1. Solanum melongena L.


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.
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
Type: Hort. Uppsala, Anonymous s.n. (LINN 248.28!, lecto., designated by Schönbeck-Temesy in Fl. Iran. 100: 70, 1972)


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 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
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
Jun 27, 1905 Merrill, E.D. [623], Philippines K000195855
Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000788281
Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000788282
Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000195852
Jun 11, 1905 Conklin, H.C. [2563], Philippines K000195854
Verdcourt [3050], Kenya K001169611
Kirk [s.n.] K001169612
Stoddart, D.R. [1244], Seychelles K001169613
Welwitsch [6089b], Angola K001029807
Richards, H.M. [9861], Malawi K001169614
Herb. Griffith [5913], Afghanistan K001152171
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
Balfour, I.B. [s.n.], Madagascar K000212386
s.coll. [s.n.], Mauritius K000212387
Morton, M. [12], Madagascar K000212390
Holst, C. [2829] K001157831
Verdcourt [3050], Kenya K001157832
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
Meikle, R.D. [816], Nigeria 16658.000
Hall [47136], Ghana K000212467
Hall [47135], Ghana K000212468
Sharland [544], Nigeria K000212469
s.coll. [357], Togo K000212470
s.coll [616], Jamaica K001161100
Smith, H.H. [45], St. Vincent & the Grenadines K001161101
Heldreich, T.H.H. von [s.n.], Greece K001151567
Heldreich, T.H.H. von [s.n.], Greece K001151568
Sibil, J. [54], Malaysia K001164669
Sibil, J. [201], Malaysia K001164670
Subil, J. [257], Malaysia K001164671
Smith, H.H. [1149], Colombia K001164672
Conklin, H.C. [I-935], Philippines K000195853
Baron, R. [4574], Madagascar K001158954
Andriamahaqy, M. [518], Madagascar K001158955
Baron, R. [4816], Madagascar K001158956
s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116663
Fay, J.M. [5422], Central African Republic K001155961
s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116664
s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116665
s.coll. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116666
McKee, H.S. [RSNH 24079], Vanuatu K001155327
De Silva, F. [Cat. no. 2628] K001116667
s.coll [8506], New Caledonia K001155385
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
Lunt, W. [164] K001169609

First published in Sp. Pl. 1: 186. 1753 [1 May 1753]


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)


Flora of Tropical East Africa
Flora of Tropical East Africa
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Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2017. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
[B] © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
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