stew. The leaves are cooked like spinach. The fruits and leaves can be bitter to the taste, but are used in stews, soups and sauces for seasoning. The shoots can also be used as a cooked vegetable.

Medicinal Effects

There has been ongoing research for the medicinal effects of the plant. From PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa), “Medicinal applications include the use of roots and fruits as a carminative and sedative, and to treat colic and high blood pressure; leaf juice as a sedative to treat uterine complaints; an alcoholic extract of leaves as a sedative, anti-emetic and to treat tetanus after abortion; and crushed and macerated fruits as an enema.” In the Resource section below, there are links to studies conducted.

Companion Planting for Warding Off Disease and Pests

Ethiopian eggplant is less susceptible to disease than typical eggplant. But careful companion planting and nutrition can ward off most diseases and pests. Beneficial companion plants are amaranth, beans, peas, spinach, tarragon, thyme and Mexican marigold. Since peppers, and other plants also in the nightshade family, share the same companions, these plants do well together.

Storage and Seed Saving

This particular cultivar’s fruits can be stored for weeks or even months, which is a good reason to grow it, and why it’s used in floral arrangements. Seeds can be harvested, washed and dried and used the following growing season. Seeds can also be dried within the fruit, the traditional method of seed storage. If there are various types of eggplant in the garden, the seed may come true the following season, so careful bagging to avoid cross pollination may be necessary if you want to collect seed.

Where to Buy

There are lots of places to buy these heirloom seeds – Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is one of my favorites. Using various terms that I’ve listed above, you can do a search at your favorite seed supplier. You can also start searching by looking up eggplant species.

Sources:

Mansfeld’s World Database of Agricultural and Horicultural Crops

Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (PROTA)

Solanum aethiopicum

Resources:

Comparative phytochemical and Isoperoxidase Studies on leaf and Leaves derived callus of Solanum anguivi Lam

Effects of Saponin from Solanum anguivi Lam Fruit on Heart and Kidney Superoxide Dismutase, Catalase and Malondialdehyde in Rat

Genetic Variability in Eighteen Cultivars of Solanum anguivi Lam. using Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and Single Linkage Cluster Analysis (SLCA)

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