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Garden Talk

A variety of eggplants in different shapes, colors and sizes laid out on a wood table

Horticultural Highlight: Eggplant

In this series, the staff of Duke Gardens highlights plants you’ll find within our 55-acre living collection. This week, Doris Duke Center Gardens horticulturist Megan Botzenhart outlines the diversity of eggplants in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden this year.

Botanical name: Solanum melongena
Common name: Eggplant
Family name: Solanaceae (Tomato Family)
Plant type: Warm season annual
Location in Duke Gardens: Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden

'Chinese String' eggplants on a wood background

If you wander through the Discovery Garden this summer, you might notice more than 20 different varieties of eggplant (Solanum melongena) featured in our raised brick beds. Part of the nightshade family, eggplants are related to tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, and they thrive in areas where the summers are long and hot. Many people in this region may associate eggplants solely with the deep purple, egg-shaped fruit commonly found in supermarkets. But eggplants come in a vast array of beautiful sizes, shapes and colors.

Here are a few featured eggplants you might consider adding to your summer vegetable garden next year.

‘Barbarella’ is a wonderful Italian variety known for its globe shaped dark purple fruit and slightly nutty flavor. A beautiful plant with a high yield, it would make a good staple for your garden. It has a wide range of culinary uses, making it the perfect selection for grilling, eggplant Parmesan and stuffed eggplant.

‘Chinese String’ is named for its thin, string-like appearance. Its slender shape and stunning violet color are unusual, and it is also known for its tenderness and sweet taste. It is a high yielding variety, producing impressive amounts of 10- to 15-inch fruit all summer long. This eggplant is great for sautéing and grilling, and it can even be served raw in salads.

Explanatory sign about eggplants

This last variety is anything but your average eggplant. Originating in Ethiopia, Solanum aethiopicum ‘Melanzana Rossa Di Rotonda’ is actually a cousin to the eggplant you commonly find at local markets in the U.S. When ripe, this heirloom variety’s fruit has a bright red-orange color, and at first glance you may even mistake it for a tomato. It is said to have a flavor resembling hints of tomato and pepper. The chopped fruit of ‘Melanzana Rossa Di Rotonda’ is often marinated in oil, preserved or pickled, and it is best served with bread.

There are so many amazing varieties of eggplant from around the world, and I encourage you to step outside the box and find some of these unique varieties to try, perhaps using some of the recipes listed here!

More Garden Talk highlights

Photos from top to bottom: A medley of freshly harvested eggplants (Solanum melongena) in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, and 'Chinese String' eggplants, by Megan Botzenhart; an example of explanatory signage in the garden; ripe Ethiopian eggplant fruits (S. aethiopicum), by Megan Botzenhart.

Three Ethiopian eggplants on a wood surface