Solanum (Sturtevant, 1919)

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Sturtevant, Notes on edible plants, 1919
Solanum (Sturtevant, 1919)

Solanum aethiopicum Linn.


Asia and tropical Africa; cultivated there and elsewhere for its edible berries, which are large, red, globular and uneven. The fruits are eaten in China, Japan and in Egypt.

Solanum anguivi Lam.


Madagascar. The small, red, glabrous berries are eaten.

Solanum aviculare Forst. f.


New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania. The fruit is eaten by the islanders of the Pacific. The greenish-yellow berry, the size of a plum, is edible but acerb unless fully ripe. The berries lose their unpleasant acidity only after they have dropped in full maturity from the branches, and then their taste resembles, in some degree, Physalis peruviana, to which they are also similar in size. The native tribes eagerly collect the fruit as an article of food.

Solanum cari Molina.

Chile. This is a distinct species of potato which has been long cultivated in Chile but is still unknown not only in Europe but also in Quito and Mexico.

Solanum commersonii Dun.

Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. The species resembles the common potato.

Solanum elaeagnifolium Cav.

Tropical America. The Mexicans use the fruit for curdling milk and, according to Dr. Gregg, call it trompillo.

Solanum fendleri A. Gray.

This species is found growing in great abundance in northern New Mexico. The tuber is one of the chief articles of winter diet with the Navajo Indians. These tubers are quite small, one-half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, of a good taste and are somewhat like a boiled chestnut. This species has been suggested as the original of the cultivated potato, but the history of the cultivated potato is against this theory.

Solanum gilo Raddi.

Brazil. The plant is much cultivated for its large, spherical, orangecolored berries, which are eatable.

Solanum maccai Dun.

Guiana. The red, globose berry is edible.

Solanum maglia Schlecht.

Chile. This is a wild potato of Chile called maglia by the natives. The tubers are very small and of a slightly bitter taste.

Solanum melongena Linn.


Old World tropics. The eggplant seems not to have been known in Europe in the time of the ancients. The Arab physician, Ebn Baithar, who wrote in the thirteenth century, speaks of it and cites Rhases, who lived in the ninth century. Albertus Magnus, who lived in Europe in the thirteenth century, mentions it. Ibn-al-awam, a Moorish Spaniard of the twelfth century, describes four species, and six are noted in the Nabathaean agriculture. According to Jessen, Avicenna, who flourished about A. D. 595, knew it, and called it badingan. Bretschneider says the eggplant can be identified in the Ts'i min yao shu, a Chinese work on agriculture of the fifth century, and is described in later writings of 1590, 1640, and 1742. Acosta mentions, as among the vegetables carried from Spain to America, the "berengenas, or apples of Love;" and Piso, 1658, figures the eggplant among Brazilian plants, under the name of belingela.

The eggplants first known in Europe appear to belong to the class we now grow for ornament, the fruit resembling an egg. They were of various colors. Fuchsius, 1542, mentions the purple and the yellow; Tragus, 1552, who says they have recently reached Germany from Naples, names the same colors; Lyte's Dodoens, 1586, names two kinds, one purple and the other pale or whitish. In 1587, Dalechamp figures three kinds, the one long, another obscurely pear-shaped and the third rounded; he mentions the colors purple, yellow and ashcolored; Gerarde, 1597, says white, yellow or brown; Dodonaeus, 1616, mentions the oblong and round, white and purple; Marcgravius, 1648, describes a round and yellow fruit; J. Bauhin, 1651, names various sorts, the long, the deep and the round, yellow, purple and whitish. Bontius, 1658, describes the wild plant of Java as oblong and round, or spherical, the color yellow; the cultivated sorts purple or white. Rauwolf particularly describes these plants at Aleppo, 1574, as ash-colored, yellow and purple.

At present, the purple eggplant is almost the only color grown in our kitchen gardens but there are many sorts grown in other regions. The purple and the white ornamental are mentioned for American gardens in 1806; as also in England, 1807; in France, 1824. In the Mauritius, Bojer names three varieties of purple and white colors. In India, Carey says, there are several varieties in constant cultivation by the natives, such as green, white, purple, yellow. Pirminger describes purple-, black- and white-fruited forms; and Speede names the purple and white in six varieties. In Cochin China, Loureiro describes five sorts: purple, white, and variegated.

There are two sorts of plants to be recognized: (a) The one with the stems, leaves and calyxes unarmed, or nearly so. (b) The other with the stems, leaves and calyxes more or less aculeate. The first sort is figured by Fuchsius, 1542, and by succeeding authors up to the present date. The second sort is first noticed by Camerarius, 1588, and has continued to the present time. The varieties now grown in American gardens can be divided very readily into four types, the oval, round, long and the oblong or pearshaped. The following synonymy can be established:


This, at present, includes but ornamental sorts, and present forms show a marked improvement in evenness and regularity over the older forms.

Calyx not spiny.—

  • Mala insana. Fuch. 513. 1542; Roeszl. 117. 1550; Tragus 894. 1552; Pineaus 514. 1561; Ger. 274. 1597; Sweert. t. 20, p. i. 1612; Dod. 458. 1616.
  • Melongena sive mala insana vel melanzana. Lob. Obs. 138. 1576; Icon. i, 268. 1591.
  • Melongena, seu mala insana. Cam. Epit. 820. 1586.
  • Melongena. Matth. Opera. 760. 1598.
  • Melanzane. Dur. C. 279. 1617.
  • Solanum pomiferum fructu rotundo. Bauh. J. 3:618. 1651.
  • Melongena arabum. Chabr. 524. 1673.
  • Aubergine blanche. Vilm. 27. 1883.


  • Melanzana fructu pallido. Hort. Eyst. 1713; Aut. Ord. 1:3; also ib.; 1613.
  • White Egg-Plant. N. Y. Sta. 1886.


Calyx not spiny.—

  • Belingela. Marcg. 24. 1648; Piso. 210. 1658.
  • Aubergine rende de Chine. Decaisne and Naudin. Man. 4:288.
  • Black Pekin. Ferry. 1883; Hovey. 1866.

Calyx spiny.—

  • Black Pekin. Greg. 1886; Thorb. 1886.


This type varies much in size and proportion, if the Chinese variety described by Kizo Tamari as recently introduced into Japan belongs to this class. He says it is about one inch in diameter by one foot and a half long. This form may be either straight or curved.

Calyx not spiny.—

  • Melantzana arabum melongena. Dalechamp 2: app. 23. 1587.
  • Solanum pomiferum fructu incurvo. Bauh. J. 3:619. 1651; Chabr. 524. 1673; Pluk. Phyt. t. 226, p. 2. 1691.
  • Aubergine violette longue. Decaisne and Naudin. Man. 4:287.

Calyx spiny.—

  • Aubergine violette longue. Vilm. 24. 1883.


This form is a swollen fruit with an elongation towards the summit, in some of its varieties shaped like the powder-hom gourd.

Calyx not spiny.—

  • Melantzana nigra. Dalechamp. 2: app. 23. 1587.
  • Aubergine violette nain ires hative. Vilm. 26. 1883.
  • Early Round Violet. Damman. 1884. Calyx spiny.—
  • Solanum pomiferum magnus fructu, etc. Pluk. Phyt. t. 226, p. 3. 1691.
  • Melongena. Tourn. t. 65. 1719.
  • American Large Purple. Burr. 609. 1863.

We may note that the Arabic words melongena and bedengaim were applied by Rauwolf to the long-fruited form, the calyx not spiny, while the word betleschaim or melanzana batleschaim was applied to the spiny-calyx form of the pear-shaped, if Gronovius's synonymy is to be trusted.

Every type in the varieties under cultivation can with certainty be referred to one of the four forms above named. The oval type is figured in 1542, as we have shown; the round type in 1648, in Brazil; the long type, by Dalechamp, in 1587; and the pear-shaped type also in 1587. All the colors now noted, and more, receive notice by the ancient writers. As we have confined our synonymy to those authors who have given figures and have omitted those who but described, however certainly the descriptions would apply, we can claim accuracy as to our facts.

We, hence, have no evidence that types have originated through cultivation in recent years and we have strong evidence that types have continued unchanged through long-continued cultivation, under diverse climates. It is but as we examine variation within types that we see the influences of cultivation. The oval-fruited is described by Dodonaeus, 1616, as of the form and size of an egg, but he says that in Egypt, where the plant is wild, it attains double or three times the size which it has in France and Germany. Ray, 1686, compares the size of the long-fruited to that of an egg, or of a cucumber, a comparison that would answer for to-day, as cucumber-size covers a wide range; but, he adds, that the curved form is like a long gourd. The figures of the pearshaped in 1719 indicate a fruit which compares well with the usual sizes grown at the present time. It is in regularity of form and in the large size of selected strains that we see the influence arising from careful selection and protected growth. What other influence has climate exercised? We do not know.

This sketch illustrates the point already made in studies of the dandelion, celery and other vegetables — that types of varieties have great fixity, are not produced through human selection and cultivation, and, we wish we could add in this case, originated from wild prototypes; but, unfortunately, there are no records of the variation observed in feral or spontaneous plants.

Solanum montanum Linn.

Peru. The Peruvian Indians are stated to use the roots in soups.

Solanum muricatum Ait.


Chile and Peru. This is a shrubby species with egg-shaped, edible berries, which are white, with purple spots, and attain a length of six inches.

Solanum nigrum Linn.


Cosmopolitan. This plant, says Vilmorin, is not as yet used in France as a vegetable, but, in warm countries, the leaves are sometimes eaten as spinach. It is mentioned by Galen among aliments in the second century but was not cultivated in Germany in Fuchsius' time, 1542, although it retained its name, Solanum hortense, perhaps from its former cultivation. It is a plant of wide distribution, occurring in the northern hemisphere from Sweden and the northeast of America from Hudson Bay, even to the equatorial regions; as, for example, at Timor, the Galapagos, the Antilles, Abyssinia, the Mascarene Isles, Mauritius, Van Diemen's Land and Chile. It is found as a potherb in the markets of Mauritius and is used as a spinach in central Africa. In China, the young shoots are eaten, as also its black berries, and, in the Mississippi Valley, the little black berries are made into pies and other pastry.

Solanum quitoense Lam.

Peru. The berries resemble in size, color and taste small oranges and are of a peculiar fragrance. The Peruvians eat this fruit.

Solanum repandum Forst. f.

Pacific Isles. In Viti, the fruit is eaten by the natives, either in soups or with yams.

Solanum sessiliflorum Dun.

Brazil. The berries are eaten in Para, where they are called cubios and the leaves are also eaten in Brazil.

Solanum topiro Humb. & Bonpl.


Banks of the Orinoco. The berry is edible.

Solanum torvum Sw.

Cosmopolitan tropics. West Indies to Peru. This species is shrubby with yellow, spherical berries of good size which seem wholesome.

Solanum trilobatum Linn.

Tropical Asia. The leaves are eaten by the Hindus.

Solanum tuberosum Linn.


Western South America. A native of southern Chile, becoming an object of cultivation in northern Chile and Peru in the time of the Incas. Mueller says the potato is found wild also in Argentina. Darwin states that the wild potato now grows on the islands of the Chonos Archipelago in great abundance, on the sandy, shelly soil near the sea beach. The tubers were generally small, but he found one of oval shape two inches in diameter, resembling in every respect and having the same smell as English potatoes. When boiled, these potatoes shrunk much and were watery and insipid, without any bitter taste. They grow as far south as latitude 50 and are called aquinas by the wild Indians of that part. Frezier, 1732, speaks of the potatoes of the Chile Indians as called by them papas and as being quite insipid in taste.

According to Humboldt, the potato was cultivated at the time of the discovery of America in all the temperate regions of Chile to New Granada but not in Mexico. The earliest mention of the potato, if it be not the sweet potato, is that of Peter Martyr, who, referring to the time of Columbus' voyages, says that the Indians of Darien "dygge also out of the grounds certayne rootes growing of themselves, which they call betatas, muche lyke unto the navie rootes of Millane, or the great puffes or mushroomes of the earth. Howsoever they be dressed, eyther fryed or sodde, they geve place to no suche kynde of meate in pleasant tendemes. The skinne is somewhat tougher than eyther the navies or mushromes, and of earthy colour, but the inner meate thereof is very white: These are nourished in gardens. . . . They are also eaten rawe and have the taste of rawe chestnuts but are somewhat sweeter." In 1519, Pigafetta Vicentia, the chronicler of the voyage of Magellan, says, on the coast of Brazil, 20° south, the natives brought the Spaniards baskets of potatoes, or "batates," a root resembling "turnips, and tasted like chestnuts," but these may have been the sweet potato.

In 1553, Peter Cieca says the inhabitants of Peru and vicinity had a tuberous root which they eat and call papas. Cieza de Leon, who traveled between 1532 and 1550, says the country of the Collao has for the principal food of its inhabitants potatoes, which are like the earthnut. They dry these potatoes in the sun and keep them from one harvest to another. After they are dried, they call them chunus, and they are highly esteemed and valued among them. Chunus, or frozen potatoes, are still the ordinary food in the Collao. Garcilasso de la Vegal also speaks of the papas of the Collao, round and moist, and inclined to rot soon. Prescott says the potato formed the great staple of the more elevated plains of Peru, under the Incas. Acosta, who wrote about 1590, says they call "papas these rootes (which) are like to ground nuttes, they are small roots which cast out many leaves. They gather this papas, and dry it well in the sunne, then beating it they make that which they call chuno which keepes many daies, and serves for bread... they likewise eat of these papas boyled or roasted." Zarata, 1555, speaks of the potato being cultivated by the Peruvians and called papas. In 1565, Hawkins found potatoes at Santa Fe de Bogata and carried some thence.

In the West Indies, we find no mention of the potato until some time after the discovery of the islands. In 1564, Hawkins says the potatoes at Margarita Island, just, off the coast of Venezuela, are "the most delicate rootes that may be eaten, and doe far exceede parssnips or carets." In 1595, Captain Preston and Sommers, on their way to Virginia, stopped at Dominica Islands, and the Indians brought to them "plantans and potatos." In 1633, White found this root in great abundance in Barbados.

It is quite possible that Hawkins carried the potato to North America in 1565 when he relieved the famine among the French on the banks of the river May, now St. Johns, Florida, and sailed northward towards Virginia, where, in 1584, Hariot "describes under the name of openawk what is supposed to be the potato: "The roots of this plant grow in damp soils, many hanging together as if fixed on ropes. They are good food, either boiled or roasted." Round potatoes, says Jefferson, "were found in Virginia when first visited by the English; but it is not said whether of spontaneous growth, or by cultivation only." In 1597, Gerarde says, "it groweth naturally in America, where it was first discovered, as reports Clusius, since which time I have received roots thereof from Virginia, otherwise called Norembega;" his description applies to the potato. The potato is mentioned under cultivation in Virginia in 1609," in 1648 and in 1649 as better than those grown in England, "excellently delicious and strongly nourishing." Potatoes are said to have been introduced into New England by a colony of Presbyterian Irish, who settled in Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 1719, but cultivation did not become general for many years; potatoes appeared in Salem, Massachusetts, about 1762, as a field crop. In 1830, Col. Morris, then in his ninetieth year, informed Watson that the potatoes used in his early life were very inferior to those of the present; they were called Spanish potatoes and were very sharp and pungent in the throat and smell, but a better sort was received from Liverpool. Tench Frances, of Philadelphia, first imported an improved stock, which, by frequent cultivation, he much improved. About 1817, says Goodrich, the potato bore seed to the amount, perhaps, of a gill to the hill; from 1842 to 1847, in the annual cultivation of two and a half acres, he recollects having found but two branches, and his experience, he says, has not been exceptional. In 1806, McMahon mentions but one kind; and in 1832, Bridgeman says there are many varieties. In 1848, nearly 100 kinds were exhibited at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society; in 1876, at the Centennial Exhibition, 500 named varieties were shown. The potato now extends over North America to Labrador and Fort Simpson, 65° north, where Richardson says they yield well.

Sir J. Banks considers that the potato was first brought into Europe from the mountainous parts of South America in the neighborhood in Quito in the early part of the sixteenth century. Yet the Spanish name of battatas corresponds to the "betatas" of Peter Martyr and would indicate that these tubers came from the coast region of South America; yet, strangely enough, they are now called batatas Inglezas according to McIntosh. Bowles, in his introduction to the Natural History of Spain, is quoted by M. Drouyn de Thuys as saying that the potato was first transported from Spain into Galicia and thence to Italy where it was so common in the sixteenth century as to be fed to animals; but the first date we find is from Nuttall, who says that, according to Bauhin, the potato was introduced into Europe from the mountainous parts of Peru in the year 1590, and this strangely enough—too strange to be true—is after the potato was known elsewhere. In Bauhin's Phytopinax, 1596, appears, according to Hallam, the first accurate description of the potato, which he says was already cultivated in Italy. In Italy, it received the name of the truffle, taratoufle, which reminds one of the description of P. Martyr. Sismondi, whose work on agriculture was published in 1801, says the potato, little known in Lombardy, was introduced by himself into the hills of Tuscany, where it was then known only to the gardeners of Florence and Leghorn. Glasspoole says its cultivation in Tuscany began in 1767. In 1588, Clusius, at Vienna, received a present of two of the tubers from Flanders and gives a plate of the plant in his book published in 1601. In 1600, Olivier de Serres speaks of the potato as recently brought to France from Switzerland. It was not, however, until the middle of the eighteenth century that, under the urging of Parmentier, it became an object of general culture. The potato was introduced into Sweden in 1720, where, notwithstanding the exertions of Linnaeus, it did not come into general cultivation until aided by royal edict in 1764. It has now reached the North Cape, where it is grown in gardens. The potato has been grown on a large scale in Saxony only since 1717; in Prussia, since 1738; in Germany since 1710.

It is said by Glasspoole, that Hawkins, in 1565, brought the potato into Ireland, but Lindley says it was first introduced by Raleigh on his Irish estate. As the return of Raleigh's ships and the acquisition of these estates took place in 1585, this is probably the date of the introduction. Dr. Campbell, however, in his Political Survey, says the potato was not introduced into Ireland until 1610. In 1597, Gerarde had the potato growing in his garden in England. Woolridge, who wrote in 1687, says: "I do not hear that it has been yet essayed whether they may not be propagated in great quantities for the use of swine and other cattle." Lisle, in his Husbandry, 1694-1722, does not mention potatoes. Mortimer, in his Gardeners' Kalendar for 1708, says, "The root is very near the nature of the Jerusalem artichoke, although not so good and wholesome, but it may prove good to swine." Bradley, about 1719, says, "They are of less note than horseradish, radish, scorzoners, beets and skirret; but, as they are not without their admirers, I will not pass them by in silence." Miller, 1754, says they are "despised by rich and deemed only proper food for the meaner sort of persons." The potato was introduced into Lancashire in, 1728, where its cultivation soon became general and whence it gradually spread over other counties of England. In Scotland, the potato was first cultivated in 1739, in the county of Sterling, and was not known in the Highlands until 1743. Booth says it was introduced in 1725 and came into field culture about 1760.

The potato is mentioned as among the edible products of Japan by Thunberg, 1776, and its cultivation, says Humboldt, has become common. In New Zealand, where it had become common by 1840, the first tubers were left by Captain Cook 1770. In China, at the present time, the potato is grown chiefly for consumption by foreigners and has not found favor with the natives. It is now also grown in the Island of Java, in the Buton, in Bengal and from the extremity of Africa to Labrador, Iceland and Lapland, says Humboldt in 1811.

The tenor of the whole history of the potato seems such as to imply that at first its tuber was of such poor quality as not to obtain general liking, that it was only as the quality was improved that its acceptance became assured and that it is to the effort of growers that it has secured at the present time a quality that forces universal approval.

The varieties of the potato are now innumerable and, while of several distinct types of form and color, are all supposed to have been derived from a common wild progenitor. It is interesting to observe, therefore, that varieties were under culture in South America even before the discovery. In a vocabulary of a now extinct tribe, the Chibcha, who once occupied the region about the present Bogota, ten different varieties are identified, one of which, "black inside," has not as yet appeared in modern culture. At the present time, Vilmorin makes an extremely artificial classification as follows: (1) The round, yellow varieties. (2) The long, yellow varieties. (3) The variegated, long, yellow varieties. (4) The round, red varieties. (5) The flat, pink, or red varieties. (6) The smooth, long, red varieties. (7) The notched, long, red varieties. (8) The violetcolored and variegated varieties. The yellow and red varieties are mentioned by Bauhin, 1596, as the tawny and the purple. In 1726, Townsend mentions the white and the red in England, as does Bryant in 1783. In 1785, Varlo describes eight sorts: "the White Round, the Red Round, the Large Irish White Smooth, the Large Round Red, the Culgee, the Early-wife, the White Kidney, the Bull's-eye Red." In further description he says "the Jerusalem is long and full of eyes, the Culgee is red on one side, the Early-wife does not blossom and is of a light red, and the Toadback is nearly akin to the large Irish, the skin almost black, and rough like a russetting; the Kidney is oblong, white with a yellowish cast." In 1828, Fessenden says there are many varieties, and, in 1832, Bridgeman says the varieties are very numerous. In 1848, nearly 100 sorts were exhibited at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Boston. Decaisne and Naudin give the number of varieties in France in 1815 as 60, in 1855 as 493, in 1862 as 528.

A number of wild varieties of the potato have been grown at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, including the Solanum maglia. One sort, which has not as yet been identified with its specific name, corresponds to the notched class of Vilmorin. The maglia corresponds to the round and oblong-flattened forms; the jamesii to the round form. The colors of these wild potatoes are said by some growers to include the white, the red, and the variegated. In their habits of growth, the maglia forms its tubers deep under the ground, the jamesii very much scattered and extending a long distance from the plant.

The synonymy of our types can include those described by Vilmorin, as follows:

I.— Round yellow. Vilm. 1885.

  • Round as a ball. Ger. 781. 1597; 927. 1633.
  • Solanum tuberosum. Blackw. Herb. pi. 523. b. 1773.
  • White round. Varlo Husb. 2:97. 1785.

II.— Long yellow. Vilm. 1885.

  • Ovall or egge fashion. Ger. 781. 1597:927. 1633.
  • Oblonga. Bauh. Prod. 90. 1671;Matth. 757. cum ic. 1598.
  • Papas peruanorum. Clus. Rar. 2:79. cum ic. 1601. 777.—
  • Variegated long yellow. Vilm. 1885.

IV.— Round red. Vilm. 1885.

  • Pugni magnitudine. Matth. 757. 1598.
  • Red round. Varlo Husb. 2:97. 1785.

V.— Flat pink or red. Vilm. 1885.

VI.— Smooth long red. Vilm. 1885.

  • ? Solanum tuberosum. Blackw. Herb. pi. 523. b, 1773

VII.— Notched long red. Vilm. 1885.

  • ? Membri virilis forma. Bauh. Prod. 90. 1671. VIII.— Violet colored and variegated.
  • ? Atrorubens. Bauh. Phytopin. 301. 1596.
  • Toadback. Varlo. Husb. 2:97. 1785.
  • Solanum tuberosum tuberibus nigricantibus. Blackw. Herb. 7. 586.

The figures which seem to be referable to the maglia species are:

  • Batata virginiana sive virginianorum pappus. Ger. 781. i597.
  • Solanum tuberosum esculentum. Matth. Op. 758. 1598; Bauh. Prod. 89. 1671.
  • Arachidna theophrasti forte, Papas peruanorum. Clus.-Rar. 2:79. 1601.
  • Papas americanus. Sweertius Florelig. 7. 28. fig. 4. 1612.

The potatoes which are now grown in the United States were derived from several sources; from England of late years; from Bogota in 1847; and from Chile in 1850.

Solanum uporo Dun.

Islands of the Pacific. In Viti, the fruit is prepared by the natives into a sauce which is used at their cannibal feasts. The white settlers occasionally use the fruit to prepare a sauce like the tomato and use the leaves as a potherb. It is used as a vegetable in the Society Islands and New Zealand.

Solanum xanthocarpum Schrad. & Wendl.


Old World tropics. This species is cultivated for its fruit in the Circars. The fruits are much esteemed by the natives, who eat them in their curries.