When is an Eggplant Really Not an Eggplant?

June 25, 2009

A recent post described the difficulty that veggie gardeners encounter as they attempt to note the differences between closely related vegetable crops such as collard greens and cauliflowers.

Well judging by the following e-mail I just may add eggplants to the list of confused, though unrelated vegetable crops…

Growing a Rather Unusual Crop of Eggplants in Indonesia

“I am a very novice gardener, living in Bandung, Indonesia, which is one of the best places for growing veggies (cool nights, warm days, volcanic soil).”

“I had a go at growing some eggplant… The plants look fine, healthy. BIG plants and the stems are fine. But there is not a single flower or signs that any flowers are coming.”

“I am starting to question whether the seeds I planted were even eggplant, Ha! I have attached a picture… maybe you can make sense of it.”

“We are coming off the tail end of the rainy season and my seedlings did go in when it was pretty wet for a few months… Any ideas? Thanks in advance for your help and time. Regards, Bob.”

faux-eggplants

Good News, Bad News for the Novice Gardener

Well the good news is that the plants do look healthy… but unfortunately they are definitely not eggplants. You won’t be picking any eggplants from those babies but you just might coax a head of cauliflower out of them. I can’t tell for sure from the photo, but they look more like broccoli or cauliflower plants to me.

The next question to consider is exactly how this mistake in identity occured in the first place? Were these store bought transplants that were labeled and sold as eggplants by your local nursery? That would be a big blunder and the kind of mistake that a professional plant supplier should never make.

Or were the plants grown from seed to start with by the home gardener? In that case did the mix up occur during planting, or were the seeds packaged incorrectly? Again something that shouldn’t and probably doesn’t occur often with commercial seed supplies.

Avoiding Mistaken Plant Identities in the Backyard Garden

So how does the backyard gardener avoid similar cases of mistaken identity and disappointments in the vegetable patch? Keeping close tabs on your seedlings by labeling or mapping out their locations is a good start.

If purchasing transplants you’re at the grower’s mercy so at the very least do your shopping at a reliable supplier. And make sure that all the plants on display of a particular variety look alike, if not it’s time to ask some serious questions of the grower.

But once again experience will be your best insurance in these types of situations. Watching a plant grow from infancy to maturity and then ultimately bear fruit will reduce or eliminate the likelihood of confusing it with other plants, especially when the plants aren’t even distant relatives as in the case of Bob’s “eggplants.”

You’ll be surprised by how much you will pick up on little things like the noticeable differences between seeds and even the leaves of young seedlings. By paying attention to the small details it won’t be long before you are rattling off the variety or family of a long list of vegetables just by taking a quick look at its tiny unsprouted seed or a newly germinated seedling.





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