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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Solanum crispum

Family Solanaceae

Blue Potato Vine / Climbing Chilean Potato Tree

This is the best form of this evergreen scandent
shrub, most often grown as a climber. It can be regarded as hardy in all but the harshest of conditions. Introduced from Chile in about 1830 it received a well-deserved A.G.M. in 1939. The bright slate blue flowers have a bright yellow beak; it is free flowering over a long season in summer.

Skill Level:
Full sun
Soil type:
Chalky/alkaline, Moist, Well-drained/light
Spread: 180cm
Time to take cuttings: June to September

The Blue Potato Vine (Solanum crispum glasnerium) scarcely looks like a potato, but is indeed a cousin to the kitchen potato (S. tuberosum). Calling it a Potato Vine still strikes me as odd; as well to call it Eggplant Vine since it's equally related to S. melongena, or Deadly Nightshade Vine since it's related to S. dulcamara.

It's not quite exactly a vine, either, hence its alternative & rather whimsica
l-sounding name "Potato Tree."

It is often described as a "wall shrub,"
which best captures its nature. It gets round & bushy, so has to be annually trimmed back to the wall to retain a semblance of vining appearance. It's best to prune it closer to the trellis every spring, taking care not to harm saved bits since these may be brittle. It grows rapidly & blooms profusely after such a trim.

As a Wall Shrub, it's hard to beat, thickly covered over with clusters of the brightest blue & orange little blooms, with rapid growth to the considerable height of ten to fifteen feet in a single year.

It is nearly evergreen in warmer climates than ours though best described as "semi-decidu
ous" around here. If the main woody vine is trained well, it thickens up with lovely twists & turns, so it can look interesting in winter even if it behaves deciduously in chillier zones.

The "Glasneria" variety is bluest of all, & hugely deserving of its Award of Garden Merit given by the Royal Botanical Society.

Pruning incites increasingly vigorous new growth & floweriness.

The bright blue blooms begin in May & continue clear to September or even October (until the first heavy frost). In warmer areas it likes a bit of shade.

In late August & September, it becomes covered over with yellow-orange berries, soft as tomatos, but hideously bitter tasting & mildly toxic.

Gardeners' reports on its hardiness for zone 8 or chillier are often contradictory. Some claim they found it to be fragile in Zone 8, & others are just as adamant that theirs did spectacularly well even in areas colder than ours. Peoples' varied experiences probably has a lot to do with how well it was situated for its winter experience. If it gets through its first two years fine, it will just be hardier & hardier.


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