Solanum melongena (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Forage / feed|
- Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 186 (1753).
- Family: Solanaceae
- Chromosome number: 2n = 24
Solanum insanum L. (1767), Solanum esculentum Dunal (1813), Solanum incanum auct. non L.
Eggplant, aubergine, brinjal (En). Aubergine, bringelle, mélongène (Fr). Beringela (Po). Mbiringanya, mbilingani (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Wild Solanum melongena is found in the area of Myanmar–Yunnan where it developed from the Solanum incanum complex, which had previously migrated into Asia from the Middle East and East Africa. Domestication took place in the area between India, Myanmar and China, where many primitive or weedy eggplant types are still found. The first reports of the use of Solanum melongena as a cultivated species in Sanskrit and Chinese agro-botanical literature date back about 2000 years. Eggplant was known in Iran as early as the 6–7th century AD. Following the great Muslim expansion westwards (8–9th century AD), eggplant moved towards the Maghreb and probably further south to the oases of the Sahara and tropical Africa, as well as to southern Europe. It was described in Ethiopia in the 14th century. Nowadays eggplant is cultivated worldwide, but its two main production regions are Asia and the Mediterranean.
The immature fruit of eggplant is eaten when it is attractively coloured and glossy, and the seeds are still immature. When mature, the fruit flesh is fibrous and bitter, and the seeds are hard. The fruit can be eaten fresh or after rehydration of dried slices. The flesh has a fine texture and a taste close to that of mushrooms, but sometimes stronger or even quite bitter. Most often the fruits are eaten grilled, fried or steamed, or stewed with other vegetables, meat or fish, or roasted, braised in ashes and seasoned with garlic, onion, spices, sugar, oil, soybean sauce etc. The fine texture and taste go together harmoniously with various vegetables, meat, fish and spices, making it a popular vegetable in many countries. Saponins play an important role in the development of the richness of the flavour. In South-East Asia, the fruits of certain cultivars are used raw. They are also made into pickles in vinegar (Iran, Egypt) or sweet jam (Turkey, Greece), and can be preserved by air-drying, e.g. Turkish ‘dolma’, or by freeze-drying, canning or deep freezing.
Eggplant is also widely used for medicinal purposes. Various plant parts are used in decoction, as powder or ash for curing ailments such as diabetes, cholera, bronchitis, dysuria, dysentery, otitis, toothache, skin infections, asthenia and haemorrhoids. Eggplant is also ascribed narcotic, anti-asthmatic and anti-rheumatic properties.
Eggplant has magical uses in several countries. It is used as a symbol of protection, good health and female fertility.
Production and international trade
World production of eggplant in 2001 was almost 23 million t from 1.4 million ha. Asia is the main producer, in particular China (53% of the world production), India (28%) and Turkey (4%). Africa represents less than 4% of the world production and area, well over 90% of it from northern Africa. Data on eggplant in tropical Africa are incomplete, and may include African eggplants (Solanum aethiopicum L. and Solanum macrocarpon L.). Except for the market of northern Europe that is mainly supplied by production from southern Europe, most trade in eggplant is national.
Eggplant fruits contain per 100 g edible portion: water 92.9 g, energy 64 kJ (15 kcal), protein 0.9 g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrate 2.2 g, fibre 2.3 g, Ca 10 mg, P 16 mg, Fe 0.3 mg, carotene 70 μg, thiamin 0.02 mg, riboflavin 0.01 mg, niacin 0.1 mg, folate 18 μg, ascorbic acid 4 mg (Holland, B., Unwin, I.D. & Buss, D.H., 1991).
Eggplant contains saponin steroids, in particular glycoalkaloids; the main eggplant glycoalkaloids are solasonine and solamargine. It also contains saponins without a nitrogenous nucleus, called melongosides. The bitter taste in eggplant is due to these substances and depends on their concentration; in high concentrations, far above the palatability threshold, they are toxic.
Flavonoids isolated from eggplant fruits showed potent anti-oxidant activity. They had significant hypolipidemic action in normal and cholesterol fed rats. Delphinidin showed inhibitory effect on human fibrosarcoma HT-1080 cell invasion. The anthocyanin nasunin, isolated from the fruit peel, can protect against lipid peroxidation.
Adulterations and substitutes
In sauces eggplant can be replaced by garden egg (Solanum aethiopicum).
Annual herb to perennial shrub up to 150(–200) cm tall, often much-branched, with long taproot; stems and leaves with or without prickles and densely covered with stellate hairs having 8–10 arms. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules absent; petiole 6–10 cm long; blade ovate to ovate-oblong, 3–25 cm × 2–15 cm, base rounded or cordate, often unequal, apex acute or obtuse, margin sinuately lobed, densely hairy. Inflorescence a 1–5-flowered cyme (flowers often solitary). Flowers bisexual or functionally male, regular, 5–8(–10)-merous; pedicel 1–3 cm long, up to 8 cm in fruit; calyx campanulate, lobes c. 1.5 cm long, enlarging greatly and splitting in fruit; corolla campanulate with broadly triangular lobes, 3–4 cm in diameter, violet, rarely white; stamens inserted near the base of the corolla tube and alternate with corolla lobes, filaments short and thick, anthers connivent, yellow, opening by terminal pores; ovary superior, 2–many-celled, style as long as or longer than stamens, stigma green, capitate, lobed. Fruit a depressed globose to ellipsoid, ovoid, obovoid or even serpentine berry, 2–35 cm long (sometimes longer), 2–20 cm broad, smoothness and shininess variable, colour at commercial stage white, green or from pale violet-purple hues to black, sometimes netted or striped, yellow to brown when ripe, many-seeded. Seeds lenticular to reniform, flattened, 3 mm × 4 mm, pale brown. Seedling with epigeal germination; cotyledons up to 2.5 cm × 1 cm.
Other botanical information
Solanum comprises over 1000 species and includes major food species. Solanum melongena belongs to subgenus Leptostemonum section Melongena to which Solanum macrocarpon also belongs, and which have bisexual as well as male flowers. Solanum melongena is partially interfertile with the African cultigens Solanum aethiopicum and Solanum macrocarpon, as well as wild species in various sections of subgenus Leptostemonum.
Solanum melongena cultivars are so diverse that they have been described previously as many different species, but even clear separation into cultivar-groups is impossible. In tropical Africa, ‘Black Beauty’ is the most popular cultivar. Some cultivars are popular in particular countries, e.g. ‘Ravaya’ in Ghana, or ‘Florida Market’ in Burkina Faso. The cultivation of F1 hybrids is not common, except to some extent for F1 ‘Kalenda’, a high-yielding cultivar for hot (wet or dry) climates in West Africa, tolerant to bacterial wilt and fruit anthracnose.
Growth and development
Germination takes 8–12 days at the optimum range of temperatures (22–28°C). The expansion of the cotyledons takes a few days and the first true leaf appears after one week. Depending on the cultivar, the first flowers appear when the plant has developed 5–12 leaves (20–30 cm tall). Vegetative growth and flowering are then continuous: after 2 leaves have developed a new flower appears on each branch and a new shoot from the axil of the leaf just below that flower.
In temperate climates eggplant is grown as an annual, in tropical climates it is a short-lived perennial (up to 2 years in commercial fields, longer in home gardens). Plant height may exceed 2 m under tropical conditions. Eggplant is autogamous but with a fairly high rate of cross pollination. Pollination is mostly by insects (mostly bumble bees or bees such as Exomalopsis). Fruit sets one week after anthesis, and 3–6 weeks are needed to reach commercial ripeness, depending on climatic conditions. Fruits reach physiological maturity 6–13 weeks after flowering, also depending on the climate. Good fruit production periods alternate with periods of low production.
Eggplant develops best under conditions of high temperatures, abundant light and ample water. Below 20°C and above 40°C growth and fruit set are reduced. Growth stops when temperatures drop below 10–12°C and frost kills the plants. Eggplant is not sensitive to daylength. The adaptation of cultivars to specific environments is demonstrated when they are cultivated outside the area for which they were selected. Tropical cultivars grown in a temperate climate often display slow vegetative growth and late flowering and fruit set. Chinese and Japanese cultivars present remarkably early flowering and fruit set, but their growth potential is rapidly exhausted and therefore their vegetative development is weaker than when grown elsewhere. Also, cultivars bred in winter in greenhouses in Europe often perform poorly under open field conditions in summer.
Under poor light conditions, combined with ample supplies of water and nitrogen, eggplant is susceptible to foliar gigantism and flower drop. Foliate flowers and fasciculate stems can develop after exposure of the young plants to low temperatures. Irregular water supply during fruiting disturbs the calcium supply to the fruit and results in blossom end rot or related symptoms.
Propagation and planting
Seeds should be extracted from fully ripe fruits and should be dried for 48 hours, or longer if the conditions are not optimum. During the drying process exposure to direct sun must be avoided. Seed should be stored in dry and cold conditions (e.g. with some silica gel in a sealed polyethylene bag in a refrigerator). The 1000-seed weight is about 4 g. In some cultivars, some seed dormancy may occur in the weeks or months after harvest. The easiest way to get rid of it is to keep the dried seeds in a refrigerator for a minimum of 3 weeks.
Eggplant can be grown in many ways, depending on local custom and facilities: from home garden to commercial field, as sole crop or intercropped, in the open field or in greenhouses. A common cultivation method is as follows: the seeds are sown in trays or seedbeds, and seedlings are transplanted in small pots or bags (8–10 cm diameter) 2–3 weeks later when the first leaf appears. The seedlings are kept in the nursery till they have developed 5–7 leaves and are then planted in the open or in a greenhouse at a spacing of 50 cm between plants and 1 m between rows. With proper nursery management the seed requirement is about 300 g/ha, but farmers often use more. The soil should be light and well prepared. A first watering at the base of each plant is necessary just after planting. Afterwards, the frequency of irrigation depends on the soil type, season and cultural practices.
Eggplant is a heavy feeder and it remains in the field for a relatively long period of time. Therefore, nutrient depletion of the soil occurs quickly and for high yields fertilizer and manure requirements are large. Fertilizing should be adapted to local soil richness, rainfall conditions, and technical skills of the growers. Requirements of N, P and K are larger than for tomato. The mineral exports per 1 t of fruit are N 7 kg, P 0.7 kg and K 6 kg. In tropical Africa, fertilizer recommendations for intensive production may include 45–50 t of farmyard manure, 50–300 kg N, 25–100 kg P and 30–200 kg K per ha. The entire amount of farmyard manure, P and K are applied before transplanting. Farmyard manure is thoroughly mixed with soil at ploughing, whereas K and P are applied in furrows before or at transplanting. The N content of the soil should not be excessive, to avoid the young eggplant developing excessive foliage to the detriment of fruit production. Therefore, N fertilizers are best applied as a top dressing in three equal doses at 6, 10 and 15 weeks after transplanting. For phytosanitary reasons planting eggplants after other Solanaceous crops (e.g. tomato, pepper, tobacco) should be avoided.
In intensive production in greenhouses, pruning is practised in order to reduce plants to 2–5 main stems. Staking is done either vertically plant by plant, or to horizontal wires along the plant row. Staking is rarely practised in Africa, but may be necessary under windy conditions; the weak axillary buds located below the first flower should then be pruned to steady the main stem. In normal open field conditions, there is no need for staking and pruning. Weeding is necessary, in particular in the young crop. Under dry conditions irrigation should be done regularly; in a humid climate irrigation is complementary to rainfall. Eggplant responds well to drip irrigation, which decreases the weed population. A too wet soil with poor drainage increases the incidence of diseases.
Diseases and pests
Over thirty pathogenic aerial fungi have been described on Solanum melongena, a third of them being prevalent. Sclerotium rolfsii (southern blight) causes progressive wilting of the foliage, chlorosis and finally necrosis. Phytophthora parasitica (phytophthora blight), Rhizoctonia solani and perithecial strains of Fusarium solani can invade stem bases, causing damping-off or basal stem rot, in particular in case of waterlogging, or when crop residues (especially from Solanaceous plants) are left in the field. Phytophthora parasitica can invade and affect the fruits too. In addition, eggplant is affected by soil-borne diseases including Phomopsis vexans (stem and fruit pycnidial rot), to which ‘Florida Market’, ‘Aranguez’, ‘Zebrina’ and ‘Ceylan SM164’ are resistant. Other pycnidial fungi, such as a still poorly known Phoma species, can induce similar but milder symptoms. Under the heavy rains of southern Côte d’Ivoire Botryodiplodia theobromae causes fruit rot and Choanephora cucurbitarum and Pythium aphanidermatum invade stems and branches causing wet rot. Alternaria solani (early blight) is a frequent pathogen of eggplant causing leaf spots. Fruit anthracnose is destructive on both sides of the Atlantic ocean; it is caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides f.sp. melongenae in the West Indies (where the natural reservoir is Solanum torvum fruits), and Colletotrichum nigrum and Colletotrichum capsici in Côte d’Ivoire. The efficiency in the West Indies of the monogenic dominant resistance to anthracnose of cultivars such as ‘Aranguez’ and ‘Zebrina’ has to be tested in Africa; that of F1 ‘Kalenda’ has been confirmed. Powdery mildew due to Leveillula taurica or Oidium lycopersicum is quite frequent in areas where night temperatures are cool.
The most important soilborne disease is bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum) causing wilting of branches, followed by wilting of the whole plant. Its incidence can be reduced by good rotations; a number of tropical accessions are tolerant or resistant, e.g. ‘Ceylan SM164’. Susceptible cultivars can be grown if grafted on resistant rootstocks, e.g. those of Solanum torvum, Solanum aethiopicum Aculeatum Group or ‘Ceylan’. Tomato hybrid rootstocks are less successful under tropical conditions. Verticillium wilt (Verticillium dahliae), widespread in temperate climates, occurs in the tropics at elevations above 1000 m. Where Fusarium wilt is present (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. melongenae), grafting on Solanum aethiopicum Aculeatum Group is recommended. Root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) can provoke severe galling on the root system as well as withering, wilting and severe growth reduction of the aerial part of the plant. Eggplant is much less susceptible to viruses than tomato and capsicums: several viruses have been isolated from eggplants, but their damage is limited. Eggplant is susceptible to phytoplasms, inducing either a sudden yellowing followed by plant death, or the ‘little leaf’ syndrome.
Numerous insects and mites attack eggplant under tropical conditions, only the most important ones being mentioned here. Lepidopterous flower, bud or stem borers attack eggplant in Africa (e.g. Leucinodes orbonalis, Daraba laisalis, Scrobipalpa ergasima). Leaves are eaten by crickets and Epilachna flea beetles, foliar parenchyma by Selepa docilis and roots by termites. Biting and sucking insects include several jassid species, and the eggplant lacebug Corythaica cyanthicollis (synonym: Corythaica planaris). The aphid Myzus persicae frequently attacks eggplant; its proliferation can be stimulated by excessive use of fungicides, eliminating the hyperparasite Verticillium lecanii (synonym: Acrostalagmus aphidum). This emphasizes the need for Integrated Pest Management methods. Two kinds of mites can be destructive on eggplant: Tetranychus spp., favoured by dry hot weather and water stress, and the broad mite (Polyphagotarsonemus latus), infecting flowers and inducing corky spots and streaks on fruits, rather than leaf distortion as observed in African eggplants.
Subtropical Mediterranean and American cultivars are clearly more susceptible to the complete array of pests and diseases of eggplant than landraces or improved cultivars from tropical countries, in particular those from South and South-East Asia.
Harvesting must be done regularly, twice or three times per week in order to harvest fruits at the proper commercial stage, avoid plant exhaustion and maintain good growth and production. The fruit stalks can be removed with a knife or secateurs. To obtain fruits that keep well it is best to harvest at dawn or in the early morning.
The yield is very variable, depending upon climate, cultural practices, cultivar, and crop duration. Under conditions of extensive production (open field, less than optimal irrigation and fertilization) it is up to 10 t/ha, whereas under very intensive production in greenhouses (e.g. in the Netherlands) the yield can jump to 370 t/ha. In Africa average yields of 40–50 t/ha from open field production of 4–5 months are possible.
Handling after harvest
Eggplant fruits are susceptible to rapid dehydration after harvest, losing their colour, brightness and smoothness. The younger and the longer the fruits, the more susceptible they are to dehydration. Therefore, aubergines must be harvested at the proper development stage, and must be transferred rapidly from the field to a cool and shaded place. They should be sold within a few days after harvest. Under controlled conditions fruits can be kept up to 10 days; the storage temperature should not drop below 15°C to avoid cold injury.
Eggplant genetic resources consist of three genepools. The primary genepool consists of traditional and modern cultivars of Solanum melongena; the diversity is important in terms of fruit size (from some tens of g to over one kg), fruit shape (from globose to snake-shaped, furrowed or smooth) and fruit colour (white, green, pink to violet or purple or even black, uniform, striped, mottled or netted). The secondary genepool is formed by some 20 related Solanum species that are relatively easily crossable with eggplant and give relatively fertile hybrids; Solanum aethiopicum belongs to this genepool, but the hybrids, though quite easily obtained, have very low fertility. The tertiary genepool consists of about 20 other Solanum species that are crossable with eggplant using particular procedures such as embryo rescue or colchicine treatment, and produce interspecific hybrids of low fertility; Solanum macrocarpon belongs to this genepool.
Eggplant has suffered genetic erosion where hybrids have replaced traditional and local cultivars. As early as the 1970s it was classified by the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources )IBPGR, later IPGRI) as one of the important vegetables for which genetic resources should be collected and conserved. In cooperation with IPGRI, India (almost 3000 accessions) and China (about 1000 accessions) have made noticeable efforts to collect and conserve their native eggplant diversity. Other significant eggplant germplasm collections in Asia are maintained by the National Institute of Agrobiological Resources, Japan and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center, Taiwan. In Russia, the Vavilov Institute in St Petersburg maintains more than 1000 accessions and in the United States a significant collection is kept in the Beltsville Research Station of USDA. In the European Union a network comprising seven countries is regenerating and characterizing their eggplant genetic resources (EGGNET project). Genetic resources of eggplant and related species have been largely under-utilized till now, but the development of networks which create better access to information and seeds should stimulate their use in research and breeding programmes in the near future.
Eggplant is an autogamous species, with a strong tendency to cross pollination whenever there are pollinating insects (mostly Hymenoptera). Therefore controlled pollination is necessary for the maintenance of pure lines. The wide genetic diversity in Solanum melongena germplasm (e.g. fruit traits, earliness, resistance to diseases and agro-climatic adaptation) is more widely used by breeders from tropical countries than by those from temperate countries, where the production and marketing are highly standardized.
In temperate countries the seed market has been dominated for more than 20 years by F1 hybrids, adapted to the requirements of intensive production. For the tropical market, landraces and open-pollinated cultivars are being progressively replaced by F1 hybrids. F1 ‘Kalenda’, co-developed by INRA-IRAT in 1975, was one of the first hybrids especially designed for the tropics. It was first commercialized in the French West Indies and is still grown in Africa. It combines a good yield of purple fruits (intermediate shape), with resistance to Ralstonia solanacearum and fruit anthracnose.
In Europe as well as in Asia, research is in progress to identify and characterize new sources of resistance to bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum), Verticillium and Fusarium wilt, root-knot nematodes and various viruses within Solanum melongena germplasm as well as in related species. Several Asian Solanum melongena accessions as well as accessions of Solanum aethiopicum Aculeatum Group and Gilo Group display high levels of resistance to bacterial wilt. However, the efficiency of most of the resistances varies with the geographic origin of the bacteria isolates, and further research is needed to better understand these interactions. Open-pollinated eggplant cultivars of diverse fruit shapes, sizes and colours were created by INRA (French West Indies) in the 1980s, from recurrent selection programmes involving these intraspecific and interspecific sources of resistance. Testing of this material is still in progress.
Several vegetable breeding companies, in particular from Asia, commercialize cultivars of different fruit types which are adapted to the climatic and pathological conditions of the tropics (e.g. East West Seed Company from Thailand and Tropicasem from Senegal). In Tanzania the AVRDC Regional Center for Africa also created a number of improved lines of eggplant.
The creation of transgenic eggplants for resistance to insects and abiotic stress factors is actively pursued in many countries. The emergence of transgenic cultivars can be expected in a short time, though their superiority over conventionally bred cultivars remains to be demonstrated.
Eggplant has good prospects in tropical Africa. Related Solanum species constitute a rich potential of genetic diversity. Their characterization for tropical pests and diseases is highly desirable. The recent publication of the first eggplant molecular map, using markers already located on the tomato genome, has shown that there is a lot of synteny between eggplant and tomato. This means that a great part of the knowledge of tomato genetics could be used in eggplant breeding, and that molecular tools will probably soon be used. However, field experimentation remains the ultimate and the most discriminating breeding tool for creating good cultivars.
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Sources of illustration
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- M.-C. Daunay
Unité de Génétique et Amélioration des Fruits et Légumes, INRA, B.P. 94, 84143 Montfavet Cedex, France
- M.L. Chadha
AVRDC Regional Center for Africa, P.O. Box 10, Duluti, Arusha, Tanzania
Correct citation of this article
Daunay, M.-C. & Chadha, M.L., 2004. Solanum melongena L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.
Accessed 7 October 2022.
- See the Prota4U database.