Nightshade Vine

2016 October 29

This vine was growing across the boardwalk at the Pilgrim River Preserve on June 6, 2016.


It had fairly distinctive leaves, with two elongated lobes at the base.


The blossoms were bright purple, with yellow centers.


This was way too early in the year for it to have fruit yet, but we can see here that the fruits were going to be approximately egg-shaped.


So anyway, this one turns out to be appropriate for Halloween. It is one of the Nightshades, specifically Bittersweet Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara. These are notorious for being a bright red, attractive fruit that apparently taste good enough that children sometimes eat enough of them to be dangerous (the berries contain solanine, that can produce convulsions and death)[1]. The berries resemble very tiny cherry tomatoes, for the excellent reason that nightshades are fairly closely related to tomatoes (along with a whole bunch of other cultivated foods like potatoes, eggplants, and peppers). It is kind of weird that the closest relatives of some of our most important food crops are dangerously toxic, but I guess that’s the way things go. Still, it is easy to understand why some people thought of tomatoes as dangerously toxic, given that they are so similar to the certainly-toxic nightshades.

As it turns out, Bittersweet Nightshade is not a native plant. It is yet another invasive from Eurasia, that grows well in “rich, wet soils”. And the mouth of the Pilgrim River is certainly that.

[1] This one isn’t the really toxic Deadly Nightshade, Atropa belladonna, which contains a whole slew of dangerous alkaloids that cause “bizarre delirium and hallucinations” to go along with the “convulsions and death” effects.

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