Naranjilla or Lulo (Solanum quitoense) is a sub-shrubby perennial with orange fruits slightly larger than a golf ball. The greenish flesh yields a juice with a flavor that has been described as a blend of orange, pineapple, and tomato. The plant is around 2 m tall with purplish stem and leaves. Two varieties of this species have been recognized, quitoense, a spineless form found in southern Colombia and Ecuador, and septentrionale, a form with spines found in central Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica that is also grown in French Polynesia. Naranjillo is cultivated widely within its range, but also has characteristics of a "weed" and is often considered a species in the process of being domesticated.
Solanum is an enormous genus that includes many well known plants of agricultural importance (e.g., Potato [S. tuberosum], Tomato [S. lycopersicum], and Eggplant [S. melongena]). Within the Solanum subgenus Leptostemonum, Naranjilla belongs to the section Lasiocarpa, a clade that includes around 13 species of perennial shrubs or small trees with its center of distribution in northwestern South America. Several species in this section produce edible fruits and two of them, Naranjilla and Cocona (S. sessiliflorum), are economically important fruit crops in Latin America. Naranjilla has been introduced to Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala and is now naturalized in Central America and cultivated in French Polynesia (where there is some concern it could become an invasive weed).
Naranjillo has often been identified as having potential for development as a premium crop for international markets, but some practical hurdles must be overcome, notably the production of varieties with better pathogen resistance. Wild relatives of Naranjilla are a potential source of desirable traits that could be exploited for genetic improvement. For example, crosses of Naranjilla with S. hirtum have reportedly yielded varieties with the same taste as Naranjilla, but with resistance to root knot nematodes.
(Heiser 1985; Bohs 2004; Levin et al. 2006; Bedoya-Reina and Barrero 2010 and references therein)
HabitErect or divergently branched, lignescent perennials 1-3 m tall. Stems stellate-woolly, densely pubescent with a mixture of stipitate to essentially sessile stellate trichomes, the multiseriate stalks of stipitate cauline stellae of variable length, the longest 1-4 mm, the lateral rays 6-9, 0.6-1.5 mm long, the midpoints about equaling rays or somewhat shorter, the hairs often purplish; unarmed or prickly, the prickles, when present, small, 1-3 (-5) mm long, 0.5-1.5 mm broad at base, usually somewhat recurved.
Sympodial StructureSympodial units 2-foliate, geminate.
LeavesLeaves simple, the blades 13-50 x 11-40 cm, about as long as wide, elliptic to ovate, thin-textured, felty-pubescent adaxially with sessile stellae, the dominant form with prolonged midpoints 1-2 mm long and 4-6 short, basally inserted lateral rays 0.1-0.4 mm long, also with a distinct class of smaller stellae often scattered among the larger ones, with rays and midpoints 0.1-0.3 mm long, densely pubescent abaxially with interwoven stalked and sessile stellae, the foliar pubescence in vivo with purplish cast, especially along principal veins; unarmed or sparsely prickly on major veins; major lateral veins 5-6 on each side; base truncate or shallowly cordate; margin coarsely dentate with 5-6 deltoid or depressed-deltoid, acute- or obtuse-tipped lobes at lateral vein terminations, the interlobal sinuses entire or occasionally with 1 or 2 smaller, tooth-like lobes; apex acute; petioles 5-15 cm, typically 1/4-1/2 the length of the blades, densely pubescent with hairs like those of the stem, unarmed or sparsely prickly.
InflorescencesInflorescences up to 1 cm long, leaf-opposed, unbranched, with 1-24 flowers, the distal flowers mostly female-sterile, the axes densely stellate-pubescent, unarmed or minutely prickly; peduncle 0-0.5 cm; rachis ca. 0.5 cm; pedicels 5-15 mm in flower, 5-15 mm in fruit, closely spaced 2-3 mm apart, articulated at the base.
FlowersFlowers with the calyx broadly campanulate, 14-20 mm long, the tube 5-8 mm, 8-13 mm wide, the lobes 7-13 x 5-8 mm, ovate to broadly ovate, commonly somewhat petaloid and white, stellate-woolly abaxially; fruiting calyx somewhat accrescent but not completely covering the fruit. Corolla 3-5 (-7) cm in diameter, 20-25 mm long, stellate, the tube 4-6 mm, thin-textured, white, the lobes 10-15 x 5-7 mm, ovate-lanceolate, spreading, acute at apices, densely stellate-pubescent abaxially, glabrous or sparsely pubescent adaxially. Stamens with filaments 0-1 mm; anthers 7-15 x 2-3.5 mm at base, lanceolate, attenuate, more or less connivent or divergent at tips, yellow, the pores small and directed distally. Ovary densely pubescent; style ca. 10 x 0.5-1mm, cylindrical, straight, glabrous; stigma capitate.
FruitsFruits 1-4 per inflorescence, 3-6.5 cm in diameter, globose, orange when ripe, with green flesh, spreading-hirsute when young with sessile stellate hairs with with elongate midpoints 3.5-4.5 mm long and 5-15 short, basally inserted lateral rays ca. 0.2 mm long, most trichomes finally deciduous.
SeedsSeeds numerous, 2.5-4 x 2.5-4 mm, yellow or light tan, lenticular, broadly ovate, the surfaces minutely pitted.
Catalog Number: US 1414942
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Card file verified by examination of original publication
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): J. Nolla
Year Collected: 1930
Locality: Rio Piedras., Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico, West Indies
- Isotype: Britton, N. L. 1930. Sci. Surv. Porto Rico & Virgin Isl. 6: 561.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Common Names and Uses
Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla (Spanish pronunciation: [naɾaŋˈxiʎa], "little orange") in Ecuador and Panama and as lulo ([ˈlulo], from Quechua) in Colombia, is a subtropical perennial plant from northwestern South America. The specific name for this species of nightshade means "from Quito."
The naranjilla plant is attractive, with large elongated heart- or oval-shaped leaves up to 45 cm in length. The leaves and stems of the plant are covered in short purple hairs. Naranjilla are delicate plants and must be protected from strong winds and direct sunlight. They grow best in partial shade.
Within the genus Solanum, S. quitoense is a part of the subgenus Leptostemonum. Within this clade, S. quitoense belongs to the section Lasiocarpa. Other species within Lasiocarpa include: S. candidum, S. hyporhodium, S. lasiocarpum, S. felinum, S. psudolulo, S. repandum and S. vestissimum.
Other plants bear morphological similarity to S. quitoense, but they may or may not be closely related. Some of these plants are: S. hirtum, S. myiacanthum, S. pectinatum, S. sessiliflorum and, S. verrogeneum. Many of these plants, related or not, can be confused with S. quitoense. Furthermore, Solanum quitoense's physical traits vary from plant to plant, making identification challenging: at least three varietals (with spines, without spines, or a third variety known as baquicha, which features red-ripening fruits and smooth leaves) are known to occur. One characteristic that is unique to S. quitoense is the ring of green flesh within the ripe fruit. The only related fruit to have green flesh is a cultivated variant of S. lasiocarpum.
The new growth of this plant is densely covered in protective trichomes. Coloration in the plant's trichomes around the new growth and flowers varies from purple to white. Identification can be difficult for this reason.
The naranjilla has been proposed as a new flavoring for the global food industry, but it fares poorly in large-scale cultivation, presenting an obstacle to its wider use. Its fruit, like tomatoes, is easily damaged when ripe, so is usually harvested unripe. The fruits are found at markets. It is common for locals to make beverages by adding sugar and water to the freshly squeezed fruits.
Pests & diseases
S. quitoense has limited potential in agriculture due to the plant's extreme vulnerability to pests and diseases when grown as a crop. One common type of infection is caused by the root-knot nematode. The ripe fruit is very delicate, and is frequently attacked by fungus, especially when mechanically damaged, so it is often picked unripe to avoid rotting.
Hybrids are an increasingly popular solution to the nematode pest problem. S. quitoense has been hybridized with other plants, most commonly with S. sessiliflorum, a plant with similar phenotypic traits. The leaves, flowers and fruits of S. sessiliflorum are similar in form to S. quitoense, but has much larger fruits that are yellow; the resulting hybrids have fruits with yellowish fruit pulp.
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- Solanaceae Source (2005): Solanum quitoense. Version of December 2005. Retrieved 2008-SEP-25.
- Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monnet de. Tableau Encyclopédique et Methodique ... Botanique 2: 16. 1794.
- Óscar Acosta, Ana M. Pérez, Fabrice Vaillant (2009) Chemical characterization, antioxidant properties, and volatile constituents of naranjilla (Solanum quitoense Lam.) cultivated in Costa Rica. Archivos Latinoamericana de Nutrición 59(1): 88-94
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