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The Fruit Salad Plant – SOLANUM muricatum
Sometimes known as the pear melon, this easy to grow, somewhat sprawling plant does particularly well in a big deep pot, at least 75 cm in diameter and height, where it can hang its luscious fruits and its soft branches over the sides.
The Fruit Salad Plant originates in the temperate Andean areas of Peru and Chile, and at the end of the 1800s it was taken to California in order to establish it as a commercial crop. When ripe the fruits have a fresh, slightly sweet flavour and have been a favourite ingredient for meat, stews and fruit salads for centuries – hence its name ‘The Fruit Salad Plant’. The green and ripe fruits are also used medicinally: thinly sliced over minor burns, scratches, grazes, blisters, corns and infected mosquito bites, covered with a fresh leaf or two and then held in place with a crepe bandage.
Plant SOLANUM muricatum in full sun in well dug, richly composted soil and water every day if it is in a pot, or twice a week if it is in the garden. Feed it twice-yearly with an organic fertiliser and compost and repot it every third year. When it becomes straggly and untidy after its long fruiting period, prune it back to about half its height. New buds will emerge within a few weeks and more fruits will emerge.
The fruit varies in size from granadilla size, to the size of an elongated tennis ball, covered in golden apricot coloured, brinjal-like satiny skin, often flecked with dark purple, stripy dapples. The pulp is crisp and melon-like though not as sweet, and it smells of pears and honey, hence the name pear lemon. Try it cut in wedges steamed with ginger and honey and sunflower seeds, and serve it on vanilla ice cream.
I have trialled this fascinating plant for 10 years in the Herbal Centre gardens and love it more every year. I add surplus fruits to stewed apples, to berry jams and to pumpkin fritters and to fruit smoothies, and if Australia and New Zealand sell it in their markets, what are we waiting for?
With thise unusual plant to start your spring planning, can you feel what a good season it’s going to be?
The Fruit Salad Plant and Curry Tree are available in the Margaret Roberts Malanseuns Herb Collection, which is available at most nurseries.
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