Native to: Tropical America
Brought to Florida, presumably as a potential food crop, before 1899. It was observed to be established by the early 1930s. The fruit are highly esteemed in Thai cooking and are also consumed elsewhere in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Immature fruit, however, may contain toxic glycoalkaloids that can cause gastrointestinal and neurological distress. This species has been used as a nematode- and bacterial wilt-resistant rootstock for eggplant and tomato and in breeding programs to improve disease resistance in eggplant.
Habit: evergreen, multi-branched shrub or small tree that can grow to 16 feet high. Branchlets bear stellate (star-shaped) hairs and scattered flattened, broad-based, straight to slightly hooked prickles (absent on older woody branches).
Leaves: alternately arranged, with a distinct petiole ½ to 2 inches long. The leaf blade is 3 to 10 inches long, oblong to ovate in shape, with two or three shallow lobes on each side (occasionally unlobed) and often with an oblique (unequal) base. The upper leaf surface is green and stellate pubescent, while the lower leaf surface is a paler grayish-green or whitish-green and is more densely stellate pubescent. Scattered, flattened prickles are occasionally found along the midveins on both leaf surfaces.
Flowers: axillary, branched inflorescences bear up to 100 bright white, star-shaped flowers, ½ to 1 inch across, often with a mix of bisexual and staminate (male) flowers. The inflorescence branches, pedicels (flower stalks) and calyces bear scattered stellate hairs and short, simple gland-tipped hairs.
Fruit/Seeds: globose to ovoid fruit, which are usually no more than ½ inch wide, turn yellow at maturity and are borne in erect clusters. Each fruit contains up to 200 flattened, circular to ovate or irregularly shaped seeds, which are pale to dark yellowish-brown in color and have a glossy, minutely reticulate surface.
Distribution in Florida: Reported from 8 counties in South and Central Florida, and Columbia County in North Florida.
Bird dispersed, it is most often found in open, disturbed areas (with full to partial sun exposure), such as roadsides, agricultural fields, pastures and cleared woodlands, but has also been reported from dry to mesic hammocks, floodplain marshes and swamps. May form dense thickets that out-compete native plant species. Has been reported as a host of both the Oriental fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly which can be damaging to agriculture.
Do not plant.
Replace in landscape with native plants. Hand pull small plants.
Seedlings can be controlled in pasture with 2,4-D and glyphosate has shown some effectiveness in foliar applications, more research is needed. Consult your local UF IFAS Extension for further assistance with management recommendations.