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With love and passion, everyone can have a nice garden...Elaine Yim

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Count The Garden By The Flowers, Never By The Leaves That Fall.
Count Your Life With Smiles And Not The Tears That Roll.
..... Author unknown.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Solanum mammosum, Auspicious Chinese New Year Fruit

These bright yellow fruits are those of the Solanum mammosum, a perennial plant that has lots of thorns on the leaves or stems, bears purple flowers and looks like a small tree or shrub when grown here. It shares the same family with the tomato and potato. All parts of the plant are poisonous. However, it is regarded as a very auspicious plant for the Lunar New Year season. The secret is in the fruits that are pear shaped and has 5 protrusions. These protrusions look like teats or nipples but we like to call it 'fingers' which in Cantonese sounds like 'ji' (子), meaning sons.

Family: Solanaceae
Botanical name: Solanum mammosum
Common name: Nipplefruit, Titty Fruit, Cow's Udders, Apple of Sodom
Malay name: terung susu kambing (goat's milk eggplant)
Origin: South America

In Chinese it is written as 五代同堂 - wu dai tong tang, meaning Five Generations Living Harmoniously Under One Roof. This would mean a family having great-great grandparents, great grandparents, grandparents, parents and children living harmoniously together in the same household. This would mean longevity, prosperity and happiness for the family. Ain't that nice?

It was highly sought after during last year when it was an Ox year. The whole fruit looks like a cow's udder. When you cut the fruit into two and then draw 2 eyes on it, it will look like a cow's head.

It used to be quite cheap but it has become a popular Chinese New Year decorative plant in recent years. The one in the picture will cost at least RM 80.00 per pot and a stalk is sold at around RM 13.00.

Andrea of Andrea in this Lifetime has nice pictures of this plant in her latest post, "Nipple Fruit, again unusual in this part of the world!". I have her to thank for identifying the botanical name of this plant for me.

I took this picture from the nursery in Sg Buloh where I like to go to buy my Chinese New Year Plants. This nursery called Ah Chui Nursery has a lot of varieties of very good quality plants at reasonably cheap prices. I mean plants that bloom at the right time and continue to bloom and live long after the season is over.

My grandmother story:
When I was little, my grandparents were the caretakers of a temple and we used to grow such a solanum plant. My grandma called it the 5-finger fruit and she took good care of the plant. Our fruits were green at first which later changed to yellow when ripe. I used to wonder why such a thorny plant with fruits that cannot be eaten can be so precious to her. Whenever the fruits ripen, my job would be to pluck them, arrange them nicely on a plate and place it on the altars as prayer offerings. It was treated like precious commodity. My grandma's dream was to live a long life with many many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. How proud and wise she must have felt if only she achieved her target. In Chinese culture, we always have great respect for the eldest (oldest) member of the household. Even the great grandmom of Emperors have super duper titles and they are usually very influential members of the imperial family. I used to imagine the solanum fruits were apples with 5 fingers at the bottom. Other devotees who came to visit the temple were attracted to the unique looking fruits and asked us for some to take home. Those were the days. When I look back I remember that I really have lots of fond memories of a carefree childhood spent in this old little temple, helping my grandma and playing with my cousins and siblings. I learnt to climb trees, played with dirt, catch fishes, dragonflies and damselflies and we children also became foster parents of stray puppies, kittens and tortoises. We also reared chickens, goose, turkeys and ducks, at different times of course. I really enjoyed my childhood in the outdoors and I was quite a tomboy then. Getting whacked by my illiterate but wise grandma was part and parcel of growing up. In fact, I love her more for not 'sparing the rod and spoiling the child'.

There are many more Chinese New Year plants in my first post titled, "Auspicious Plants for Chinese New Year". To read more, click here.

My post today is dedicated to Ms Grace Peterson of Gardening with Grace, from Albany, USA. She was the first commenter of my previous post, Lichun The First Day of Spring. She is a great writer of a beautiful garden blog.


  1. Wow Autumn Belle, this is what i call serendipity. I don't believe in chances, yet i somehow acknowledge serendipity! Does it mean anything. And serendipitously, i am the first one to comment, when i am the one cited in your post. Haha, talking of the Zodiac Ally! I did not know what you said about the nipple fruit. I just posted it because it looks unusual. You put a lot of meaning to my post. How wonderful, thse bloggings can be. Maybe we are now joined in spirit, well of course, WE ARE ALL ONE! Psychically connected huh! Great. Maybe next time i will plant this in my garden just for the fruit, and be rich from then on! hahay.

  2. Thanks for sharing your grandma's experience story. Very interesting to note that you have a robust outdoor lifestyle very much enjoying everything.

    I wonder whether you fancy getting the seeds and planting them. I have seen these types growing in the wild but the fruit are different - known as Terung Pipit.
    also considered as a native vegetable plant (Solanum torvum)

  3. Yes, Andrea, serendipity is the correct word. Our post didn't clash but we complemented each other. That was great! and TQVM for the BINGO. Actually my picture and draft was ready, waiting for the correct name only. Now you know how valuable you are as a horticulturist, hahaha :P

  4. James, thanks for the early visit. Me and Andrea were so excited about this cow udder fruit. Yes, I would definitely want the seeds of the plant. It is called Terung Susu Kambing (goat's milk eggplant???). The terung pipit is not the same thing. Do tell me if you see the correct one.

    Yeah, my childhood life in the kampung is so different from what I am now. My failure was that I was not good in climbing trees. I used to admire those who could climb coconut trees. I do love animals as pets but that is another long long story.

  5. I love how much I learn on your blog about a culture I don't know much about! Loved your grandma's story! And what an interesting fruit - at first it looked like lemons to me... Hugs, Silke

  6. I was a bit of a tomboy too Autumn Belle. I still climb a tree or two if need be at my age but not too high in case I can't get down. LOL. As always I enjoy your cultural posts.

  7. Interesting plant, especially that it is in the same family as some we eat.

    Autumnbelle, your childhood sounds much like mine, except that we didn't have a temple to tend. My mother grew flowers to place bouquets in the little country church nearby. Mid-winter, she hauled a huge pot of Christmas cactus over to place on the altar when she had nothing else blooming.

    I'm still playing in dirt, chasing butterflies (with a camera now), and throwing a ball for the dog, just like then.

  8. Hi Autumn Belle!
    You are the first blog I have visited as a new blotanical member and I think your blog is great! I love your beautiful pictures and the information on the solanum mammosum, it is such an interesting plant.

  9. Our grandma told us stories, will we pass on the stories to our grandsons?

  10. What an interesting looking fruit the Solanum mammosum is and what a great story you have to go along with it. I enjoyed hearing about your grandmother as well. I lived in Kuantan and Singapore for a few years, as a teenager, in the mid 1970's. I have very fond memories of my years there, the wonderful climate, lush plant life, fabulous food, lovely people intriguing interesting culture. I look forward to coming back and visiting your blog.

  11. Obvioulsy you are not spoiled and you are truly someone your grandmother can be proud of!
    I enjoyed reading about your memories and life. You are truly a unique lady and I am happy you write about your life in your blog.

  12. AB~~ I love your idea of honoring the first responder to your newest post. I might have to borrow it. And thank you for the kind plug.

    Your childhood does sound idyllic. As a fellow tomboy, it was the outdoors that saved me from some rough indoor stuff. Your grandma sounds like a jewel.

    The fruit looks sort of like papayas with a few extra protrusions. :)

  13. What a lovely and interesting post and tribute to your Grandma. The fruits look so interesting too.

  14. Your Grandma's story is wonderful and I love these posts. I am learning so much from you and it's very interesting.

  15. Hi, everyone, I sincerely, truly thank you very much for your kind words and gracious comments. I feel very nice after your visits. Now I need to get back to my spring cleaning and CNY preparations. Please be advised that this fruit is POISONOUS and cannot be eaten! :>) and :) and :P

  16. The fruit looks nicer in a topiary form. Thanks for sharing your story. At least now I know one use of this poisonous fruit. Have a great day!

  17. Salam!

    That's a really interesting plant, and the backstory is fascinating. It's nice to learn something new every day, and as it's early morning, that means I have accomplished my goal with hours left to waste!

  18. Oh Gee you made me really think I am OCBC - Orang China Bukan China (Chinese & yet not Chinese). don't remember seeing or heard of this fruit before leh? Am I really from Jupiter? TQ

  19. What a wonderful childhood that must have been for you. Thank you for sharing that story. I enjoyed imagining you running wild as a little girl barefoot in the dirt chasing puppies, kittens, chickens and all manner of wild life and then the (hopefully) occasional loving whack from Grandma. Charming post, it made me smile and left my heart full of summer warmth.

  20. oh, that is so interesting. Everything in this post was interesting. Of course, I always love your grandmother stories. I had no idea about the fruit. I don't think I've seen that fruit around here. I've seen some kind of horned melon, but I think it's more green. Wish I could find one and impress my parents on CHinese New Year! Thanks as usually for all the great stories and information!

  21. Lovely story. I'm pretty sure you made us reflect on our childhood memories sharing your story. Grandma sure loves you:)

  22. I've seen the cow's udders being sold in Chinatown . I didn't know the malay name is terung susu kambing, does the fruit has the color of milk when cut?

  23. Now, let me reply your comments.

    Silke, once again than you very much for your visit and nice comments. Welcome to My Nice Garden.

    Helen, Glad to know you are a tomboy too. Wow, you can still climb a tree or 2 now? How I admire you! You know something? Whenever I think of you, I always think of a Lady Adventurer.

    NellJean, I love how you said that you are still playing in dirt and chasing butterflies. I just make me think again on what I had written about my childhood. Yeah, it is so true. I am still doing and able to do those things, “just like then”. Well said and as always, my wise teacher.

    Susan, thank you very much for visiting my blog first. I really appreciate it. Welcome to My Nice Garden.

    Rainfield, yes, we should pass on our happy stories of our grandparents to our children and grandchildren. After all, this is part of our culture and roots.

    Melanie, Kuantan is a beautiful and rustic place. I like to go to the beach there for holidays too. I’m glad you had fond memories of your teenage years here.

    Rosey, I was my grandma’s fave grand-daughter, so I really do hope that she’ll be proud of me. ((Hugs)) to you too.

    Grace, my graceful friend. You a tomboy too? It’s a pleasant surprise! My way of dedicating my next post to the first commenter is the get to know more about my blog readers and to thank them for commenting on my blog. Glad that you like this idea too.

    Joanne, I’m glad I have fond memories of my grandma to share, so that my grandmother stories are real, true stories.

    Poetic, thank you for your compliments. I’m glad I am not a boring person.

    Stephanie, it is funny how an auspicious sounding name can make an otherwise useless plant to be a popular CNY item. So, the plant sellers get richer.

    The Idiot Gardener, welcome to My Nice Garden. Glad you like my post.

    Banabaz, Ah ha, you have a new skin for the CNY season! It used to be yellow, now green and your icon/avatar looks like a flower. Now that you have read this post, you will see more of this fruit around you. Trust me. Maybe you can even find it at the pasar malam or pasar minggu. If you are from Jupiter, have you ever heard of the Grand Duke of Jupiter or Tai Sui?

    LeSan, if I go barefoot, my grandma will be the one chasing me with a stick or cane. I stepped on a nail and injured my foot when I went barefoot one day and after that, I always remember to wear my shoes/clogs/slippers. Puppies like to chase me and bite my shoes. We cuddle the puppies and kittens just like a baby when we feed them from a recycled milk bottle that mum gave us. It was really fun playing with real puppies and kitties instead of lifeless dolls and teddies.

    Wendy, the seed or seedling of this plant is available from Dave’s Garden or Top Tropicals. I think people are growing it in the US too, but I don’t think it is popular. The thorns are a put-off, I’m sure.

    Sunshine Girl, it is strange how plants can make us think of our love ones. Many of the plants I grow in my garden has a story or family history.

  24. This is my 2nd comment here, but can't resist the urge to join it again. I know we have lots of terms in common. However, I am glad to learn that Malaysian term for this is terung susu kambing. For us, susu is breast or udder (animal or human not delineated) and kambing for us is goat. That only shows in the etymology of our languages that it came from one source. Our woman is babae, yours is babaye, why did you not call the nipple plant as 'susu babaye'? lol

  25. Jama, the fruit when cut open reveals white colour flesh and brown seeds.

    Andrea, welcome back. Yes, I do agree that Malay and Tagalog share many common words. I was thinking that the susu kambing may refer to the goat's udder instead of goat's milk. Actually, I'm not sure of babaye but bayi means baby in Malay.

  26. You noticed the change! According to fengshui must have green just kidding. Love the pic looked like flowering. Yeah heard of Grand Duke only recently from foongpc and I dont know why we used to relate to "Hor Ya" (tiger diety) and to pray and get blessings. All wrong interpretation and input and plain blunt ignorance.

  27. wooooow....very-very beutiful.., that Solanum mammosum. I like it !

  28. Hi,

    I'm currently working on a research project with this plant to try and increase the fruit set for ornamental purposes. Did your grandmother do anything special in her care of the plant to ensure she received a lot of fruit? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  29. Kristen, I hope I can give more into, but as I know, my grandma tended to the tree just like any other plants. It grows well under our climate with plenty of sun and watering. Do click on the link provided to visit Andrea's blog as she also has a post on this plant.

  30. hello,i really like ur pic but i just want to know if u know where I can buy this solanum mammosum...I need it to do my research...I really hope u can help me...tq...

  31. Hi Fatin, I have only seen this plant in Strawberrry Farm Genting Highlands and also the Sg Buloh nurseries during Chinese New Year season. You can try asking the nurseries near your place where to get this plant. I am not sure but maybe it is possible to propagate this from seeds. I have seen this plant listed in the catalogue of Wellgrow Horti Trading website. You can call them to enquire. The link as follows:


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