If you are one of those people who would love a Bougainvillea in your garden, but are put off by its thorns, mess, and untidiness, then you may wish to consider planting Solanum rantonnetii as a replacement. Solanum rantonnetii is a medium to large shrub that has either white or deep purple flowers. While there are a number of Bougainvillea varieties, whose *flower* color include different hues of red and orange, purple is still the color most popularly associated with the plant.
Like Bougainvillea, Solanum rantonnetii flowers more or less continuously through the summer, but unlike its more illustrious associate, is far easier to handle and maintain. Many a small backyard garden has been ruined by a Bougainvillea taking over the space, while its viscous thorns threaten the family and visitors alike. By comparison, growing a Solanum bush while not completely easy, is definitely more manageable.
It reaches about 4 meters in height (12ft) and 3 meters (6ft) in width, but can be kept much smaller with pruning. The shrubs require regular clipping and pinching in order to keep them bushy and compact. With skillful attention, it can be topiaried into a spherical shape, without losing the bulk of its blooms. Therefore as a shrub, Solanum rantonnetii is far more suitable than Bougainvillea in small gardens.
There is of course little to compare to the vine-like Bougainvillea smothering a whitewashed wall or a tall fence. Yet Solanum can easily be trained as an espalier to perform a similar function, but without the need to be scratched and stabbed by the Bougainvillea’s thorns. While Solanum rantonnetii is far from litter-free, the mess it produces is insignificant compared to that of Bougainvillea.
The two plants require similar growing conditions to be at their best. Both thrive and bloom in hot weather, and while hardy to about -2c, are best grown in frost-free areas. While originating from tropical and sub-tropical America, both are hardy to some drought, and actually bloom more profusely when deprived of constant moisture.
The flower shape of Solanum rantonnetii is very distinctive, and unsurprisingly, typical of the botanical family (Solanaceae) to which it belongs. Some of the herbaceous plants in the flowerbed can therefore be chosen from the same family, in order to create unity in the garden composition. An excellent example of this would be the low-growing perennial, Nierembergia caeurlea, whose small cup-shaped, purple flowers are virtually identical to those of the Solanum. Similarly, some species of Morning Glory, such as Convolvulus sabatius, have flowers whose shape and size closely resemble the Solanum’s.
Solanum is a genus containing many species, the most famous of which include potato, tomato, and eggplant. The family as a whole is popularly known as the “deadly nightshade” family. Remember that many non-edible plants from the family are highly poisonous or allergenic.
*Take note: What are commonly called Bougainvillea flowers, are not actually flowers, but papery bracts that surround the true flowers.*