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Horsenettle Solanum carolinense

Previously known as:

  • Solanum floridanum
  • Solanum godfreyi
Phonetic Spelling
so-LAN-num kair-oh-lin-EN-say
This plant has high severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Carolina horse nettle is a native warm-season perennial herb or subshrub that grows erect or sprawling and is spread by rhizomes and seeds. It can grow up to 4 feet tall and has prickles along the stems and leaves. The light violet or white star-shaped flowers appear in the summer and fall. Its fruits are green berries that look like very small tomatoes. As the fruit ripens, it turns yellow and appears wrinkled. The plant is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers. 

This plant is native to parts of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It is found in the central and southern United States usually in pastures, cultivated fields, disturbed sites, and along roadsides.  It is considered a noxious weed in several states.  

The genus name, Solanum, is from the Latin word, solamen, which means "comforting or soothing." The species name, carolinense, is Latin for "Carolina" where it was identified.

The Carolina horse nettle prefers full sun and is tolerant to wet and dry conditions. They can grow in sandy or loamy soils. They can easily become weedy and aggressive in disturbed sites.

The plant has very deep taproots and spreading rhizomes. The stems are prickly and open-branched. The leaves are dull green with wavy or coarsely lobed margins and are covered with star-shaped hairs. The flowers grow in clusters or cymes and may have 5 to 20 light violet or white star-shaped blooms. The fruit is a smooth green berry that will turn yellow and wrinkly when it matures. It ripens in the fall and may last through the winter months.

The plant is pollinated by bumblebees and insects. Quail and wild turkeys eat the fruits.

All parts of the Carolina horse nettle are poisonous to livestock and humans if ingested. Livestock may avoid eating the plant due to the prickles on the stems and leaves. The plant contains a toxin known as solanine and has the highest level in the fall. The berries are the most toxic when they are mature, but the leaves seem less toxic. 

Seasons of interest:

Bloom:  Summer and Fall        Fruits:   Fall and Winter

Quick ID Hints:

  • erect or sprawling perennial
  • prickly stems
  • leaves alternate, ovate, coarse lobed margins or wavy, star-shaped hairs
  • flower clusters of light violet to white star-shaped blooms with protruding yellow stamens in the center
  • smooth, glossy, green berry fruit that looks like a small green tomato and turns yellow when ripens

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  The Colorado potato beetle, eggplant flea beetle, and tobacco hornworms feed on this plant.  The Carolina horse nettle is a weed in gardens or field crops that have reduced tillage. The colonies of Carolina horse nettle are difficult to control and eliminate. They are resistant to some herbicides. Protective clothing and gloves should be worn when handling this plant because of the spines on the stems and leaves. 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#white flowers#purple flowers#weedy#NC native#spreading#poisonous fruits#rhizomes#spines#yellow fruits#prickly#green fruits#wildflower garden#subshrub#green leaves#taproot#problem for cats#problem for dogs#skin irritation#problem for children#problem for horses#poisonous to livestock#problem for cattle#poisonous if ingested#perennial#erect
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#white flowers#purple flowers#weedy#NC native#spreading#poisonous fruits#rhizomes#spines#yellow fruits#prickly#green fruits#wildflower garden#subshrub#green leaves#taproot#problem for cats#problem for dogs#skin irritation#problem for children#problem for horses#poisonous to livestock#problem for cattle#poisonous if ingested#perennial#erect
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Solanum
    Species:
    carolinense
    Family:
    Solanaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Carolina horse nettle was used by Native Americans and the early settlers. It was listed in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1936. It has been used for medicinal purposes such as treating poison ivy, epilepsy, asthma, bronchitis, and tetanus.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    East Canada to Northern Mexico and Haiti
    Distribution:
    Native: Canada--Ontario and Quebec; Haiti; Mexico--Northeast and Northwest; United States--AL, AZ, AR, CA, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, and WI; Introduced: CO, Primorye, Transcaucasus
    Wildlife Value:
    Bumblebees and insects are attracted to the flowers. The mature yellow fruits may be eaten by quail, wild turkey, and some small mammals.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Wildlife Food Source
    Edibility:
    All parts of this plant are poisonous to humans.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Poisonous
    Wildflower
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Spreading
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
    Appendage:
    Prickles
    Spines
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a, 10b, 10a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a round, green berry and becomes yellow and wrinkled when ripened. The berry is about 1/2 inches in diameter. Each berry contains many seeds. The fruits ripen in the fall and may persist through the winter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Purple/Lavender
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Solitary
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Star
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers may be solitary or occur in clusters. Each flower is star-shaped with five white to light violet petals. The petals curve downward, and there are protruding yellow stamens in the center.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Prickly
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblong
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Lobed
    Undulate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are alternate, oblong to ovate, and is covered on both sides with star-shaped hairs. The leaf measures 2 to 6 inches long, up to 3 inches wide, and is irregularly lobed. The leaf edges are frequently wavy. There is the odor of a potato when the leaves are crushed or bruised.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Zig Zags
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are green, upright, and may be branched or unbranched. They have sharp prickles and star-shaped hairs. The stem forms a zig-zag pattern. They are angled at the nodes and become woody with age. The petioles have yellow prickles.
  • Landscape:
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Children
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
    Spines/Thorns
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    High
    Poison Symptoms:
    Nausea, vomiting, salivation, drowsiness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, weakness, respiratory depression; coma, may be fatal.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Solanine alkaloid.
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Bark
    Flowers
    Fruits
    Leaves
    Roots
    Sap/Juice