An exotic plant and fruit in its own right, the naranjilla (Solanum quitoense) is an interesting plant for those wishing to learn more about it, or even wanting to grow. Keep reading for naranjilla growing information and more.
Naranjilla Growing Information
“The golden fruit of the Andes,” naranjilla plants are herbaceous shrubs with a spreading habit that are commonly found throughout Central and South America. Wild growing naranjilla plants are spiny, while cultivated varieties are spineless and both types having thick stems which become woody as the plant matures.
The foliage of the naranjilla consist of 2-foot long, heart-shaped leaves that are soft and woolly; when young, the leaves are coated with brilliant purple hairs. Fragrant flower clusters are borne from the naranjilla plants with five white upper petals morphing into purple haired beneath. The resulting fruit is covered with brown hairs that are easily rubbed off to reveal the bright orange exterior.
Inside the naranjilla fruit, the green to yellow juicy sections are separated by membranous walls. The fruit tastes like a delicious combination of pineapple and lemon and is peppered with edible seeds.
This tropical to subtropical perennial resides within the family Solanaceae (Nightshade) and is believed to be native to Peru, Ecuador and southern Colombia. Naranjilla plants were first introduced to the United States through a gift of seeds from Colombia in 1913 and from Ecuador in 1914. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 really created some interest with the exhibit of the naranjilla fruit and 1,500 gallons of juice to be sampled.
Not only is naranjilla fruit juiced and drunk as a beverage (lulo), but the fruit (including the seeds) is also used in various sherbets, ice creams, native specialties and may even be made into wine. The fruit may be eaten raw by rubbing off the hairs and then halving and squeezing the juicy flesh into ones mouth, discarding the shell. That said, edible fruit should be completely ripe or else it may be quite sour.
Naranjilla Growing Conditions
Other naranjilla growing information is in reference to its climate. Although it is a subtropical species, the naranjilla cannot tolerate temperatures over 85 F. (29 C.) and flourishes in climates with temps between 62-66 F. (17-19 C.) and high humidity.
Intolerant of full sun exposure, naranjilla growing conditions should additionally be in semi-shade and it will thrive in higher altitudes of up to 6,000 feet above sea level with well distributed precipitation. For these reasons, naranjilla plants are often grown in northern conservatories as specimen plants but do not bear fruit in these temperate latitudes.
Along with its temperature and water requirements, naranjilla care cautions against planting in areas of strong winds. Naranjilla plants like partial shade, in rich organic soils with good drainage, although naranjilla will also grow in less nutrient rich stony soils and even on limestone.
In areas of Latin America, propagation of naranjilla is usually from seed, which is first spread out in a shaded area to ferment slightly to reduce mucilage, then washed, air dried and dusted with a fungicide. Naranjilla can also be propagated by air layering or from cuttings of mature plants.
Seedlings bloom four to five months after transplantation and fruit appears 10-12 months after seeding and continues for three years. Thereafter, the fruit production of the naranjilla declines and the plant dies back. Healthy naranjilla plants bear 100-150 fruit in their first year.