Eggplants (Solanum melongena) do not have a male or female gender, but they are endowed with cross-pollinating male and female flowers on each plant. We tend to think of the eggplant as a vegetable, but like the tomato, it is classified as a fruit. Fruit or veggie, eggplants do not have a gender.
Two types of eggplant may develop on one plant, and that is likely the reason the myth of gender got started. One type has a roundish dimpled area at the blossom end, and the other type has a more oval-shaped dimpled area. The oval-dimpled eggplants are said to have more seeds and be less meaty than the roundish dimpled eggplants. Agriculture experts at the University of Illinois Extension describe the differences as a product of reproduction, not differences of gender.
Good Things About Eggplants
Eggplants love hot weather and grow well where more tender, leafy vegetables may wilt. They like growing conditions similar to tomatoes; they are from the same nightshade family of plants. Eggplants thrive in direct sunlight for six to eight hours per day.
There are several types to grow , including egg-shaped ‘Black Bell’ and the long, slender variety called ‘Ichiban.’ The dimple differences can appear on fruit from every variety.
Easy To Grow
Once you have found the warm spot in the garden to grow your eggplants, start seeds or seedlings when nighttime temperatures are consistently at or above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Their root systems are subject to cold damage and do not recover easily once they are affected. Allow 2 to 3 feet of growing space between plants. Give eggplant a steady supply of moisture but not enough to create soggy soil conditions. Test for dryness by inserting your finger in the soil; it should feel moist up to the first joint. A soaker hose or drip system is ideal for giving a slow, steady supply of moisture.
Harvest Time and the Dimples
Eggplants bloom with violet flowers in mid- to late summer, and small fruit begin to develop. The time from seed germination to harvest is 16 to 24 weeks, depending on the variety and growing conditions. Plants with a heavy load of fruit may fall over and need to be staked or propped up with a small tomato cage.
Eggplants are ready to pick when their skin is bright and glossy. If they are dull colored, the fruit has been left too long on the plant and may be bitter. Now is the time to turn the fruit upside down, see whether you have a round-dimpled eggplant or an oval-dimpled eggplant, and begin the enjoyment of cooking and eating your eggplant.