Have any of you ever heard of naranjillas? I confess that I hadn’t until The Llama and I were leafing through seed catalogs reading the descriptions to each other. Baker’s Seeds described them as having a “sweet and sour taste,” “nectar of the gods,” and “the most delicious [thing] that I have tasted in the world.” We looked at each other and were sold. How could we not give it a try?!
This wonderful sounding little exotic’s name means “little orange” in Spanish. The naranjilla is commonly thought to be native of Peru, and parts of Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Historians believe that it could have been eaten by Incans, though most North Americans didn’t get the chance to try the naranjilla’s citrusy flavor until the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In balmy the regions where it makes its home, the naranjilla has the warm temperatures it craves for the plant’ woolly, spine filled leaves to spread and flourish. In their native environment, they can reach as much as eight feet tall!
Why You Should Try Naranjillas In Your Garden
1. They’re beautiful.
Fortunately, the plant on my back porch is much smaller than eight feet. It’s only about two and half feet, making it the perfect addition to my container garden. My naranjilla is an immediate attention grabber. It has light green with purple accents heart shaped leaves crowned with purple and green spikes and a delicate dusting of peach fuzz. The stalk is just as soft and downy as the leaves. When in bloom, the naranjilla’s flowers are about the size of a dime, and its petals are pure white. The bees can’t seem to get enough of them. When the fruit develops, it’s also covered in fuzz and about the size of a gold ball.
2. They’re easy going.
It’s true that naranjillas do like semi-shade, regular watering, and temperatures that range from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the plant is easy to satisfy as long as you meet those conditions. While it prefers rich soil, naranjillas aren’t too picky and will still grow in poorer soil. They are easy to propagate from seed, grow very quickly, and some estimate that they grow 100-150 fruits in their first year!
3. They’re unusual.
You won’t find naranjilla fruit in your average grocery store. The plant’s berries are delicate and easily bruised, so shipping them is far too expensive. Canned concentrate is available, but most agree that only the real fruit has its delicious trademark lemon and pineapple taste. The only way most gardeners will ever be able to taste the fruit is by propagation.
4. They’re tough.
Because of its spiky exterior, the naranjilla is great to plant in areas with animal problems. The young plants may need a little protection until their spikes harden, but once that happens, you won’t need worry about curious rabbits, deer, ground hogs, or even people. Naranjilla hold their fruit close, so it’s unlikely that anyone will happen by and attempt to snack on them. If you lived in an area with temperatures that agree with a naranjilla, you could even use them to grow an eight foot tall prickly fence around your garden perimeter.
If you decide that you need one of these plants for your own garden, you have propagation options. You can sow it directly from seed or track down a cutting taken from the wood of a mature plant. If you choose to plant it directly in the ground, make sure to space your seedlings six to eight feet apart. Plant in the Spring, but be careful that seedlings are kept inside or in the greenhouse until you are sure the last frost has past.
Naranjillas make great container plants. Make sure that it has several gallons of soil to grow in if you choose this planting method. Naranjillas like to grow! It’s a heavy feeder, and will do best with regular applications of compost.
Like potatoes and tomatoes, naranjillas are members of the Nightshade family. This relationship makes naranjillas extremely susceptible to nematodes. Prevent tiny attackers by making sure that your plants have plenty organic matter and companion plant marigolds between naranjilla seedlings.
The berries are ripe when they are about 2 inches or so wide. Harvest them carefully, as the plant’s thorns can be very sharp. You may also want to wear gloves because the fuzz on the leaves can cause a mild allergic reaction in some people.
Consume berries promptly as they will start to go soft soon after harvest. The naranjilla pulp makes a tasty addition to ice cream, sauces, pies, and juices. You might also want to try them in cocktails or other beverages or eat them raw straight from the stalk. I want to try adding the chopped berries to salsa for an extra note of citrus myself!
Has anyone else had any experience with naranjillas? I’m excited for mine to finally fruit!