Saturday, 16 April 2016

A-Z Challenge 2016 - Wildflowers 'N'

My theme this year is wild flowers. Most of us will be aware of the flowers that grow in our gardens but what surprises me is how few wild flowers that I know.

I pass them every day but rarely look at them. Well this year will be different - even if many of them may fall under the letter 'X' for unknown.

'N' - Nightshades

What do the old American Upidee song, Longfellow's Excelsior poem and a parody by A E Houseman have in common?

The answer to what my flowers are today is 'hidden' in their common first line: -

                 "The shades of night were falling fast."

Although one is known as 'Bittersweet' it's also called - 

Woody Nightshade (solanum dulcamara)
Woody Nightshade (flower and red berries)
As you can see each flower has five blue/purple petals with a central yellow cone. The berries go from green to yellow and then to red. These are poisonous but only enough to cause vomiting.

In Lincolnshire, garlands of bittersweet (woody nightshade) were once hung on pigs to protect them from witchcraft. In Germany, it was hung round the necks of cattle to ward off evil.

Bittersweet is often miscalled Deadly Nightshade but that is a a plant whose berries are, as its name implies, deadly poisonous - three berries have killed a child.

Deadly Nightshade (atropa belladonna)
I've always known this plant as Belladonna, It berries are black and known as Devil's Berries or Death Cherries.

Deadly Nightshade - Chelsea Physic Garden
Despite its deadly nature, atropine from the deadly nightshade has its uses in-
  • Ophthalmology - where it is used to dilute the pupil for access to the back of the eye.
  • Cardiology - to speed up heart rate. 
Both nightshades can grow to to four feet in hedges and locally to us occur intertwined in blackberry brambles.


  • Woody Nightshade (single flower) - Fairlands Valley Park, Stevenage, 20 May 2011 ex Flickr by Anemone Projector - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic
  • Deadly Nightshade - Ranmore Common, Surrey, 18 July 2010, ex Flickr by Donald Macauly - CC BY-SA 2.0 generic.
  • Deadly Nightshade - 3 August 2009, ex, by David Hawgood - CC BY-SA 2.9 generic


Natasha Borah Khan said...

wow, wonderful theme and very informative. Even my theme is flowers (the ones I have grown up with) this year.

Points To Ponder

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bob .. I remember as a kid - being warned off Deadly Nightshade ... but am not sure I realised there were two plants .. though the names ring bells - especially Belladonna. It's fascinating what the scientists/ early herbalists can learn and find uses for from plants ...

Cheers Hilary

Elizabeth Eisenhauer said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing.
A few years ago, we had a plant growing wild in our backyard that I thought was Deadly Nightshade (though looking at your pictures, perhaps it was actually Woody Nightshade) and I had warned my daughter to steer clear of it. One day, she came to me very excited and said 'Mommy, there's a bee at the Deadly Nightshade! It's going to make deadly honey!'
Still makes me chuckle.

Guilie Castillo said...

Cool post, Bob! I recently read a story somewhere about a couple of kids who died from eating belladonna; they though they were blackberries. The fact they grow together with blackberries doesn't help, I'm sure.

Loving your A2Z!
Guilie @ Life In Dogs

Alasandra, The Cats and Dogs said...

The flowers are lovely, thanks for telling us how dangerous the berries are.

Jen Chandler said...

Hi Bob! I'm here thanks to the challenge. I love your theme. I'm doing plant posts too and my "N" post is on Nightshade too! Happy to find your blog! Enjoy the challenge :)
- Jen

Bish Denham said...

It's no wonder early settlers in the New World thought tomatoes were poisonous. Obliviously they're related. We have a wild flower here, the silver-leaf nightshade. The yellow to black berries were used by the Native Americans for making cheese, to treat a sore throat or toothache, and as a cure for poison ivy.

Susan A Eames said...

When I was young I remember being shown and warned about some Deadly Nightshade which was growing in a patch of rough ground very close to our house. It must have made an impact because I've never forgotten what the plant looks like.

Susan A Eames from
Travel, Fiction and Photos

Kristin said...

The blooms and berries do resemble tomato and potato blossoms. I'm glad those two aren't poison.
Finding Eliza

Jo said...

That would be a pain trying to collect blackberries all tangled up with deadly nightshade. Do the berries occur at the same time?

Abbie said...

I remember reading Belladona had a myth attached to it to --- something like it helps stir potions that assist in flying!

Sharon Himsl said...

Did not realize how deadly nightshade is and yet there are possible uses as well.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

Macros...what phun :)