Tag Archives: solanum atropurpureum

He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise. – Paul Klee


Beatrix Farrand. Photo: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library archive.


Thomas Church. Photo: The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Archaeologists discover bread that predates agriculture by 4,000 years
The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.
Science Daily

Mouse Melon or Mexican Sour Cucumber, Melothria scabra
The white, crisp interior flesh has a crunchy texture. The flavor is generally described as cucumber-like with a hint of sourness.
Master Gardener Program, University of Wisconsin Extension

Toxic Nectar
I was introduced to the concept of toxic nectar thanks to a species of shrub quite familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Appalachian Mountains. Locals will tell you to never place honeybee hives near a patch of rosebay (Rhododendron maximum) for fear of so-called “mad honey.”
In Defense of Plants

Jamaican Ackee, Blighia sapida
Consumers of the unripe fruit sometimes suffer from ‘Jamaican vomiting sickness syndrome’ (JVS) allegedly caused by the unusual amino acid components, hypoglycin A and B.
Department of Chemistry, UWI, Mona, Jamaica

The case of the spiny eggplants
My first experience with this botanical genre came early in my gardening career. I had just taken up seed-starting, and had yet to discover the wonderful world of online seed trading. …Among the many curiosities I ordered were balsam pears, hairy-leaved chiles, and bundleflowers, some of which still inhabit our garden. But the one I remember best was Solanum atropurpureum, whose description included a quote from a botanist proclaiming the majesty of this ferocious plant, ending in, “I call it ‘Malevolence’.”
Rob’s Plants

Olea europaea
Olive trees (Olea europaea) have long represented wealth, abundance, power and peace. The olive has been a symbol of the Mediterranean since time immemorial and has a reputation for long life, nourishment and its ability to thrive in tough conditions.
Kew Science

American Elderberry
As with many underutilized fruit crops, relatively little breeding work has been done with American Elder. There are few named cultivars, and those that exist are not genetically diverse. But this may change through a concerted breeding effort at the University of Missouri.
Uncommon Fruit

Okra, or “Gumbo,” from Africa
One of the earliest accounts of okra is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216. He described the plant in detail, as cultivated by the Egyptians, and stated that the pods when young and tender were eaten with meal. (Southerners in our own country know how to cook it with corn meal — slice the pods, dip the pieces in meal, and fry them.)
Aggie Horticulture

A Bloom Day Walk About
I have a lot of ground to edit when the entire three plus acres of wild cultivated gardens are taken into account. So it’s ok with me that the leeks went wild in the roadside vegetable garden.
Outside Clyde

Perennials Proliferate in Three Year Old Garden
Summer is generally not considered a time to work on garden planning, but it is in summer that many of the problems of our plant arrangements reveal themselves with painful clarity.

Sound waves reveal diamond cache deep in Earth’s interior
There may be more than a quadrillion tons of diamond hidden in the Earth’s interior, according to a new study from MIT and other universities.

Astronomers discover 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter – one on collision course with the others.
Astronomers describe the twelfth new Jovian moon as an “oddball”.
The Guardian

Botany, the science of the vegetable kingdom, is one of the most attractive, most useful, and most extensive departments of human knowledge. It is, above every other, the science of beauty. – Sir Joseph Paxton


Rosemary Verey. Photo: WBUR Here and Now.

russell page

Russell Page. Photo: Landscape Notes.


That Liriope needs thinning and transplanting. I hesitate to call it invasive, all successful plants are, but it is certainly vigorous. A member of the lily family.

caterpillar petunia

Dapper caterpillar on Petunia. Still unidentified.



empress wu

Hosta “Empress Wu” spent her first two years in a big clay pot. Now she’s under the mulberry tree: morning sun then dappled shade. Covered in birdshit for a few weeks while the mulberry is fruiting but that’s why we have hoses. “Empress Wu” is touted as the largest Hosta in cultivation, so far. Five feet tall by nine feet wide. The little cage behind contains nettle seedlings.

firepit evening

Seedlings that spent the season in pots are now in the ground.

jalapeno final

The jalapenos were generous this year. They perished after three nights below freezing.

amaranthus hopi red dye seedheads

Chenille seedheads of Amaranthus “Hopi Red Dye.”

chamaecyparis & friends

Fading lilies with Artemisia, Chamaecyparis, and blue-flowering Perovskia.

maquis 3

Maquis 1

maquis face west

Maquis 2. Few people in Kansas are familiar with the maquis biome, though similar to the prairie, so my affectation usually goes uncontested. What barely qualifies this bit of the garden as maquis is Mediterranean plants, lavender and thyme primarily, and dry, rocky soil. Faking a maquis doesn’t come easy in Kansas clay: two feet under these plants is an eight-inch layer of pea gravel, three 40-pound bags and a lot of digging.

malevolence fruit 2

Fruits of Solanum atropurpureum, common name “Malevolence,” generally considered hardy to Zone 10. It has re-seeded for three years in this Zone 6b garden.

zinnia will rogers 1

Dahlia “Bishop of Llandalff” struggles in our unpredictable weather. Zinnia “Will Rogers” doesn’t.

thunbergia final

Tropical Thunbergia alata flowers profusely in September and October, turns to mush at first frost.

barrow zuke 2

Butterfly barrow.

oyster 1

The shiitake mushroom logs, at top, gave at least 20 pounds this year. The oyster mushroom logs were deemed a failure until this bloom after the first frost.

oyster 2

Oyster mushrooms, “White Pearl” here, flush in cold, damp weather. Sauteed with garlic and jalapenos then scrambled with eggs.

lemon 1

Centuries of practical experience recommends removing all fruit buds in the first producing year of any fruit tree, to allow that fruiting energy to be directed to plant growth. This two-year Meyer lemon, eight inches tall when it arrived, had four baby fruits in Spring. I couldn’t resist keeping one.

baroque rococco

new bed 2

The purple (more like hot pink), coneflowers were re-seeding selfishly in the garden. I prefer the whites. I corralled the pink rogues in new beds by the bench. The goldfinches are crazy about the seeds.

morning glory trellis

“Heavenly Blue” morning glories are accurately described. I threw a handful of seeds at the base of this trellis when planting the Dead Log elderberry bed in August. And they bloomed. They seem to do better with afternoon shade here.

toadstool indicator of oyster fruit

This wild fellow reminded me to check the mushroom logs.

bay 1

Laurus nobilis, the Mediterranean Bay tree, my dear friend. Bought as a three-inch start five years ago, now four feet and seemingly amenable to my topiary dream. It comes on the back porch every Winter.

pokeweed snakeweed

Pokeweed and snakeweed.

okra bugs

Okra “Stewart’s Zeebest” was so productive that I’ve had enough for this year. Glad these bugs can use the rest.

salvia elegans first blooms

Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, with few blooms in too much shade. In full sun, they flower with abandon but require daily water. Trying to find the balance.

solanum atropurpureum fruit

Little Path facing West.

pepper chinese five-color

Chinese “Five Color” peppers are remarkably cold-tolerant. This photo was taken after a 28-degree night. Very hot; use sparingly for salsa and Arrabbiata.

ride face east 1

The Ride, facing East.

poison ivy 1

Poison Ivy coloring up.

gravel bench 1

Gravel bed in progress, for Thymus, Dianthus, small bulbs and miniature roses.

view table 1

View from the table.

monty model


The formidable Solanum atropurpureum a/k/a Malevolence, Purple Devil or Five-Minute Plant

  • Four to six feet tall, two to three feet wide.
  • Full sun, just like tomatoes.
  • Moderate to light water, less than tomatoes.
  • Not fussy about soil. Likes fair drainage.
  • Hardy to at least Zone 8. Can go as low as -10F for a few nights.
  • Native to South America.

As a devotee of sinister plants I number Solanums among my favorites, with Solanum atropurpureum the holy grail. My quest has finally ended, thanks to seeds provided by Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants in Allentown, Pennsylvania (Zone 6).

When I’m researching plants, Rob’s site is a first stop. And I warn you, the hours will evaporate once you start browsing his plant portraits. Rob is a true botanist, growing well over a thousand different plants on a half-acre of land. He’s a good garden photographer–to me, good means one or two pictures that show the plant in the garden, full shots that give a clear sense of habit and scale. For my purposes, close-ups of bees nestled in dewy blossoms are best suited to greeting cards. Thankfully, Rob uses photography to help describe a plant. See for yourself. Here’s Rob’s take on Malevolence.

It looks delicate, it looks dangerous. Photo Wikimedia

Three years ago, the two beds alongside the front porch were overrun by Vinca major. On the south side, by the trellis, it was strangling a couple of Yucca filamentosa and an adolescent Miscanthus “Morning Light.” Farewell, vinca. I moved most of it to the back woods, in areas controllable by mowing, and began enclosing the porch beds in boxwood (x “Green Velvet,” I believe). The yucca moved to the sun-baked gravel near the road, the miscanthus came out, and in went purple coneflowers and black hollyhocks; pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), and Salvia greggii “Gray”–both flowering bright red in fall; a white Iceberg rose found in a tsunami of wild euonymus out back, and a six-foot arborvitae which should make around 12 feet in 10 years.

Rosa “Red Cascade,” a profusely flowering miniature used as a climber or groundcover. Click image to visit the Antique Rose Emporium.

The trellis on the south side–five feet wide by nine tall–was once home to a Spring-blooming, cherry red climbing rose, a scentless, small-flowered variety which has naturalized all over town. I had seen pictures of that rose in bloom and I liked the look of that bright red flower with the barn-red of the house and all the white trim. But a rose with repeat bloom, at least, and fragrance, if possible, would improve the composition–“Don Juan“, “Dortmund” and the robust miniature “Red Cascade” are good candidates for this year.

Because I want this garden to be somewhat wild-looking and sinister, Solanum atropurpureum has long been on my mind. I’ve grown it before, in California sand, where it reached nine feet and half that in spread. At a distance, the deeply cut leaves make it look almost frilly and a bit weedy–until you get close enough to see those magnificent purple thorns. The first thing most people say when they get close to Malevolence is “Oh!”

Malevolence is a member of the Solanaceae family, kin to tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers and belladonna. As such, it is cultivated in much the same way as tomatoes: plenty of sun and heat, and regular, deep watering–though Malevolence, a plant not far from wild, does better with less water and much less fertilizer than your tomatoes. It is hardier than tomatoes too, taking several nights in the teens to finally knock it down.

Depending on conditions, Malevolence ranges from three to six feet tall and two or three feet wide. It can get lean and leggy, so consider tall, leafy companions to hide the bare ankles. In this case, I’ll be teaming it with Crocosmia “Lucifer,” Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master), Bishop of Llandaff dahlias and a plant or two of Lacinato” kale in the front beds. If there’s room, some borage and calamint. Lots of busy foliage, some dark and shadowy, and a majority of bright red blooms contrasting with the white rose, the haze of calamint and the deep burgundy hollyhocks. The dusky purple-pink of the coneflowers and the dark stems of Sedum “Matrona” should be easy complements to Malevolence’s deep purple thorns.

Immature fruit of Solanum atropurpureum

Like all Solanums, Malevolence blooms and fruits, but in a manner so discreet that the thorns are always the plant’s primary feature. The flowers are small and yellow, much like a tomato, and they produce currant-sized, golden-yellow fruits–certainly no detraction to my color scheme. It is best to assume, however, that all parts of Malevolence are poisonous, much like belladonna. And you definitely don’t want to handle Malevolence without sturdy gloves, but don’t let the thorns deter you from growing this tough, remarkable plant. Is there beauty without suffering?