Heirloom Eggplant Varieties in Florida1

Contact: Phillip Williams 2

Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a member of the nightshade family Solanaceae (Rindels 1997). It is called "eggplant" because the original plant produced small, oval-shaped white fruit that resembled an egg. Eggplant is native to India and Pakistan, and it was first domesticated more than 4,000 years ago (Khan 1979). Ancient Chinese records indicate that eggplant was cultivated in China as early as the first century BCE (Wang et al. 2008), and the Chinese crossbred varieties with different shapes and colors. The migration of the eggplant continued toward the Middle East and westward to Egypt during the 9th to 12th centuries CE (Bowman 2010). The Moors introduced eggplant to the Spanish, and the fruit became popular in Europe. The Spanish believed that eggplant was an aphrodisiac and called it berengenas or "the apple of love." The eggplant's popularity took a downward turn in northern Europe after Albert of Cologne referred to the fruit as mala insana or "mad apples," because it was thought to cause insanity when eaten. By the 1600s, however, several varieties migrated from Naples, Italy, to Germany. While the Spanish were traveling the globe, they took the eggplant to South America around 1650. In 1806, Thomas Jefferson (well-known for his promotion of horticulture) introduced the eggplant to the United States after receiving the fruit from a friend in France.

Eggplants belong to the same family of plants as tomato, tobacco, and pepper, and eggplants are susceptible to many of the same diseases that affect these plants. Viruses such as tobacco mosaic virus and tomato mosaic virus can be a common problem. Typically, these viral infections cause stunted plants, fruit and leaf malformation, mottling, and leaf mosaics. Definitive identification can only be made by a diagnostics lab, and once infected, these viral diseases can no longer be controlled (Mossler et al. 2012). Immediate removal of infected plants and control of weeds and insects is critical to prevent the spread of these diseases.

Hybrid eggplants are produced from two genetically different purebred varieties. The offspring are selected for certain characteristics, such as resistance to viruses and other desirable characteristics. However, these plants will not produce offspring identical to themselves, thus the original cross must be made each year (Delahaut and Newenhouse 1997). As opposed to the modern-day hybrid cultivars, heirlooms are old cultivars generated by handing down seeds from generation to generation. In order to be considered an heirloom, the eggplant variety must be true-to-type, open-pollinated, and it must be in use for at least 50 years. This means that pollination occurs by insects, birds, wind, or any other natural means, and the plants produced will be identical to the parent plant. Although heirlooms are not selected for traits such as disease resistance, they are usually selected for superior flavor, color, and texture. Because heirlooms are true-to-type, they will have consistent traits from one generation to the next; therefore, the seeds can be saved and regrown the following year.

Heirloom Eggplant Varieties

The following is a guide of heirloom eggplant varieties—from most to least popular—used in Florida (Table 1). The popularity was determined by a survey of seed suppliers, which included Baker Seeds, Burpee, High Mowing Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Tomato Grower Supply Company, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed Company, and My Patriot Supply. When organic seeds were available, the USDA logo was inserted.

Table 1. 

Heirloom Eggplant Varieties for Florida

Variety

Company

Season (Relative Maturity)

Plant and Fruit Characteristics

Comments

Most Popular Heirloom Varieties

Black Beauty

Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Burpee, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Tomato Growers Supply Company, My Patriot Supply, Local Harvest, Sustainable Seed Company, Azure Dandelion, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

74–90 days

Plants yield large, glossy, black, plump, and slightly lobed fruit of excellent quality. Plants produce up to 15 fruit per unit that grows about 6.5 inches by 5 inches and may weigh up to 3 lb.

Fruit is standard, old type, and beautiful with lavender blossoms. This variety can be grown at the flower garden. The rich-flavored fruits with tender skin are perfect for grilling. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Fengyuan Purple

Reimer Seeds, Tomato Growers Supply Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

65 days

Plants produce an abundance of very long, slender, fruit that has very thin, purple skin and creamy, white flesh.

This is a unique Taiwanese variety and is one of the best long varieties. It is drought tolerant; fruit is sweet and mellow tasting, and excellent for pickling. The fruit is easy to grow and wonderful for grilling or adding to stir-fries. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Listada De Gandia

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Tomato Growers Supply Company, Seed Savers Exchange, Azure Dandelion, and Local Harvest

75 days

Plants grow 24–30 inches tall and 12–18 inches in diameter. Plants bear 5- to 6-inch-long fruit that is a purple color and has irregular white stripes.

Plants are drought tolerant. This is an Italian variety. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Long Purple

Burpee, My Patriot Supply, Azure Dandelion, and Sustainable Seed Company

70–80 days

Plants are 24–30 inches tall and produce dark purple fruit that is 8–10 inches long.

This is an Italian variety that produces good yields of mild fruit. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Ping Tung Long

Reimer Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Tomato Growers Supply Company, Azure Dandelion, Sustainable Seed Company, Seed Savers Exchange, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

65 days

Plants are high yielding and produce more than 20 shiny, deep-lavender fruits that have white flesh and grow 2 inches by 11 inches and longer.

Fruit has a mild flavor, and plants are stress tolerant. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Rosa Bianca

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Tomato Growers Supply Company, Local Harvest, Sustainable Seed Company, Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

73–83 days

Plants are similar to 'Listada de Gandia' with a creamy white color and pink-purple irregular stripes that radiate from the top.

Plants grow best in areas with warm nights. Plants have lower yields in extreme northern areas. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Rosita

Reimer Seed, Tomato Growers Supply Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

80 days

Plants produce an excellent yield of 8-inch by 4-inch, lavender-pink fruit with white flesh.

Fruit is mild and very sweet. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Other heirloom varieties

Apple Green

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Seed Savers Exchange, and Sustainable Seed Company

70 days

Early-maturing and small plants that produce good yields of smooth, oval-round fruit that grow to 3 inches by 2.5 inches.

Fruit is very tender and delicious with an extremely mild flavor. Fruit is highly recommended and is an excellent variety for northern US regions. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Aswad

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and Smart Gardener

75­–85 days

Plants are 24–36 inches tall and produce dark purple-black fruit that is 12–15 inches in size and can weigh 3 lb. or more.

Plants are heat tolerant. Fruit flesh is sweet and tender. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Casper Eggplant

Sustainable Seed Company, Territorial Seed Company New Hope Seed Company, Local Harvest, Organic Sanctuary, and Territorial Seed Company

70 days

Plants are compact and produce an abundance of ivory white, oval-shaped, early ripening fruit. Fruit grow 5–7 inches long.

Fruit is very flavorful, delicious skinned, and mild fleshed. Originated in France. It is perfect for gourmet dishes and is best eaten when small at the 5- to 7-inch stage. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Diamond

Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Reimer Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Azure Dandelion, Seed Savers Exchange, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

65–95 days

Larger plants are fairly prolific and produce clusters of 4–6 fruit. Fruit are 6–9 inches long and 2–3 inches in diameter. Fruit is dark purple and glossy.

Plants do well in drought conditions and are an excellent choice for cooler areas. Fruit is wonderful for roasting and has a mild-tasting flesh with excellent firm texture. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Florida High Bush

Sustainable Seed, Reimer Seeds, and Tomato Growers Supply Company

75–85 days

Vigorous and upright plants produce shiny, oval-to-oblong fruit that grow 10 inches in length, and are high off of the ground.

Plants are drought resistant.

Florida Market

Reimer Seeds and Azure Dandelion

85 days

Very prolific, large plants that produce large, glossy, and dark purple bell-shaped fruit.

An old standard market variety and an excellent type for the South. Fruit is almost resistant to sunscald.

Japanese White Egg

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

72 days

Compact plants that produce small, white fruit the size of a hen's egg.

Fruit is perfect for stir-frying.

Little Finger

High Mowing Organic Seeds, Tomato Growers Supply Company, Sustainable Seed Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

65 days

Fruit is produced in clusters on sturdy, compact plants. Fruit is blunt ended, slender, and more petite than the standard eggplant with thin, tender, and dark purple skin. Flesh has a silky texture with few seeds.

The fruit may be harvested when finger-sized and glossy, but it may also be allowed to grow larger with no alteration in the mild, sweet taste and tender texture. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Louisiana Long Green

Burpee, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Tomato Growers Supply Company, Azure Dandelion, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

70 days

Spineless plants average 42 inches in height and produce attractive, 7- to 10-inch, light green, and banana-shaped fruit.

Fruit has a mild flavor with no bitterness. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Pandora Striped Rose

Azure Dandelion, Reimer Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

75–80 days

Plants are 24–30 inches tall and 12–18 inches in diameter. Plants produce raindrop-shaped fruit with lilac-rose color and white stripes.

Plants are drought tolerant.

Prosperosa

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Territorial Seed Company, and Tomato Growers Supply Company

75 days

Plants produce pleated, deep-purple fruit with white tops that grow to 4–5 inches.

Italian variety that produces mild-flavored fruit.

Rayada

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and Smart Gardener

80 days

Plants bear fruit 5 inches by 3 inches that are mainly purple with white stripes.

White fruit is mild and sweet.

Rotonda Bianca

Local Harvest and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

120 days

Plants are 24–36 inches tall and produce round, white fruit that are shaded with a rose-pink color.

Fruit has great flavor and texture.

Round Mauve

Seed Savers Exchange, Reimer Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

60–70 days

Plants are 22–26 inches tall and 12–18 inches in diameter, and they produce 3–4 inch-long dark purple fruit.

This is an early variety and plants are drought tolerant.

Thai Long Green

Azure Dandelion, Evergreen Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Reimer Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

85 days

Short, 24-inch-tall plants that are spineless or have a soft spine. Fruit are light green and 1.5 inches by 10 inches long. Flowers are deep lavender with green and soft spineless calyxes.

Plants are able to withstand light frosts. Organic seeds available.

USDA Organic

Figure 1. Black Beauty
Figure 1.  Black Beauty
Credit: Burpee

Figure 2. Fengyuan Purple
Figure 2.  Fengyuan Purple
Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Figure 3. Listada De Gandia
Figure 3.  Listada De Gandia
Credit: High Mowing Organic Seeds

Figure 4. Long Purple
Figure 4.  Long Purple
Credit: Burpee

Figure 5. Ping Tung Long
Figure 5.  Ping Tung Long
Credit: High Mowing Organic Seeds

Figure 6. Rosa Bianca
Figure 6.  Rosa Bianca
Credit: High Mowing Organic Seeds

Figure 7. Rosita
Figure 7.  Rosita
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 8. Apple Green
Figure 8.  Apple Green
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 9. Aswad
Figure 9.  Aswad
Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Figure 10. Casper Eggplant
Figure 10.  Casper Eggplant
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 11. Diamond
Figure 11.  Diamond
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 12. Florida High Bush
Figure 12.  Florida High Bush
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 13. Florida Market
Figure 13.  Florida Market
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 14. Japanese White Egg
Figure 14.  Japanese White Egg
Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Figure 15. Little Fingers
Figure 15.  Little Fingers
Credit: High Mowing Organic Seeds

Figure 16. Louisiana Long Green
Figure 16.  Louisiana Long Green
Credit: Burpee

Figure 17. Pandora Striped Rose
Figure 17.  Pandora Striped Rose
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 18. Prosperosa
Figure 18.  Prosperosa
Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Figure 19. Rayada
Figure 19.  Rayada
Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Figure 20. Rotonda Bianca
Figure 20.  Rotonda Bianca
Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

Figure 21. Round Mauve
Figure 21.  Round Mauve
Credit: Reimer Seeds

Figure 22. Thai Long Green
Figure 22.  Thai Long Green
Credit: Reimer Seeds

References

Delahaut, K.A. and A.C. Newenhouse. 1997. Growing tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in Wisconsin: A guide for fresh-market growers. Univ. Wisconsin, Coop. Ext. 12 June 2014. http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/a3687.pdf.

Bowman, B. 2010. Eggplant. 12 June 2014. http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Produce-638/eggplant.aspx#2.

Khan, R. 1979. "Solanum melongena and its ancestral forms." p. 629–636. In J.G. Hawkes, R.N. Lester, and A.D. Skelding (Eds.), The biology and taxonomy of the Solanaceae. London: Academic Press.

Mossler, M., M. J. Aerts, and O.N. Nesheim. 2012. Florida Crop/Pest management profiles: Bell peppers. CIR 1240. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi040

Rindels, S. 1997. Eggplant. Iowa State Univ. Hort. and Home Pest News. IC-477(10). 12 June 2014. http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1997/5-2-1997/eggplant.html.

Wang, J., T. Gao, and S. Knapp. 2008. "Ancient Chinese literature reveals pathways of eggplant domestication." Ann. Bot. 102: 891–897.

Footnotes

1. This document is HS1242, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 2013 by Monica Ozores-Hampton, former associate professor, Horticultural Sciences Department. Revised January 2017. Reviewed July 2020. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Contact: Phillip Williams, assistant professor, vegetable horticulture, Horticultural Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Southwest Florida REC, Immokalee, FL 34142.

Publication #HS1242

Date: 2020-11-19
Williams, Phillip
Horticultural Sciences

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