"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Monday, September 28, 2009

Morelle de Balbis

On a whim, we grew a couple Morelle de Balbis also known as a Litchi tomato this year with great success. The hardest part was getting the darn seeds to germinate, but once a few finally developed into little seedlings they quickly went on to grow into six foot tall thorny giants.

In Early July, after flowering, the fruit slowly started to develop. I was a bit unnerved when a few of the leaves started falling off until I finally realized they were shedding their leaves as new growth emerged...at least I assume that is what was going on. It would seem that there is very little information available on this plant. So far I have collected about a quart of fruit off each of the plants, not a lot but more then I had expected. The fruit really does taste like a cross between a cherry and a watermelon but is a bit on the seedy side.

Right now they are loaded with still maturing fruit, but with frost close at hand I have little faith that it will ever fully develop. Will I grow this extremely thorny plant again? Yes! But only a couple plants as they do take up a lot of room and really do not produce all that much in our short growing season. I will also NOT grow it so close to our garden gate as both of us are in danger of developing bald spots from ducking under some of the thorny branches. Who knows maybe someone will decide this is the next "superfood" and I can sell the seeds for $1.00 a piece.:)

The thorns are pretty nasty, Brer Rabbit would feel right at home in a patch of Litchi.

Picking this fruit without a pair of clippers is not all that pleasant...I learned this the hard way.

Even the husks have thorns, what a fascinating plant this turned out to be.

From a prior post, New Acquaintances In The Garden - Litchi Tomato aka Sticky Nightshade (S. sisymbriifolium)- A large plant that can grow around 5' tall and is covered in thorns. The prickly husk covered fruit is the size of a cherry tomato and supposedly tastes like a cross between a tomato, tart cherry, and watermelon. This "Wild Tomato" can be grown as you would any tomato but may not be a very prolific producer, nonetheless it certainly piqued my interest.

October 11 2009 Update-

It would appear that the litchi plant is also very hardy, ours has now easily survived five 29-31° nights and three nights of below 20° weather. The coldest weather caused the remaining fruits to become mushy but the plant itself still looks great.


Ruralrose said...

Your documentation shows so much forethought, i bet you two have a meeting over coffee everyday like my old man and i do, great post here, i will have to try as i am always looking for something new (did tomatillos this year, wow loves 'em, diversity is what makes the palate the happiest) - peace for all

Emma said...

Fascinating! I must add this one to the list of things to try :)

Michelle said...

What a wild, exotic looking thing that plant is! I tried growing litchi tomatoes once, only my plants weren't quite as thorny and never got very big either. They seem to need more heat than what I get, my plants never produced any fruit. It's great to see what they should have been.

Roasted Garlicious said...

never heard of them before.. very cool Mr and Mrs H... will have to check them out for this climate...
what would you do with them, if you had a large enough crop?

Stefaneener said...

Maybe you can position them as the next goji berries?

Mr. H. said...


We do love trying new things in the garden. I'm so glad to hear that you grew tomatillos, what an absolutely wonderful plant. They have become a very important addition to our diet over the last few years and make the best salsa.

Mr. H. said...


You will find it to be a most unique addition to the food garden.:)


Mr. H. said...


It really does depend upon where you live, we have a fairly short growing season but did get lots of heat this summer...for a change. Last year they would not have done so well for us.

We also tried growing sesame this year and it was a total failure...You never know until you try I guess.

Mr. H. said...

Roasted Garlicious,

I hope today finds you feeling a little better. If I had a really large crop of Litchi tomatoes (not really tomatoes at all) I would dry most of them to be used on salads. I would also freeze some for various other uses...perhaps as an addition to a sweet salsa.

Mr. H. said...


Yeah, It might be right up there in the ranks with acai, goji berry, mangosteen, and of course cacao. All of those wonderful so called superfoods that the average person would have a hard time obtaining.

My super food is whatever happens to be on my plate each night...tonight it is a super homemade pizza topped with pepper, spinach, bulls blood beet greens (reds), onion, basil, Belgian heart tomato, zucchini, oregano, and of course freshly made pizza sauce. How super is that! :) :)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of new acquaintances, how is your honeyberry doing? Have you ever tasted one? Do you have suggestions as to varieties?

I am thinking of ordering but it seems that there are different opinions about flavor/varieties.

Mr. H. said...


Our honeyberries are growing sooo slow. The few fruits we have harvested tasted really great but the plants do not seem to like our garden.

This was a really hot year and they are more of a colder climate berry. I honestly do not know enough about them to suggest any particular variety.

I hope you do get a few (you will need at least two for fertilization) and that they do better for you. I would love to hear about how they do for you in a couple years. We will probably not purchase anymore unless the ones I already have start to improve over the next few years. I really hope they do.

I think we planted Blue Moon and Blue Velvet. Sorry I could not be more helpful.

Silke said...

Well, don't these look most beautiful, exotic and painful to pick! I think we have wild versions of this nightshade plat around here - they have beautiful purple flowers here and then grow these green little tomato-like fruit. And there are thorns all over! I'll have to show Daniel. :) Silke

P.S. Thanks so much for your last comment on my blog! "Old Man Crow" is one of a series of illustrations Daniel did for a gardening company in California for their packaging. They are all fun paintings!

el said...

Wow, that looks like a keeper (as in, I don't want THOSE seeds)!! Hwah!

Thinking of you today when I pulled up the second to last of the tomato plants. Fall has come to Michigan so I am gathering lots of things for you two.

LynnS said...

Really interesting plant, but those thorns scare the bejeebers out of me! I see those thorns and shudder!

The fruit sounds very interesting. I checked a few googled sites and read that the unripened fruit is poisonous. Did you realize this, or is that fiction?

Patrick said...

I grew these this year too. I've taken a picture, but have yet to make a post.

I like your idea of harvesting with pruning shears!

For my taste these have too many seeds. Nice for seed saving, not so nice for eating. I can't imagine drying them, unless maybe I de-seeded them first. Also, at least in my climate they never got very sweet or flavorful. I'm not sure I'll grow these again. If the seeds start going for $1 a piece, I'll be ready!

Mr. H. said...


I really like the plants flowers, they are so very delicate, quite a contrast to the plants extremely thorny body.

I bet what you and Daniel have growing around there is Solanum virginianum or Thai eggplant. I would love to know if yours fits this description.


Mr. H. said...


You really do detest those thorny plants...I can't blame you. My wife said I have to keep the litchi on the far edge of the garden next year.

We have been gathering lots from the garden as well. Fall is here, it's been in the 40°'s the last couple mornings and frost will soon follow. I still have a lot to do though. A few more seeds to save, catsup to make, pull the beets, carrots, parsnips, more fruit to gather...yikes.

Mr. H. said...


I knew that the unripened fruit of most, if not, all nightshade was poisonous but honestly did not think about it with the Litchi tomatoes. Yes, they probably would give you a good belly ache, or worse, if eaten raw. Thanks for the reminder. If you ever come across any detailed information on planting, growing, and using them please let me know.

The thorns are pretty nasty but that adds to the charm. A kind of forbidden fruit.

Mr. H. said...


I hope yours were not planted to close the the garden entrance like ours were...ouch.:)

I suppose that if I were to dry them I would strain the seeds and make them into a sort of fruit leather. They would need to produce a whole lot more before I bothered with that though.

Ours did get pretty sweet but the weather was about perfect this year for a change...lots of sun.

Perhaps we will have to get one of those superfood gurus to promote them for us.:)

Patrick said...

We just had a brief cold snap with temps reaching down to 12F (-11C), about as cold as it ever gets here. The fruit is all gone, but my plants are still growing.

I wonder if it's a perennial. I can't seem to find this online anywhere.

Mr. H. said...


The litchi tomato (Solanum sisymbriifolium) is a perennial in warmer climates as far as I know. There is another member of this family called Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) that has naturalized in the U.S. but does not bear any edible fruit and is considered an annual.

I covered our litchis in a layer of straw and soil to see if they will overwinter. Unfortunately the insulating snow that I was counting on to help me out never came so it they do survive it will be a true testament to their hearty nature. I will update this article with my results in the late spring either way.

There is not a lot of detailed information about this plant online so I suppose we will have to learn as we grow.:)

no name required said...

something very similar to this popped up in my yard this year. one plant did start to fruit but the weather chilled before it got very far. I am not sure if it's the same plant or not. The leaves on mine looked more like the the leaves of an Asian melon plant. I'm going to look up Buffalo Spur and see if that could be it.

Mr. H. said...

No Name Required - Yes, it could be buffalo bur, we had some show up in our yard once and it looked similar but different to the litchi tomato.

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