Sunday, October 16, 2011
Beware the Solanum?
I was creeping around a well-known garden center in Newport Beach whose name shall remain nameless because they are already well known enough, checking out their very cool but too expensive collection of Halloween decor. Out of the corner of my eye, looking past the gigantic animated spider, the moon-face jack o lanterns, the headless horseman, the gothic costumes and candelabra, the skeletons, the crows, the spooky photos . . . um, yeah and the price tags . . . past all this I saw some scrumptiously Octoberesque porcupine tomatoes, Solanum pyracanthum. Yeah, this garden center is really more of a lifestyle shopping experience, but they do also sell plants.
Hold onto your credit cards, this one gallon specimen of one of my favorite plants was less than 10 bucks. Since I already knew what pot it would look good in (bought when Mainly Seconds in Orange was closing for 70% off) I wasted no time picking out the best of the litter and carting my new porcupine tomato home.
Called that because 1) it is in the tomato genus, closely related and it even produces little tomato-like fruits after flowering in a tomato-like but purple way; and 2) it is covered in long spines. Now, porcupine spines are not day-glo orange, but as you know common names for plants sometimes stretch the truth.
After the plant was potted up (with sedum nussbaumeranium, lilac lobelia, and lysimachia congestiflora 'Persian chocolate'), looking good, and set in a place of honor by the front stairs, I noticed a group of newly hatched leaf footed bugs, Leptoglossus zonatus, gathered on a flower bud. It looked like they were in a huddle or maybe a prayer meeting but really I suppose they were just getting ready to disperse. Here's one that was well on its way to exploring the porcupine tomato world it has found itself inhabiting.
I assume the bug eggs were on the solanum plant when I bought it, and hatched soon after I brought it home. Tomato is one of the many many plants this bug likes to feed on, being as they say polyphagous. Previously in my garden the leaf footed bugs have been found on pomegranate, opuntia, myrtle, jade plant and milkweed. I guess I got some cool (and free of additional charge) Halloween bug decorations after all.
Finally one last note about solanum: it is in no way connected with zombie-ism. Solanum virus is NOT REAL. Solanum is a genus of plants, not a zombie-causing virus. Check out this article from the Zombie Research Society for clarification on all things zombie. Thank you.