Here is a tomato relative to try out on friends who don’t like tomatoes. Just don’t tell them that it has “tomato” in its name. I have friends who don’t like fresh tomatoes, but love this fantastic fruit!
I love litchi tomato for its flavour. But it is prickly. Don’t grow it too close to the pathway, because its prickles will grab you.
Prickly and Mean
When I first saw this tomato relative, also known as Morelle de Balbis (or Solanum sisymbriifolium if you’re into Latin names) my tour guide at the trial garden I was visiting described it as “thorny and mean.” I agree, it can be mean, so I make sure to leave lots of space when I’m working nearby! (At a distance, though, they are really quite beautiful.)
Walk too close and it will snag your clothes! The stems, leaves, even the underside, and the husks on the dark-red fruits, all have sharp, pointy prickles on them. When I cleaned up the garden last fall, I wore gloves and a long-sleeve shirt when I removed my litchi tomato plants.
Growing and Eating
Because this fruit is so delicious, it’s one of my favourite crops, despite the prickles. I gave it more of the prized space in my rooftop garden this year, up to 12 plants from 6 last year. I treat the plants the same way as tomatoes, giving them a sunny location and supporting them with stakes or cages.
The spiny husks retract as the fruit ripens. The fruit comes out of the husk easily when it is ripe. The fruity flavour is a mix of tomato and cherry. It is sweet, good eating on its own, and an amazing addition to a fruit salad.
A Good City Crop
As a city gardener, I spend lots of time deterring pests like slugs, bunnies, squirrels, and raccoons. I’m happy to report that the large spines on this plant keep away the main tomato predator in our garden— squirrels.
I don’t often see transplants for sale, so you will probably have to grow this plant from seed. Seeds available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.
Emma Biggs is a gardener and garden communicator who has raised over 130 tomato varieties. Her Toronto garden is the source of many of her stories and the produce that she sells in her neighbourhood. She hosts kids gardening videos and her latest book, Gardening with Emma, helps kids and adults find the fun in growing.