1. Family: Solanaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Solanum L.
      1. Solanum melongena L.

        Solanum melongena, commonly known as eggplant or aubergine, belongs in the plant family Solanaceae, which also houses tomato, potato, nicotine and the poisonous deadly nightshade plant. The Latin name 'melongena' has its roots in the Italian name 'melanzane', which derives from 'mela insane' meaning 'mad apple'. First domesticated in India, aubergine is now cultivated worldwide and is a popular ingredient in many traditional recipes. 


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Solanum melongena, commonly known as eggplant or aubergine, belongs in the plant family Solanaceae, which also houses tomato, potato, nicotine and the poisonous deadly nightshade plant. The Latin name 'melongena' has its roots in the Italian name 'melanzane', which derives from 'mela insane' meaning 'mad apple'. First domesticated in India, aubergine is now cultivated worldwide and is a popular ingredient in many traditional recipes. 

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Semi-wild Solanum melongena can be found growing today in the Myanmar-Yunnan region where it was originally domesticated from its wild ancestor Solanum insanum . The area between India, Myanmar and China is where domestication first took place although today there are many more closely-related wild relatives in Africa than in Asia.

    Evidence of the cultivation and use of Solanum melongena appeared in Sanskrit and Chinese agro-botanical literature dating back 2,000 years. The Muslim expansion in the 8th century AD was responsible for the spread of aubergine through Africa and Europe. Today, the main production regions of eggplant are Asia and the Mediterranean. 


    Overview: Solanum melongena is a much-branched shrub up to 2 metres tall with a long taproot which extends deep into the ground. 

    Leaves: The stems and leaves are densely covered with star-shaped (stellate) hairs and sometimes prickles. The leaves are arranged alternately along the stem, each with a petiole (appendage which connects the blade to the stem) 6-10 cm long. The leaves are 3-25 x 2-15 cm with hairy margins.

    Flowers:  Hermaphrodite flowers are usually solitary and are supported by a 1-3 cm long pedicel (stalk which subtends the flower). Smaller, functionally male flowers appear on the same inflorescence. The hermaphrodite flowers are 3-4 cm in diameter and are mostly violet and very rarely white. The anthers are supported by short, thick filaments and have openings at their tips. The ovary (female reproductive organ) is positioned above the sepals, petals and stamens. 

    Fruit:  A globose to oblong fleshy berry, 2-35 cm (sometimes longer) and 2-20 cm broad. The fruit is generally smooth and shiny and has many seeds. When produced commercially, the colour ranges from white, green or from purple to black. The seeds are 3 x 4 mm and are kidney or lentil shaped and pale brown in colour. 


    Eggplant is widely grown for its attractive fruits which are an accompaniment to many dishes around the world. The fruit is eaten in its immature state, when glossy and colourful. When mature the flesh becomes bitter and stringy and the seeds are hard. Although the fruits of some cultivars are eaten raw (such as in southeast Asia) the fullness of the flavour comes out when cooked and is comparable to that of mushrooms. Aubergine flesh has a delicate texture and is commonly grilled, fried, steamed, roasted, stewed with other vegetables or prepared with meat or fish.

    In southern India, eggplant is crowned 'king of the vegetables' and is an important ingredient in curries, sambhars and chutneys. In Italy, eggplant is marinated in olive oil, seasoned with salt and garlic and served as an antipasto. In Greece, eggplant is used to prepare mousaka and in France it is a key ingredient in ratatouille.

    Besides its value as a food crop, eggplant is widely used for medicinal purposes. The plant is used in decoction as powder or ash for curing diabetes, cholera, bronchitis, dysuria, dysentery, otitis, toothache, skin infections, asthenia and haemorrhoids and is also ascribed narcotic, anti-asthmatic and anti-rheumatic properties. In several countries it is imbued with magical qualities and is a symbol of protection, good health and female fertility. 

    Crop wild relatives of aubergine

    The Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are engaged in a ten-year project, called 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change'. The project aims to protect, collect and prepare the wild relatives of 29 key food crops, including aubergine, so that they are available to pre-breeders for the development of new varieties that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

    Solanum ruvu and the need for crop wild relatives

    Solanum ruvu  is a wild relative of aubergine now thought to be extinct in the wild. This rare, African spiny aubergine was collected once as part of a general survey in 2000. Unfortunately, by the time it was identified as a new species by Kew botanist Maria Vorontsova in 2010, its native habitat had been destroyed. Attempts to recollect it were made in 2010 but the plant could not be found and is now considered to be extinct.

    Many other crop wild relatives are listed as threatened species and are in need of conservation. Threats include habitat degradation, soil erosion and climate change to name a few. Crop wild relatives serve as a genetic back up. Rising global temperatures, changes in rainfall and weather patterns resulting from climate change indicate decreases in the yield of crops and greater susceptibility to pests and diseases. Through introducing crop wild relatives into traditional breeding programs we are able to harness their genetic potential and cultivate a more resilient crop that will feed rising human populations.

    The tragedy of  Solanum ruvu illustrates the urgent need we have to collect and protect crop wild relatives before they become extinct and the genetic diversity they hold is lost to us forever.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    The  Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plants worldwide, focusing on those plants which are under threat and those which are of most use in the future. Once seeds have been collected they are dried, packaged and stored at -20°C in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank vault.

    Description of seeds: Average weight of 1,000 seeds = 3.6g

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

    Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant can be dried to low moisture contents without significantly reducing their viability. This means they are suitable for long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)

    Germination testing: Successful

    This species at Kew

    Pressed and dried specimens of aubergine are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details and images of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

    China, India, Myanmar
    Grows best in warm, light conditions with plenty of water.
    Widespread in cultivation.

    Solanaceae, Jennifer M Edmonds. Oliganthes, Melongena & Monodolichopus, Maria S. Vorontsova & Sandra Knapp. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 2012

    Berries 1 per infructescence, green, sometimes mottled or striped, white, pink, mauve, purple, or black when young, usually white or dark purple at maturity, variously shaped, 3–20 × 3–7 cm; fruiting calyx unarmed or with up to 30 prickles
    Seeds 2.9–3.2 × 2.2–2.5 mm
    Cultivated species: “Aubergine/eggplant”
    The characters distinguishing S. melongena from the rest of the incanum group are mainly those directly associated with cultivation: larger fruit, altered fruit shape and colour, and lack of prickles. Like the fruit crop cultivars of S. aethiopicum, it can be recognised by fasciation in the flowers: increase in the number of flower parts up to 8, inflated ovaries, and straight thick styles not exserted further than 2 mm above the anthers.  The cultivated eggplant has close relationships with S. campylacanthum and S. incanum sensu stricto but was domesticated in Indo-China (Wang et al. in Ann. Botany 102: 891–897, 2008; Weese & Bohs in Taxon 59: 49–56, 2010). One uniform South East Asian cultivar is commonly grown in East Africa but it does not represent a significant food source.
    Type: Hort. Uppsala, Anonymous s.n. (LINN 248.28!, lecto., designated by Schönbeck-Temesy in Fl. Iran. 100: 70, 1972)
    Annual or perennial herb, 0.2–0.5 m, erect, unarmed(armed); young stems moderately stellate-pubescent to glabrescent, trichomes porrect, translucent, sessile or stalked, stalks up to 0.2 mm, rays 8–15, 0.3–0.7 mm, midpoints ± same length as rays or to 1 mm; prickles straight, 0–6 mm long, 0.2–1 mm wide at base
    Leaf blades drying concolorous to weakly discolorous, green-brown, ovate, 7–23 × 5–17 cm, 1.5–2 times longer than wide, base usually rounded, sometimes obtuse to cordate, often unequal and oblique, margin lobed, the broadly rounded lobes 1–3 on each side, 0.5–2 cm long, apically rounded, extending 1/4–1/3 of the distance to the midvein; apex rounded to acute; moderately stellate-pubescent on both sides, trichomes on abaxial surface porrect, sessile or stalked, stalks to 0.2, rays 5–8, 0.3–1 mm, midpoints ± same length as rays, trichomes of adaxial surface smaller; primary veins 4–5(–7) pairs; petiole 1.5–5(–10) cm, 1/4–1/3(–2/3) of the leaf length
    Inflorescences not branched, 4–7 cm long, with 1–5 flowers; peduncle 0–2 mm long; rachis 0–4 cm long; peduncle and rachis unarmed; pedicels 2–3 cm on long-styled flowers, 0.8–2 cm long on short-styled flowers, in fruit 2–9 cm long, unarmed or with up to 5 prickles
    Flowers heterostylous, 4–8-merous, only the basal one long-styled
    Calyx 8–23 mm on long-styled flowers, 7–12 mm long on short-styled flowers, lobes deltate to longdeltate, 6–12 mm long, 3–8 mm long on short-styled flowers, acute to longacuminate, unarmed or with up to 20 prickles
    Corolla white to purple, 2.5–5 cm in diameter on long-styled flowers, 2.4–4 cm in diameter on short-styled flowers, lobed for 1/4–1/2 of its length, lobes broadly deltate, 6–18 × 7–12 mm on long-styled flowers, 5–13 × 6–12 mm on short-styled flowers. Stamens equal; anthers 5.5–7.5 mm on longstyled flowers, 5.5–7 mm on short-styled flowers
    Ovary stellate-pubescent in the upper 1/4; style ± 9 mm long on long-styled flowers
    Range: Probably cultivated throughout, but collections are sporadic: Sierra Leone, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Zambia Flora districts: U K T Range: South East Asia


    Common Names


    Solanum melongena L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Feb 1, 2002 Biye, E. [58], Cameroon K000109679
    Apr 4, 1991 Lorence, D. [508], Mauritius K000212382
    Apr 4, 1991 Phillipson, P.B. [2805], Madagascar K000212383
    Apr 4, 1991 Baron, R. [4405], Madagascar K000212384
    Apr 4, 1991 Balfour, I.B. [s.n.], Madagascar K000212385
    Apr 4, 1991 Aryes, P.B. [s.n.], Mauritius K000212388
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.], India K000630483
    Jul 4, 1905 Hooker, J.D. [24], India K000788155
    Jul 4, 1905 Backer [17065], Indonesia K000788227
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.] K000788228
    Jul 4, 1905 Nedi [639] K000788229
    Jul 4, 1905 Soibeh, D. [773], Malaysia K000788230
    Jul 4, 1905 Sibil, J. [286], Malaysia K000788231
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4548], Sri Lanka K000788232
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4402], Sri Lanka K000788233
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4548], Sri Lanka K000788234
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4770], Sri Lanka K000788235
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4641], Sri Lanka K000788236
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4641], Sri Lanka K000788237
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4770], Sri Lanka K000788238
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4642b], Sri Lanka K000788239
    Jul 4, 1905 Hepper, F.N. [4642b], Sri Lanka K000788240
    Jul 4, 1905 Forrest, G. [4483], China K000788241
    Jul 4, 1905 Tsang, W.T. [703], China K000788242
    Jul 4, 1905 Taquet, T. [1155], South Korea K000788243
    Jul 4, 1905 Lowne, B.T. [s.n.], Syria K000788244
    Jul 4, 1905 Maingay, A.C. [398], China K000788245
    Jul 4, 1905 Willmott, E.A. [s.n.] K000788246
    Jul 4, 1905 Chiao, C.Y. [2972], China K000788247
    Jul 4, 1905 Henry, A. [2792], China K000788248
    Jul 4, 1905 Sahira [35825], Iraq K000788249
    Jul 4, 1905 Ahmed, H. [9842], Iraq K000788250
    Jul 4, 1905 Gay, J. [s.n.] K000788251
    Jul 4, 1905 Gamble, J.S. [16326], India K000788252
    Jul 4, 1905 Duthie, J.F. [22438] K000788253
    Jul 4, 1905 Juan, G.E. [343], India K000788254
    Jul 4, 1905 Kurz, W.S. [s.n.], India K000788255
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.], India K000788256
    Jul 4, 1905 Wight, A.E. [1573A], India K000788257
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.], India K000788258
    Jul 4, 1905 Hohenacker, R.F. [s.n.], India K000788259
    Jul 4, 1905 Wight, A.E. [1573A], India K000788260
    Jul 4, 1905 Heyne, B. [s.n.] K000788261
    Jul 4, 1905 Rottler, J.P. [s.n.], India K000788262
    Jul 4, 1905 Thomson, T. [25] K000788263
    Jul 4, 1905 Gay, J. [s.n.] K000788264
    Jul 4, 1905 Zollinger, H. [3773], Indonesia K000788265
    Jul 4, 1905 Lörzing, J.A. [13254], Indonesia K000788266
    Jul 4, 1905 Taylor, P.M. [P344], Indonesia K000788267
    Jul 4, 1905 Taylor, P.M. [P112], Indonesia K000788268
    Jul 4, 1905 Zollinger, H. [702], Indonesia K000788269 isolectotype
    Jul 4, 1905 Telado, ? [1920], Indonesia K000788270
    Jul 4, 1905 Telado, ? [1920], Indonesia K000788271
    Jul 4, 1905 Robinson, C.B. [288] K000788272
    Jul 4, 1905 Cuadra, A. [A1171], Indonesia K000788273
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.] K000788274
    Jul 4, 1905 Roy, G.P. [2747], India K000788275
    Jul 4, 1905 Royle. [s.n.], India K000788276
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.] K000788277
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.], India K000788278
    Jul 4, 1905 Heels [255] K000788279
    Jul 4, 1905 Anonymous [s.n.], India K000788280
    Jul 4, 1905 Wallich, N. [H.I.2628L.a.] K000823760
    Jun 27, 1905 Merrill, E.D. [623], Philippines K000195855
    Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000195852
    Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000195854
    Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000788281
    Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000788282
    Meikle, R.D. [816], Nigeria 16658.000
    Balfour, I.B. [s.n.], Madagascar K000212386
    s.coll. [s.n.], Mauritius K000212387
    Morton, M. [12], Madagascar K000212390
    Hall [47136], Ghana K000212467
    Hall [47135], Ghana K000212468
    Sharland [544], Nigeria K000212469
    s.coll. [357], Togo K000212470
    Conklin, H.C. [I-935], Philippines K000195853
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116663
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116664
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116665
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116666
    De Silva, F. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116667
    Wallich, N. [Cat. no. 2628], Malaysia K001116668
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628], India K001116673
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628], India K001116674
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116675
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116676
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116670
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116671
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116669
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628], India K001116672
    Herb. Griffith [5913], Afghanistan K001152171
    McKee, H.S. [RSNH 24079], Vanuatu K001155327
    s.coll [8506], New Caledonia K001155385
    Lunt, W. [164] K001169609
    Verdcourt [3050], Kenya K001169611
    Kirk [s.n.] K001169612
    Stoddart, D.R. [1244], Seychelles K001169613
    Richards, H.M. [9861], Malawi K001169614
    s.coll [158], India K001169615
    Simpson, N.D. [4916] K001169616
    Simpson, N.D. [5150] K001169617
    Simpson, N.D. [5240] K001169618
    Simpson, N.D. [4349] K001169619
    Stoddart, D.R. [1376] K001169620
    s.coll [339], Seychelles K001169621
    Willis, J.C. [s.n.], British Indian Ocean Territory K001169622
    Welwitsch [6089b], Angola K001029807
    Heldreich, T.H.H. von [s.n.], Greece K001151567
    Heldreich, T.H.H. von [s.n.], Greece K001151568
    Fay, J.M. [5422], Central African Republic K001155961
    Holst, C. [2829] K001157831
    Verdcourt [3050], Kenya K001157832
    Baron, R. [4574], Madagascar K001158954
    Andriamahaqy, M. [518], Madagascar K001158955
    Baron, R. [4816], Madagascar K001158956
    s.coll [616], Jamaica K001161100
    Smith, H.H. [45], St. Vincent & the Grenadines K001161101
    Sibil, J. [54], Malaysia K001164669
    Sibil, J. [201], Malaysia K001164670
    Subil, J. [257], Malaysia K001164671
    Smith, H.H. [1149], Colombia K001164672

    First published in 1: 186 (1753)

    Accepted by

    • PBI Solanum Project (2014-continuously updated). Solanaceae Source: a global taxonomic resource for the nightshade family http://www.solanaceaesource.org/.


    Kew Species Profiles
    • Knapp et al. (2013) Wild Relatives of the Eggplant ( Solanum melongena L.: Solanaceae): New Understanding of Species Names in a Complex Group. Plos One. Vol 8:2
    • Beentje, H. (2010). The Kew Plant Glossary: an Illustrated Dictionary of Plant Terms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Weese, T. L., & Bohs, L. (2010). Eggplant origins: out of Africa, into the Orient. Taxon, 59(1), 49-56.
    • Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. Third edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (2008). Seed Information Database (SID). Version 7.1.
    • Wang, J. X., Gao, T. G., & Knapp, S. (2008). Ancient Chinese literature reveals pathways of eggplant domestication. Ann. of Bot., 102(6), 891-897.
    • Daunay, M.-C. & Chadha, M.L., 2004. Solanum melongena L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands.
    • Domino, E. F., Hornbach, E., Demana, T. (1993) The Nicotine Content of Common Vegetables. The New England Journal of Medicine, pp. 329:437
    Flora of West Tropical Africa
    • Bitter in Fedde Rep. Beih. 16: 292 (1923)
    • F.T.A. 4, 2: 242
    • Sp. Pl. 186 (1753)
    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    • Fl. Eth. 5: 138, fig. 158.14 (2006)
    • Fl. Somalia 3: 216 (2006).
    • F.W.T.A. 2nd ed., 2: 332 (1963)
    • U.O.P.Z.: 446 (1949)
    • F.T.A. 4, 2: 242 (1906)
    • Sp. Pl.: 186 (1753)


    Art and Illustrations in Digifolia
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    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2018. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    [C] © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
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