Native in montane forests of Mesoamerica from southern Mexico to Panama at middle to high elevations, occurring in oak-pine woodland and other mesic formations. It has been introduced and is naturalized in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo; originally introduced as an ornamental or fence post tree (Henderson 2011); the oldest specimen we have seen from South Africa dates to 1909 and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to 1903, so the introduction is relatively recent.
Solanum chrysotrichum is a member of the Torva clade (Stern et al. 2011) of subgenus Leptostemonum (the spiny solanums).
This species was long known as S. hispidum Pers. in both its native and introduced range, but that name refers to an Andean species more correctly called S. asperolanatum Ruiz & Pav. (see Knapp 2008). The large leaves of non-reproductive plants could be confused with S. wrightii, another species more widely grown as a shade tree, but S. chrysotrichum differs from that species in its stellate versus simple trichomes on upper leaf surfaces. Solanum wrightii has large (to 4 cm in diameter), stellate-rotate purple flowers that fade to white and S. chrysotrichum smaller (ca. 2 cm in diameter), deeply stellate white flowers. Solanum chrysotrichum could also be confused with the common circumtropical weed S. torvum, but differs from the latter in being a more robust plant with larger (>2 cm) flowers and non-glandular inflorescences. In general, the leaves of S. chrysotrichum are more deeply lobed on juvenile plants and the pubescence has a reddish brown hue.
Solanum chrysotrichum is of limited distribution in teh Old World where it was relatively recently introduced, but has been classified as a naturalized exotic in South Africa (SANBI 2011); it was introduced as a shade tree (via Asia, but is native to Central America (Nee 1999).
In selecting a lectotype for S. warscewiczii, which was described from plants in cultivation, we have selected the most complete of the several sheets held in W.
Henderson, L. 2011. Invasive berry-producing Solanaceae. SAPIA News 20: 1-5 (July 2011).
Knapp, S. 2008. Lectotypification of Ruiz and Pavón’s names in Solanum (Solanaceae). Anales del Jardín Botánico de Madrid 65: 307-329.
Nee, M. 1999. Synopsis of Solanum in the New World. Pp. 285–333 in M. Nee, D. E. Symon, R. N. Lester & J. P. Jessop (eds.), Solanaceae IV: Advances in Biology and Utilization. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
SANBI. 2011. Solanum chrysotrichum Schltdl. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2011.1. Accessed on 2011/12/29
Stern, S. R., M. de F. Agra, and L. Bohs. 2011. Molecular delimitation of clades within New World species of the ”spiny solanums” (Solanum subgenus Leptostemonum). Taxon 60: 1429-1441.
Local Names. South Africa: Giant devil’s fig (Henderson 2011).