Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
I’ve been adding flowers to my garden that I can dry for floral arrangements. Pumpkin on a Stick seemed like a great addition to both my garden and my arrangements. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it’s not a pumpkin!
What is Pumpkin on a Stick?
Pumpkin on a Stick (Solanum integrifolium), also known as Pumpkin Tree or Pumpkin Bush, is actually an eggplant. It is native to tropical Africa. It then spread to Asia over the trade routes.
The plants grow to 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. They have the characteristic thorns that are found on eggplants. They also have the characteristic star shaped flowers that develop into 2- to 5-inch fruit which resemble tomatoes. The fruits are green then ripen to red, which gives them their tomato appearance. If left on the branches, the fruits will eventually dry and turn orange, at which point they look like tiny pumpkins. The leaves are large and shade the ripening fruit to prevent it from being scalded by sunlight.
Is Pumpkin on a Stick Edible?
Pumpkin on a Stick is used in both African and Asian cuisine. In Africa, it is called Ethiopian Nightshade, Garden Eggs and Mock Tomato. In Asia it is known as Hmong Eggplant, Scarlet Chinese Eggplant and Red China Eggplant.
It is eaten both raw and cooked. The fruit is harvested while it is green much as we harvest and eat bell peppers when they are green and unripe. It can be very bitter due to the saponins it contains. Fruits that contain little or no saponin are sweet and used in Thai curries. The leaves are also eaten.
How to Grow Pumpkin on a Stick
Pumpkin on a Stick can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Full sun is preferable, resulting in strong plants. Grown in partial shade, the plants are smaller and weaker, with fewer fruits. Whether grown in sun or shade, plan to stake your plants. Even though the branches are woody, the growing fruit is heavy so the plants will require support to prevent them from falling over. The plants do best in rich loamy soil that is well-drained. Plant them 3 feet apart to give them plenty of room to grow as well as to maximize air circulation between plants which will prevent powdery mildew. The fruit will be ready to dry 70 days after germination. It will be ready to eat in less time which will vary depending on the amount of sunlight, heat and water the plants receive.
How to Grow Pumpkin on a Stick From Seed
Pumpkin on a Stick is easy to grow from seed as long as you keep in mind that this is a tropical plant and needs hot weather to germinate and grow.
You can direct sow the seeds in your garden 2 to 4 weeks after your last frost when the soil temperature reaches 70⁰F. Plant the seeds ¼ inch deep and 2 to 3 feet apart. Germination should occur in 10 to 20 days. No thinning will be necessary because of the wide spacing.
Most gardeners prefer to start their seeds indoors. Start them 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. Plant the seeds ¼ inch deep. It is recommended that you use a heat mat to warm the soil. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 70⁰F to 80⁰F. Germination should occur in 10 to 20 days. You can transplant your seedlings outdoors after your last frost when the soil is at least 60⁰F. Space the seedlings 3 feet apart.
How to Harvest Pumpkin on a Stick
If you are going to cook with pumpkin on a stick, harvest the fruit while it is still green. This will actually encourage the plants to flower and produce more fruit. Refrain from pulling the fruit off of the plants. Instead, using a sharp knife, scissors or pruners, cut the fruit from the plants. This will avoid damaging the plants. Healthy plants produce healthy fruit!
If you are harvesting pumpkin on a stick to use in dried arrangements, harvest the fruit when they are dark red or orange. You can harvest an entire branch with the fruit still attached or you can harvest individual fruits. Use a sharp knife, scissors or pruners to cut the branch or fruit from the plants. They can be air dried. The fruits will retain their bright color for 2 to 3 months.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can it be grown in a pot?
Answer: Yes, as long as you grow only one plant per pot and the pots are very large. Each plant will grow 3 - 4 feet tall and 2 - 3 feet wide. If you try to grow them in a small pot or try to grow more than one plant in a pot, they will not grow well and may not fruit.
Question: I get quite a few flowers that bloom and wither off, how do we hand pollinate the flowers?
Answer: You can hand pollinate flowers using a small artist's brush. Insert the bristles of the brush into the flowers to gather pollen and then transfer that pollen to another flower.
Your problem may not be a lack of pollination. Pumpkin on a stick produces both male and female flowers, but at different times. The male flowers are produced first and then the female flowers. This is to prevent plants from pollinating themselves. If your weather has been unusually hot, the plants delay producing the female flowers resulting in only male flowers throughout your garden.
The other possibility is too much nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen encourages the growth of foliage. If there is too much nitrogen in the soil. the plants will produce only foliage and male flowers, but not female flowers or fruit. You should have a soil test done in the fall.
Question: Is pumpkin on a stick deer resistant?
Answer: Pumpkin on a stick is not deer resistant. It is also not rabbit resistant as I am discovering to my dismay. I garden in a community garden and rabbits have taken up residence. They regard our gardens as open-air buffets!
Question: Where do you get the seeds to plant a pumpkin tree?
Answer: You can purchase seeds on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Pumpkin-Stick-Ornamental-Eg...
© 2019 Caren White
Caren White (author) on August 24, 2020:
Pumpkin on a Stick is related to eggplant and can be used in any recipe calling for eggplant. The bitterness is caused by saponins. The saponins decrease as the fruit ripens. Allow the fruit to fully ripen before harvesting and using so that it won't be bitter. The leaves of the plant are also edible.
Tracee Smith on August 23, 2020:
does anyone have a recipe for pumpkin on a stick ..or what may subdue bitterness... also can the leaves be eaten
Thank you very much
Caren White (author) on January 24, 2020:
I don't know of any health benefits unique to pumpkin on a stick. It is an eggplant, so any health benefits associated with eggplants would apply to pumpkin on a stick also. Here in the US, it is grown as an ornamental, not a vegetable.
Susan Garza on January 24, 2020:
What are health benefits?
Caren White (author) on October 07, 2019:
Yes, you can grow them in large containers. Make sure that you water them frequently. Containers dry out much quicker than the soil in your garden.
Can on October 06, 2019:
Can you grow Pumpkin on a Stick in large pots?
Caren White (author) on October 04, 2019:
Yes, the fruit has seed that you can save to plant next year. Be sure to wait until the fruit is red and fully ripe before harvesting the seed.
Vinnie on October 04, 2019:
Just purchased my 1st pumpkin tree. Does the fruit have seeds that can be planted?
Caren White (author) on February 21, 2019:
You can definitely grow these in a greenhouse. They are tropical plants so they don't need a period of cold to rest. Good luck with your plants and thanks for stopping by!
RTalloni on February 20, 2019:
What a neat, fun plant! Definitely amazing for dried arrangements and I wonder if I could grow them in a greenhouse since we are almost tropical. Need to check them out. Thanks for this introduction.
Caren White (author) on February 20, 2019:
You're welcome, Marilyn! So sorry that you haven't had a chance to see pumpkin on a stick. I understand keeping exotics out. Here in the US, we have learned the hard way about invasive species.
Marilyn McKay from North East, Victoria, Australia on February 19, 2019:
you've introduced me to a plant I never knew existed. I sat back and admired the jar of mini pumpkins for a minute or two; truly a novelty.
Maybe somewhere in a corner of Australia someone is enjoying some pumpkins on a stick....have tough import laws on plant and animal products to protect the native flora and fauna and I'm okay with that.
And if I ever bump into a packet of seeds, I am so tempted to try them.