The Great Nightshade Confusion

Bittersweet Nightshade

I recently discovered that what I have been identifying as ‘Deadly Nightshade’ since childhood is actually ‘Bittersweet Nightshade’ or ‘Woody Nightshade’ (Solanum dulcamara). I can see where the mistake could be made in terms of similarities in their foliage but both the flowers and berries are completely different. Deadly Nightshade’s Latin name is Atropa belladonna.

I know this might not seem like a big deal to some, but the plant I now know to be ‘Bittersweet Nightshade’ grows fairly rampant in these parts and growing up we were consistently warned against eating the tantalizing berries. Everyone I know has referred to it as ‘Deadly Nightshade‘ for as long as I can remember!

Further proof that common names can lead to confusion. While it might seem too chi-chi or difficult, it really does help to learn the botanical name too. And if you’re extra geeky you can look into the Latin and find out what the name says about the plant. I purchased “Gardener’s Latin” by Bill Neal a few months back and it has proven to be a really terrific and easy-to-follow beginner’s guide to understanding botanical names. Unfortunately, the book disappointedly omits ‘solanum’, a popular genus, but did include ‘dulcamara’ which you can probably guess translates to ‘bittersweet.’ However, if you’ve been reading this far and are interested, according to

…Solanum is derived from Solor (I ease), and testifies to the medicinal power of this group of plants.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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