In the family Solanaceae (Nightshade Family) there is a genus called Solanum it contains 1500-2000 varieties of herbs, shrubs and trees. Of these varieties two are major food crops in North America, Potato and Tomato and another less Popular including Eggplant. In other regions there are varieties such as the Ethiopian eggplant, Gilo (S. aethiopicum), Naranjilla or Lulo (S. quitoense), Turkey Berry (S. torvum), Pepino (S. muricatum), Tamarillo and Bush Tomatoes (which includes several Australian species). Most of the members of this family are native to the American Tropics, 65 occur in North America (only 35 are native). Even though two of our largest food crops are included in this genus most of the green parts of the plants and unripened fruits are poisonous, but some bear edible parts in the form of fruit, leaves or tubers. Also included in this genus are Nightshades, Horse Nettles and many other plants cultivated for their ornamental flowers and fruits. The species grows in various habits including annual, perennial, vine, subshrub, shrub and even small trees.
Image Citation: Bruce Ackley, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org - Subject: Buffalobur (Solanum rostratum) Dunal
Image Citation: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org - Subject: Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) L.
Most of the plants have green simply shape leaves that are ovate or elliptic. Flowers can range in color depending on the variety but generally have 5 petals. The fruits can vary from small and insignificant to large and very visable - berries, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. Some produce fruit from the leaves while other grow underground (like the potato). Many plants in the Solanum genus are an important food source for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species (Butterflies and Moths), these include various Angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa), various members of the Bedellia species, the Cabbage Moth (Mamestra brassicae), Common swift (Korscheltellus lupulina), Garden dart (Euxoa nigricans), Ghost moth (Hepialus humuli), Tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), Tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), and Turnip moth (Agrotis segetum) to name a few.
Image Citation: J. Jeffrey Mullahey, University of Florida, Bugwood.org Subject: Tropical Soda Apple (Solanum viarum) Dunal
Food Crop production in the Solanum genus is extremely important throughout the world. In 2013, the recorded world production of Tomatoes was 163.4 million tonnes, with China producing 31% of the total, followed by India, the United States and Turkey. In 2012, Tomato production was estimated to be valued at 59 billion dollars, making it the eighth most valuable agricultural product worldwide. In 2013, the recorded world production of Potatoes was 368 million tonnes. Two thirds of the global production is eaten by humans, the remaining third is consumed by animals or used in starch production. Potatoes remains an essential crop in Europe, where per capita production remains the highest in the world. The most rapid expansion over the past few decades has occurred in southern and eastern Asia. As of 2007, China led the world potato production, and nearly a third of the world's potatoes were harvested between China and India. It is believed that the geographic shift in potato production has been moved from wealthier countries toward low income areas of the world because it is a cheap and plentiful crop that is able to grow in wide varieties of climates and locales. Only about 5% of the world's Potato crop are traded internationally because of the perishability. In 2013, the recorded world production of Eggplants was 49.4 million tonnes, 57% of which came from China, 27% from India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey were also major producers all total account for 97% of the world production. More than 4,000,000 acres are devoted to the cultivation of eggplants in the world.
Image Citation: John Cardina, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org - Subject: Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) L.
Image Citation: Keith Weller, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org - Subject: Potato (Solanum tuberosum) L.
Image Citation: Peggy Greb, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org - Subject: Potato (Solanum tuberosum) L.
Many members of the Solanaceae:Nightshade family members can be grown in your own landscape some in your vegetable garden and others in you flower gardens. With 1500-2000 varieties and counting I am sure you can find one that is right for you! Hardiness zones vary by plant and within the family can range from zones 4-12.