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Nightshade Family

( Originally Published 1922 )



Nightshade; Blue Bindweed; Felonwort; Bittersweet; Scarlet or Snake Berry; Poison-Rower; Woody Night-shade

Solanum Dulcamara

Flowers—Blue, purple, or, rarely, white with greenish spots on each lobe; about 1/2 in. broad, clustered in slender, drooping cymes. Calyx 5-lobed, oblong, persistent on the berry; corolla deeply, sharply 5-cleft, wheel-shaped, or points curved backward; 5 stamens inserted on throat, yellow, protruding, the anthers united to form a cone; stigma small. Stem: Climbing or straggling, woody below, branched, 2 to 8 ft. long. Leaves: Alternate, 2 to 4 in. long, 1 to 21 in. wide, pointed at the apex, usually heart-shaped at base; some with 2 distinct leaflets below on the petiole, others have leaflets united with leaf like lower lobes or wings. Fruit: A bright red, oval berry.

Preferred Halritat—Moist thickets, fence rows.

Flowering Season—May-September. Distribution—United States east of Kansas, north of New Jersey. Canada, Europe, and Asia.

More beautiful than the graceful flowers are the drooping cymes of bright berries, turning from green to yellow, then to orange and scarlet, in the tangled thicket by the shady roadside in autumn, when the unpretending, shrubby vine, that has crowded its way through the rank midsummer vegetation, becomes a joy to the eye. Another bittersweet, so-called, festoons the hedgerows with yellow berries which, bursting, show their scarlet-coated seeds. Rose hips and mountain-ash berries, among many other conspicuous bits of color, arrest attention, but not for us were they designed. Now the birds are migrating, and, hungry with their long flight, they gladly stop to feed upon fare so attractive. Hard, indigestible seeds traverse the alimentary canal without alteration and are deposited many miles from the parent that bore them. Nature's methods for widely distributing plants cannot but stir the dullest imagination.

Jamestown Weed; Thorn Apple; Stramonium; Jimson Weed; Devil's Trumpet Datura Stramonium

Flowers—Showy, large, about 4 in. high, solitary, erect, growing from the forks of branches. Calyx tubular, nearly half as long as the corolla, 5-toothed, prismatic; corolla funnel-form, deep-throated, the spreading limb 2 in. across or less, plaited, 5-pointed; stamens 5; 1 pistil. Stem: Stout, branching, smooth, 1 to 5 ft. high. Leaves: Alternate, large, rather thin, petioled, egg-shaped in outline, the edges irregularly wavy-toothed or angled; rank-scented. Fruit: A densely prickly, egg-shaped capsule, the lower prickles smallest. The seeds and stems contain a powerful narcotic poison.

Preferred Habitat—Light soil, fields, waste land near dwellings, rubbish heaps.

Flowering Season—June—September.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico, west-ward beyond the Mississippi.

When we consider that there are more than five million Gypsies wandering about the globe, and that the narcotic seeds of the Thorn Apple, which apparently heal, as well as poison, have been a favorite medicine of theirs for ages, we can understand at least one means of the weed reaching these shores from tropical Asia. (Hindoo, dhatura.) Our Indians, who call it "white man's plant," associate it with the Jamestown settlement---a plausible connection, for Raleigh's colonists would have been likely to carry with them to the New World the seeds of an herb yielding an alkaloid more esteemed in the England of their day than the alkaloid of opium known as morphine. Daturina, the narcotic, and another product, known in medicine as stramonium, smoked by asthmatics, are by no means despised by up-to-date practitioners. Were it not for the rank odor of its leaves, the vigorous weed, coarse as it is, would be welcome in men's gardens. In-deed, many of its similar relatives adorn them. The fragrant petunia and tobacco plants of the flower beds, the potato, tomato, and egg-plant in the kitchen garden, call it cousin.



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