Nature on our Doorstep: Woody Nightshade

WOODY Nightshade is currently trailing over hedges, walls, or tall vegetation along riverbanks.

As the plant’s small star-shaped flowers open, the pointed purple petals stretch backwards, revealing the bright yellow central column where pollen is produced.

The plants shiny red berries should not be eaten

The plants shiny red berries should not be eaten 

The base of each purple petal has pretty white and green markings.

These are not always noticed as the flowers tend to droop downwards.

Woody Nightshade is also known as Bittersweet because, while its attractive red berries initially taste sweet, this is replaced by a very bitter taste which stops most animals eating any more.

This is just as well, because the berries contain a chemical compound called solanine which can cause vomiting and convulsions.

Woody Nightshade belongs to the family of plants known as the Solanaceae.

Many of the plants in this family include important food plants like potatoes and tomatoes.

Tobacco is also a member of this plant family.

Other members are quite dangerous, however, such as Deadly Nightshade.

Atropine is the active toxin in this plant, and this was once the ‘poison of choice’ during the Middle Ages.

Atropine was also used then as a very risky cosmetic treatment, to dilate the pupils and to give skin a pale colour. This gave rise to Deadly Nightshade’s

other name, Belladonna, meaning ‘beautiful lady’.

There is no accounting for fashion!

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