Synonyms Solanum hirsutissimum; Solanum angulatum
Quechua: lulo, lulu puscolulu
Spanish: naranjilla, naranjillo; naranjilla de Quito, naranjita, lulo, lullo, toronja, tomate chileno (Peru)
English: Quito orange, naranjilla, lulo
French: naranjille, morelle de Quito, orange de Quito
Origin. Naranjilla's origin is unknown. Its wild progenitor may yet be discovered—probably in Colombia. It is thought that the plant was domesticated within the last few hundred years, because there is no evidence that it was cultivated in pre-Columbian times. The first records of naranjilla cultivation are from the mid–1600s in Ecuador and Colombia. Traditionally, areas of major cultivation have been the valleys of Pastaza and Yunguillas in Ecuador and the mountain areas of Cauca and Nariño in Colombia.
Description. The plant is a perennial, herbaceous shrub, 1–1.5 m high, with stout, spreading, brittle stems. Its dark-green, purple- or white-veined leaves are often more than 30 cm long and, like the stems, are densely pubescent. The pale-lilac flowers are covered with a thick “felt” of light-purple hairs.
The spherical, yellow-orange fruit is 3–8 cm in diameter. It has a leathery skin, densely covered with fine, brittle, easily removed, white to brown hairs. Internally, its structure resembles a tomato. The acidulous, yellow-green flesh contains a greenish pulp with numerous seeds and green-colored juice.
Horticultural Varieties. On the whole, the species is unusually uniform for a cultivated plant. However, two geographically separated varieties are recognized. Variety quitoense is the common, spineless form found in southern Colombia and Ecuador. Variety septentrionale has spines, is hardier, and grows mainly at altitudes of 1,000–1,900 m in central Colombia and Costa Rica.
In the last few years, an apparently new variety has appeared in Quito markets. Although the fruits are smaller than normal, they are rapidly becoming the dominant commercial type.12 Investigation of this may help open a new era in naranjilla use. Is this a new hybrid? Is it being grown because of greater nematode resistance? Or is the fact that its fruits have few hairs the driving force behind its production?