Common Nightshade

Solanum americanum

Common Nightshade

Common nightshade, photographed at Atlantic Dunes Park, Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, in May 2021.

It occurred to us that the best way to describe common nightshade's flower is that it looks like a peeled banana, upside down, and with the colors in reverse.

Common nightshade, Solanum americanum, is a Florida native found in 60 of the state's 67 counties. The exceptions are in the northern end of the state. It's one of 16 members of the Solanum genus found in South Florida.

Beyond Florida, it's native to most of the southeastern United States, west to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and up the Pacific Coast. It's also found in Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America. It's an introduced weed in Manitoba and British Colombia.

At least one source says it's native to parts of Australia, where it's known as glossy nightshade. It's also considered an invasive in other parts of that country. Another says it's native to Hawaii, or at least a very early import.

Common nightshade is an herb that can grow to about four feet tall, with dark green, leaves that can be oval shaped or triangular. The leaves also can have hairs on the underside.

The flowers are small, with white petals that form a star shape, and surround prominent yellow anthers. The petals arch away from the anthers, looking very much, as we said before, like a peeled banana. It blooms in summer and into late fall, producing small green berries that turn red and then black when fully ripe.

Nightshade just says poison. And some members of the genus are among the deadliest plants on the planet. Common nightshade is no exception. Then again, maybe it is an exception.

Or maybe there are other factors involved that limit or heighten its toxicity. Experts generally agree on one thing, that eating the green berries can be a fatal error. Our rule is if you're unsure, leave it alone.

A close relative, solanum nigrum is widely used in traditional medicine, particularly in China. Our guy, not so much.

It is a member of Solanaceae, a family that includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplant. Other common names: American black nightshade, American nightshade, black nightshade, garden nightshade, glossy nightshade, nightshade, small-flowered nightshade, small-flowered white nightshade and, the strangest of all, apple of Sodom.

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.