I still remember the first time I saw a porcupine tomato (Solanum pyracanthon or Solanum pyracanthum). The vivid orange spines looked so vicious but at the same time irresistible. I simply had to touch them and when I did, I was surprised. As lethal as the spines looked, they were actually fairly soft.
I didn’t buy that plant because it was expensive, but this spring I found an inexpensive 4-inch seedling at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. It’s easily tripled in size since April. Like its relative, the edible tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) it loves the heat.
From a distance it doesn’t much look like a tomato relative, but the flowers, although purple, are quite similar. And apparently so is the fruit, but mine hasn’t set any fruit yet.
As nice as the purple flowers are, the real reason for wanting this Madagascar native in your garden are the spines. There’s no other plant I know that combines velvety soft leaves with such long spines.
According to a fellow customer I spoke with Annie’s Annuals, porcupine tomato can grow as tall as 6 ft. in one season if given regular water. She said her plant, located in a pot next to her front door, was a huge hit at Halloween last year. I can see why!
Planted in the ground, it can become invasive so keep it confined to a pot.