Family : Solanaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to tropical America (Antigua, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Hispaniola, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines) where it grows in the thickets, prairies and degraded areas, mainly at low altitudes.
The name of the genus comes from the Latin “solamen, -minis” = relief, comfort, due to the medical and narcotic properties of some species; the specific name is the Latin adjective “mammosus, a, um” = which has large breasts, with reference to the shape of the fruit.
Common names: apple of Sodom, cow’s udder, dog poison, fox face, love apple, macawbush, Mikey Mouse plant nipplefruit, pig’s-ears, tit plant, titty fruit, turkei berry, zombie fruit (English); tetilla, vaca vaquita (Bolivia); cabeça de cabrito, jua bravo, jurubeba do pará, peito de moça (Brazil); ru qie, wu dai tong tang (China); hoja de luna, lulo de perro (Colombia); pichichio (Costa Rica); chucho muyo, teta de vaca (Ecuador); morelle mammée, poire de bachelier, pomme d’amour, pomme teton (France); Euter-Nachtschatten (Germany); chicha, tetereta (Guatemala); tete jeune fille (Haiti); terung susu (Indonesia); pianta dei capezzoli (Italy); terung balanda, terun susu (Malaysia); berenjena (Mexico); cocona venenosea (Peru); pecho de doncella (Puerto Rico); berenjena de cucarachas, berenjena de gallina, berenjena de teta (Spain); tuna (Venezuela).
The Solanum mammosum L. (1753) is a herbaceous or annual shrubby or perennial with short life species, erect, ramified, 1-1,5 m tall, with brown or purple stems and branches provided of glandular hairs and yellowish spines, straight or slightly curved, 0,4-1,5 cm long.
The leaves, on a 3-8 cm long spiny petiole, are simple, ovate-triangular with irregular sinuate-lobate margins, truncate to cordate base and acute or obtuse apex, 6-25 cm long and 5-20 cm broad, pubescent and provided of needle-like 0,8-2 cm long spines along the main veins.
Lateral racemose inflorescences, subsessile, bearing 3-6 flowers, on a 0,5-1 cm long pedicel, with pubescent campanulate calyx, more or less provided of spines, with 5 ovate-lanceolate lobes with pointed apex, 0,3-0,5 cm long , 5 oblong-lanceolate petals, about 2 cm long and 0,4 cm broad, villous externally, of violaceous colour, 5 stamens with yellow anthers, 0,8-1 cm long and a 0,3 cm long style.
The fruit, poisonous, is a pyriform berry with 1-5 protuberances ovoid at the base, initially of pale green colour, then bright yellow when ripe tending with the time to orange yellow, 4-10 cm long and of 3-5 cm of diameter, white spongy mesocarp and numerous lenticular seeds, about 0,4 cm long and 0,3 cm broad, of glossy dark brown colour.
It usually propagates by seed, previously scarified and maintained in water for one day, interred superficially in draining loam maintained humid, but without stagnations, in a luminous ambient at the temperature of 22-24 °C, with germination times usually of 3-4 weeks; it may reproduce also by cutting.
Despite its poisonousness for the mammals it is amply cultivated as ornamental, due to the odd fruits long lasting on the plant, besides for the medicinal virtues attributed, in the tropical, subtropical and marginally in the milder temperate-warm climate countries, often naturalizing and behaving as infestant. Elsewhere, it is utilized as annual sowing in an environment protected in winter and transferring the young plants in open ground in spring. It requires full sun and adapts to a vast variety of soils, also strongly clayey, it stands long dry periods as well as water stagnations for short times, but prefers the constantly humid draining soils.
Due to its toxicity it has been used in the past as insecticide and for catching the fishes. The juice of the fruit has a moderate detergent power and was used for washing the clothes. The cut branches with fruits, long lasting, are utilized in the floral compositions; in China, in relatively recent years, the fruits are considered as of good omen and utilized in the decorations for the end and the beginning of the year. Various parts of the plant are used in the traditional medicine for various pathologies, in the origin countries as well as in those where it has been introduced since time, despite the absence of pharmacological proofs. On the other hand, the plant contains numerous bioactive compounds, mainly alkaloids and saponins, in particular the fruits contain glycoalkaloids, among which solasonine and solamargine (both derived from the alkaloid solasodine), all toxic substances, but that, isolated and in appropriate dosage, may be of great interest for the official pharmacopoeia.
Synonyms: Solanum platanifolium Hook. (1826); Solanum globiferum Dunal (1852); Solanum mammosissimum Ram. Goyena (1911).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza