Solanum integrifolium, most often called pumpkin on a stick, is an ornamental annual boasting large blue-green leaves and little pumpkins on dark stems in late summer to early fall. If you love to decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving, pumpkin on a stick is the plant for you. This plant looks just like little pumpkins growing on a stick. But it isn’t a pumpkin or even related. It is actually an eggplant. www.gardeningknowhow.com
Pumpkin on a stick is grown as a decorative stem for the cut flower industry. It has a long vase life, lasting from 2 to 4 weeks.
It is a member of the nightshade family and is related to tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. The plant has an upright habit with large leaves. Both the stems and leaves have thorns. The leaves are dotted with small prickles and the stem with large purple thorns. The plant reaches 3-to 4-feet tall and 2-to 3-feet wide.The plant blooms with clusters of small white blossoms that are followed by small, pale green, ridged fruit. As the fruit ripens, their color will become a bright reddish orange.
The plant has many names. Some are Hmong eggplant, red China eggplant and scarlet Chinese eggplant. The specimen was brought to the United States from Thailand by Vanderbilt University in 1870 as a botanical, ornamental curiosity. www.gardeningknowhow.com
After the glossy fruit has ripened to its bright reddish orange color, cut the stems just above the ground. Remove the leaves and thorns and add to fall decorations. The fruits can be dried separately and added to bowls of dried flowers.
Pumpkin on a stick needs full sun and rich, well-drained soil to produce flowers. Regular watering is a must, but it does not like to have wet feet. Pumpkin on a stick is a monoecious plant, meaning that it must be pollinated by insects in order to produce fruit. www.gardenia.net
It is frequently used as a vegetable in Asian dishes. It has a bitter, peppery taste. www.gardenia.net
Pumpkin on a stick is used in edible gardens, Mediterranean gardens and cottage gardens. It can be grown in a container or in the ground.
Consider adding it to your garden next spring and enjoy decorating with it next fall.
Photos and information by Jeanne Pavero
North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox