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Solanaceae: Nightshade Family Plant Identification Characteristics.

Solanaceae
Plants of the Nightshade Family

      Stop and study the next tomato, potato or pepper flower you come across and you will quickly learn the Nightshade family. These are herbs with alternate leaves and colorless juice. They have solitary, bisexual, regular flowers with 5 (rarely 3, 4 or 6) separate or united sepals and 5 united petals. There are 5 stamens inserted on the tube. The ovary is positioned superior. It consists of 2 united carpels with the partition walls often present, but more obvious in wild species than domestics. Cut across a maturing berry (like the tomato) or a capsule (like a Petunia) and you will usually see the two chambers inside.

      Worldwide, there are 85 genera and 2,300 species, including many of our favorite foods. Thirteen genera are native to North America. The tomato is the genus Lycopersicon. Bell peppers, chili peppers, jalapeno peppers, paprika and tabasco all come from the Capsicum genus. Physalis is the tomatillo. Solanum includes the potato and eggplant. Belladonna is Atropa, while the petunia flower is from the genus Petunia. The genus Nicotiana gives us tobacco.

      Chemically, the pattern of this family is alkaloids and lots of them. Many species of this family are narcotic. A narcotic is any alkaloid that depresses the central nervous system; they are toxic in excess. They are used especially for their analgesic properties. An analgesic numbs the body's sense of pain, like opium or morphine. For similar reasons, a few of these species are useful as sedatives. Some depressants can cause hallucinations, including Atropa, Datura, Hyoscyamus and Mandragora. Our European heritage of witches flying on broomsticks comes from these hallucinogenic plants. An ointment containing Atropa and Hyosyamus was rubbed on the broomstick then absorbed through the vaginal tissues by "riding" the broom. The "witches" then experienced "flying". It should be noted that these plants are all extremely poisonous, with a toxicity that varies from plant to plant. Many individuals have died while attempting to hallucinate. Symptoms of poisoning include an unquenchable thirst, dilation of the pupils, delirium, hallucinations, convulsions and coma.

      Today the alkaloid scopolamine is used medicinally to treat seasickness or vertigo. Soldiers in the Persian Gulf War carried the alkaloid atropine with them as a treatment for nerve gas attacks (Duke). The juice of Atropa was used by Italian ladies as eye drops to dilate the pupils, hence the common name belladonna, meaning "fair-lady" (Klein). Plants with parts that are free of alkaloids are often our food plants.

Key Words: Alternate leaves. Flower parts in fives with united petals and a two-celled ovary.

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Solanum dulcamara. Nighshade.

Solanum dulcamara. Nighshade. Nightshade is an introduced weed.

Solanum dulcamara. Nighshade.

Solanum dulcamara. Nighshade.

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany in a Day
Solanum rostratum. Buffalo Bur.

Solanum rostratum. Buffalo Bur. Silver Star, Montana.

Hyoscyamus niger. Henbane.

Hyoscyamus niger. Henbane.

Hyoscyamus niger. Henbane.

Hyoscyamus niger. Henbane. Henbane is an introduced plant from Eurasia with powerful narcotic properties. During World War II my grandmother helped collect henbane as a pain-killing medicine for the war effort.

Lycium pallidum. Pale Wolfberry.

Lycium pallidum. Pale Wolfberry.

Lycium pallidum. Pale Wolfberry.

Lycium pallidum. Pale Wolfberry. Fort Bowie National Historic Monument, Arizona.

Lycium sp. Wolfberry.

Lycium sp. Wolfberry.

Lycium sp. Wolfberry.

Lycium sp. Wolfberry. Verde River. Arizona.

Chamaesaracha sordida. Velvet five-eyes.

Chamaesaracha sordida. Velvet five-eyes. Fort Bowie National Historic Monument, Arizona.

Datura wrightii. Jimson Weed.

Datura wrightii. Jimson Weed. Zion National Park, Utah.

Peruvian Groundcherry: Physalis peruviana.

Peruvian Groundcherry: Physalis peruviana. Peruvian Groundcherry is native to South America, but widely cultivated and often naturalized in temperate climates around the world. Photographed in New Zealand.

Peruvian Groundcherry: Physalis peruviana.

Peruvian Groundcherry: Physalis peruviana. Unlike many Nighshade family fruits, these tomato-like berries are edible and tastey.

Large-flowered Kangaroo Apple: Solanum laciniatum.

Large-flowered Kangaroo Apple: Solanum laciniatum.
Nightshade Family

Large-flowered Kangaroo Apple: Solanum laciniatum.

Large-flowered Kangaroo Apple: Solanum laciniatum. Kangaroo apple is native to New Zealand and Australia, and cultivated elsewhere.

There are more
Nightshade Family pictures
at PlantSystematics.org.

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Check out Botany in a Day

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Books
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Thomas J. Elpel
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, andthe Blossoming of Human Spirit
Roadmap
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Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Living
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Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
Participating
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids
Shanleya's
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