This, is as its name suggests is a deadly plant, but thankfully unlikely to be mistaken for any edible plants by adults. Its strange flowers hint at an exotic nature, but this a native plant. It can be eaten by cows, rabbits, and some birds, but all parts are poisonous to humans, containing as they do, the alkaloid atropine. The main hazard is the black, almost cherry like berries that can be attractive to young children.
It is a perennial and has a shrubby habit, growing up to 2m tall. It prefers calcareous soils in open woodland, field margins and hedgerows, but has been planted extensively outside of its preferred habitat.
|Deadly Nightshade, Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna
The leaves are 5-15cm long staggered along the length of the stems. Oval with pointed ends and asymmetric lobes.
The flowers are a reddish-brown colour with green veins, bell-shaped, and up to 5cm in length. They are usually single and held out away from the plant.
The structure of the fruit, with multiple small seeds in a pulp is very similar to the tomato, to which it is closely related.
It prefers calcareous soils in open woodland, field margins and hedgerows, but has been planted extensively outside of its preferred habitat.
Despite its deadly nature, Deadly Nightshade has been used for medicine since ancient times, even being grown as a crop in the 20th century. The name Belladonna specifically refers to how juice from the berries was used to put into ladies’ eyes, to make the pupils dilate and therefore make them seem more attractive. This property is still utilised by eye surgeons in modern medicine, using a highly refined extract. Despite its use over the years, there have never been any substantiated, safe applications for casual use of Deadly Nightshade – to the contrary, there can be many dangerous side effects and risk of death, due to misuse.
Thought to be the plant of Satan, anyone who stole its fruit was punished by poisoning!