Pumpkins on a stick have arrived at Trader Joe's and are totally winning fall this year. All you have to do is plunk them in a vase of water and you'll instantly give a room some seasonal flair, perfect for Halloween or Thanksgiving. But what makes these festive stems extra fun is the way they make people do a double-take. Those round, orange fruits might look like tiny pumpkins—the shape, coloring, and ribs are all spot on—but take a closer look and you might think they actually look kind of like strange tomatoes.
That's because this plant is in the eggplant family, which is related to tomatoes and has nothing to do with pumpkins or the squash family at all. And yet, it is known by a variety of names such as pumpkin tree, pumpkin bush, and the previously mentioned pumpkin on a stick. To confuse things even more, it also goes by ornamental eggplant, red Chinese eggplant, and mock tomato. Botanically, it is known as Solanum integrifolium, and it's native to Southeast Asia. Though its orange fruits are edible (they have a slightly bitter flavor), this plant is mostly grown for its decorative stems used for flower arrangements.
Even though they’re not real pumpkins, pumpkins on a stick mature and turn orange in the late summer and early autumn—ideal timing for including them among your fall decorations each year. Once cut, the fresh stems last for up to two to four weeks (just remember to change the water in the vase regularly).
Right now, you can find pumpkins on a stick at Trader Joe’s for just $8.99 per bunch (you get about six stems for that price). They'll look lovely by themselves in a vase, or try mixing in a little greenery to set them off, like a few sprigs of eucalyptus or myrtle. While you're at it, pick up a few of TJ's sugar skull ceramic planters, too, and you'll be all set for Halloween.