Confusing woody nightshade with deadly nightshade
I thought I knew what deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna, looks like, but it appears I was wrong!
Woody nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, is what I was thinking of, but it is nothing like it – much more spindly and obviously from the Solanum family.
Atropa is a substantial plant
I saw my first deadly nightshade in flower mid-May in a recently cleared wooded area on chalk near the sea. It was a large clump which I at first mistook for a planted shrub as it was so large and neat in form. It was about a metre high and the purple flowers were about 2 to 3 cm long.
Don’t touch any part of this plant, it is poisonous!
Woody nightshade and its relatives are familiar to gardeners
Plants of the solanaceae family are well known to gardeners – the flowers of potatoes and tomatoes are similar. I once had a climbing solanum plant on my patio. I even grew an edible berry called Wonderberry from the same family, but it wasn’t very tasty! I was also put off by the possibility of getting seedlings mixed up with poisonous weeds.
Seaside subspecies of Woody nightshade – Solanum dulcamara
Woody nightshade is also known as Bittersweet and tends to grow in woodland areas, like the one pictured above. However there is a seaside subspecies which grows at Rye Harbour nature reserve in Sussex, where it is found in shingle. The variety is marinum.
Blog posts mentioning Deadly nightshade – Atropa belladonna are tagged nightshade along with Woody nightshade and other solanaceae. The tags Atropa and Solanum will also work.
Related species Henbane – Hyoscyamus niger has its own page.