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Momordica balsamina - Balsam Apple
Common Name: Balsam Apple
Scientific Name: Momordica balsamina
In 1810, Thomas Jefferson planted seeds of this annual vine in his flower borders at Monticello along with Larkspur, Poppies, and Nutmeg Plant.1 Bernard McMahon listed this species as "tender annual flowers" in The American Gardener's Caldendar, an important reference manual that Jefferson owned and often consulted.2 The Balsam Apple is a tropical vine grown as a garden annual with bright yellow flowers followed by curious, oblong, yellow-orange warty fruits that burst open when ripe, and has attractive, glossy green foliage. It is native to the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Australia.
Although the pale yellow, deeply-veined flowers have a subtle beauty, its round, somewhat warty, bright-orange fruits, or "apples", are its most distinguishing feature. When ripe, the fruits burst apart, revealing numerous seeds covered with a brilliant scarlet, extremely sticky coating. The Balsam Apple was introduced into Europe by 1568 and was used medicinally to treat wounds.3
- Text from Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet
- Adams, Denise Wiles. Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2004.
- Betts, Edwin M., and Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins. Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello, 3rd ed. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1986.
- Cornett, Peggy. "Jefferson's Vines of Summer: Beauties and Beasts." Twinleaf, January 1994.
- Seeds available for purchase at Monticello Museum Shop
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants
- 1. Betts, Garden Book, 423. Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
- 2. Bernard McMahon, The American Gardener's Calendar (Philadelphia: B. Graves, 1806), 609-10.
- 3. Lawrence D. Griffith, Flowers and Herbs of Early America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008), 28.