Pretty but Deadly: Bittersweet Nightshade

A while back, one of my facebook friends posted a picture asking for someone to identify a plant. Not able to resist a species identification challenge, I found out that it was called “Bittersweet Nightshade” and as it turns out, I had it in my yard too. (Until I found out what it was, and ripped it out rather quickly.)

This brings us to: Species of the Week


Bittersweet nightshade flowers

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) (a.k.a. Climbing nightshade)

This vine, an invasive distant relative of the potato, will climb around your fences, mingle with your other plants, and shoot out pretty little purple and yellow flowers. (I also see them all over urban greenspaces.) This isn’t the best photo, as my particular plant was duller than most I have seen.  The vibrant purple star-shaped petals complement the bright yellow stamens nicely in most plants. See someone else’s better photo here. 

Bittersweet nightshade’s 5-pointed, star-shaped violet flowers appear in branched clusters. The centres are composed of five bright yellow stamens which come to a point. Once you get to fall, Bittersweet nightshade will give you a stunning rainbow display of berries. They all appear to change colour (graduating from green to red) at a different rate, resulting in a variety of colours on just one twig. My husband took this photo years ago because it was so stunningly colourful. Now we know what it was.


Bittersweet nightshade berries


In my experience, the leaves of these plants are nearly always riddled with insect holes. I haven’t yet been able to pin down the particular guilty insect party though.

There appears to be some debate about the level of toxicity of these plants. They are known to be toxic to livestock, and there are reports of children being poisoned. Some websites list them as fatal if eaten. Bittersweet nightshade is listed as a noxious weed in Ontario, is not native, and is considered invasive. As an interesting note, according to one website, it was intentionally introduced and cultivated as a treatment for scurvy and rheumatism.

That said, as neither scurvy nor rheumatism are problems in our household, and “putting stuff in our mouths that shouldn’t be there” is a much more common issue, we decided to take out the plant rather quickly.




Posted on August 26, 2013, in Species of the week, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you for that posting, it seems we have them in our back yard too, scuse me I have to go get the shovel!


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