Solanum

Solanum

The genus Solatium (nightshade) includes about 1,700 species of shrub and climbing plant, only two of which are popular house plants. These two species are both bushy shrubs that grow up to 18 inches tall, with a spread of about 18 inches. Their twiggy branches carry small, dark green leaves and insignificant star-shaped flowers, which bloom in sum­mer. The flowers are followed by highly decorative, long-lasting, non-edible berries. Solanums are usually acquired in late fall or early winter, at a time when the berries have started to change color—from green through yellow and orange to orange-red— and are generally discarded when, after a few months, the berries have shriveled and fallen off. This is a waste, however. These plants will bloom and fruit again the following year under the right conditions, provided they can be kept outdoors during the sum­mer months.

RECOMMENDED SOLANUMS S.   capsicastrum  has   slightly   hairy,   lance-shaped leaves with ¼ -inch-long stalks. Each leaf is up to 3 inches long and 1 inches wide and has undulate edges. The leaves are densely arranged along the many short branches that develop from the woody stems. Flowers ap­pear from leaf axils, usually in twos or threes, on i-inch-long flower stalks. Each flower is about \ inch across and white, with a central core of orange-yellow stamens. The oval berries that follow in late fall to early winter are \-\ inch in diameter and are green, backed by green bracts. The bracts remain green, but the shiny berries gradually turn orange-red as they ripen, and they remain attractive for most of the winter months. There is a variegated-leaved form, S.c.'Vari-egatum,' that has leaves splashed with creamy yellow or, in some cases, edged with creamy white. S. pseudocapsicutn (Jerusalem cherry) is similar in most respects to S. capsicas-trum, but is more robust and therefore easier to grow. The berries, too, are slightly larger, rounder, and more nearly scarlet in color. They also last somewhat longer than do those of S. capsicastmm. There are two dwarf forms, S.p. 'Nanum' and S.p. 'Tom Thumb,' which rarely grow taller than 10-12 inches but which carry berries just as big and long-lasting as those of the species.

PROPER CARE

Light Stand solanums in direct sun­light indoors throughout the fruiting period (beginning in early fall and ending in early spring). Plants to be retained for a second year must be kept outdoors, but sheltered from the midday sun, throughout late spring and for the whole summer.

Temperature During the fall and winter months keep these plants at a temperature no higher than about 6o°F, if possible, and give them high humidity. Warm rooms and dry air will considerably shorten the life of the berries. Stand the plants on trays or saucers of moist pebbles, and mist-spray them once a day. During late spring and summer, while they are outdoors, normal summer tempera­tures are suitable. In dry weather mist-spray specimens being kept outdoors daily. Be sure to bring the plants indoors before there is a risk of frost. Minimum tolerable temperature: 500.

Watering Water plentifully as often as necessary to keep the potting mix­ture thoroughly moist, but never let

the pots stand in water. If a plant is to be retained for a second season, give it a short rest period for four or five weeks just before putting it outdoors. During this period water only enough to keep the potting mixture from drying out completely.

Feeding Apply standard liquid ferti­lizer every two weeks, except during the brief rest period.

Potting and repotting Plants ac­quired in late fall or early winter will not need repotting until mid-spring. To keep them for a second fruiting season, move them into pots one size larger (probably the 5-inch size) before placing them outdoors. Use a soil-based potting mixture. A young solanum raised from seed should be moved into a bigger pot whenever root crowding is in­dicated by the appearance of roots on the surface of the potting mixture or through drainage holes. Solanums are not normally retained for a third fruiting season.

Propagation Seed sown in the early spring will flower and fruit the same year. Sow the seed in a small pot or shallow pan of moistened rooting mixture, spacing the seeds half an inch apart just below the surface of the mixture. Place the con­tainer in a plastic bag or propagating case, and keep it in bright light filtered through a trans­lucent blind or curtain until germi­nation occurs (probably in two to three weeks). Uncover the container, and grow the seedlings on in a pos­ition where they get bright light, with at least two hours a day of direct sunlight. Water enough to keep the rooting mixture just moist through­out, and begin to feed the seedlings when they are 2-3 inches high. About eight weeks after the start of pro­pagation transplant the young plants singly into 3-inch pots of soil-based potting mixture, and treat them as mature solanums. If possible, place them outdoors and keep them there until berries begin to form in the fall.

Special points In late spring, just before putting a mature plant out­doors, prune it drastically, cutting out two-thirds of the previous year's growth. For bushy growth thereafter, pinch out the growing tips of new growth in spring. Mist-spray sol­anums daily throughout the entire flowering period in order to en­courage the fruit to set.

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