Taxonomy

Aubergine flowers are either white or purple and have at their centre a bottle-shaped cone of stamens where pollen is held.

Aubergines have large felty leaves that are densely covered with tiny star-shaped (stellate) hairs. These hairs often have a purplish tinge, especially when the plants are grown in strong sunlight.

The wild relatives and most local varieties of aubergines have prominent stem prickles (also sometimes called spines, but technically they are like rose thorns and can be broken off and so are called prickles), but through selection by humans many of the cultivated varieties lack these prickles. This makes sense, as harvesting the fruits from a very prickly is not much fun. You can sometimes still feel the prickles on the calyx at the base of an aubergine fruit.

The name by which the aubergine is known in the United States is eggplant, thought to come from old white fruited varieties where the fruit is egg-shaped. Plant breeders select different fruit shapes and colours and cross the plants to create the many cultivated types we grow in our gardens.