Bed of Nails Plant

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It seems like almost everyone I have talked with recently laments, where has the summer gone? As a matter of fact, where did September go? It seems like yesterday that it was Memorial Day and all of the summer residents to Maine were just rolling into town and we were rolling out our summer annuals. When I look back at photographs taken early in the season, it is amazing to see just how small all of these plants were in May. June was cool along the Maine coast but once July came, things warmed up and carried us through September. As the temperatures warmed, our plants grew. Some plants grew more than others and these are the ones we are noting to use again in different ways for next year’s displays.

Solanum-quitoense

This week’s plant was one of the show-stoppers of our summer display. We had an exhibition of Lunaform pots at CMBG all summer long. In our Burpee Kitchen Garden, there were 4 matching pots that our kitchen gardener filled to the rim with plants. The centerpiece of this arrangement was Solanum quitoense or “bed of nails plant.” The common name for this tomato relative comes from the nearly inch long, purple spikes that emanate from the leaves, stems, and main stalk of the plant. Another common name is naranjilla, although this is primarily associated with the non-spiky plant grown more for its fruit, than its leaves. A plant native to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, it can grow up to 8 feet tall in cultivation, although in our short summer of Maine, we will be lucky if ours reaches 3-4 feet in height by the end of the summer. It is an annual so we can propagate ours through cuttings or by saving the seeds from the fleshy, bright orange fruit.

Solanum-with-fruit

An individual leaf on these plants can be over a foot in length and 10″ or more in width. They are fuzzy, light green with a purple tinge, and the afore to mentioned purple spikes. People who have never seen these plants before cannot believe that such a macabre plant really exists. I remember when I saw one for the first time 15 years ago at Swarthmore College. I did a double take and then of course, immediately wanted one.

I would suggest that you grow this annual out of the reach of children. The spikes not only look sharp, they are sharp! Grow these plants in a rich, well-drained soil in part-shade to full-sun. The warmer your climate, the more shade I would give this plant in the middle of the summer.

-Rodney

Images: Carrie Eason, The Garden Diaries , finegardening.com

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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3 Comments

  1. Kerry on October 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for the info! I saw this plant in Swarthmore, PA this summer in Andrew Bunting’s garden and had no idea what it was. I fell in love with it, even after I got stabbed. It’s a killer plant–in all ways.

  2. Ellen Sousa on October 8, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Yikes! This is a new one to me. Looks as though it could be very effectively used as a security device to keep people out of your gardens! 🙂

  3. Kathryn on October 8, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Interesting! How on earth do you not go through an entire box of Band-Aids when planting, propagating, or pruning this plant?

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