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Solanum dulcamara

Phonetic Spelling
so-LAN-num dull-kah-MAH-rah
This plant has high severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Bittersweet nightshade is a perennial vine or scrambling shrub that is often found winding around the trunks of trees and shrubs in wetland areas or sprawling along the ground. It has small purple flowers during the summer and bright red berries ripen during the summer and fall. The leaves and stems have an unpleasant odor when bruised or crushed. This woody vine is poisonous, and care should be taken when handling this plant.  It is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, pepper, and eggplants.

The bittersweet nightshade is a native of Eurasia, but it has been introduced to many parts of the United States and Canada. It may be found in swamps, moist woods, edges of ponds, marshes, riverbanks, thickets, roadsides, and disturbed areas. The plant has been reported as an invasive species in parts of the United States including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. Control of small infestations may be managed by manual control; however, large infestations may require the use of herbicides.  

The genus name, Solanum, is from the Latin word solamen, which means "comforting or soothing." The species name, dulcamara, is derived from a word meaning "bittersweet." The common name, bittersweet nightshade, comes from the sweet and bitter taste of the leaves and roots. The common name, felonwood or felonwort, is derived from its use as medicine for treating "felons."  A felon is an abscess of the soft tissue on the finger or toenail. Bittersweet nightshade has many other common names. 

Bittersweet nightshade prefers full sun to partial shade and moist, loamy soil. It can spread rapidly through rhizomes and prefers disturbed areas. Birds also disperse their seeds.

The stems of the vine are many-branched, smooth, and purple to greenish-brown. The leaves are dark green, ovate, and frequently have basal lobes. The flowers bloom in clusters, and each flower has five purple petals and a prominent column of yellow stamens. The fruit is a shiny red berry when ripened.

The flowers attract bumblebees and insects. The fruits are eaten by birds and some mammals. The vine provides a nesting site and protective covering for birds and other animals.

All parts of the bittersweet nightshade are toxic to humans, pets, and livestock. If ingested, symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may occur. It is best practice to wear protective clothing and gloves when handling this plant because contact may result in skin irritation or dermatitis. 

Seasons of interest:

Bloom:  Summer         Fruits: Summer and Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • low climbing, scrambling, sprawling semi-woody vine that climbs on adjacent vegetation
  • stems are erect, young stems are purple and become greenish-brown
  • woody lower stems, hollow pith, no tendrils
  • leaves a dark green upper surface, ovate with basal lobes
  • leaves and stems have an unpleasant odor when crushed or bruised
  • clusters of flowers, each flower star-shaped, purple petals that curve backward with protruding yellow column of stamens
  • small green berries that ripen to a shiny red

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: Bittersweet nightshade may be susceptible to aphids, flea beetles, potato beetles, and thrips. 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#deciduous#poisonous#shrub#purple flowers#weedy#vines#climbing vines#woody vine#red fruits#disturbed areas#naturalized area#problem for cats#problem for dogs#skin irritation#problem for children#problem for horses#perennial vines#poisonous if ingested
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#deciduous#poisonous#shrub#purple flowers#weedy#vines#climbing vines#woody vine#red fruits#disturbed areas#naturalized area#problem for cats#problem for dogs#skin irritation#problem for children#problem for horses#perennial vines#poisonous if ingested
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Solanum
    Species:
    dulcamara
    Family:
    Solanaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The plant was used as a medicine and was listed in the British Pharmacopeia until 1907. The bark of the roots, twigs, and leaves was used to make medicines. An ointment was prepared to treat skin diseases, warts, tumors, and felons. Other uses included diuresis, treatment for a weak heart, and induce vomiting.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Azores, temperate Eurasia to North Indo-China, Northwest Africa
    Distribution:
    Native: Afghanistan, Algeria, Austria, Azores, Baltic States, Belgium, Bulgaria, Central European Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungry, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lebanon-Syria, Manchuria, Mongolia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tibet, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia; Introduced: United States--CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN IA, KS, KY, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD, TN, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY; Canada--British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan; Brazil, Tasmania;
    Wildlife Value:
    The berries are eaten by some birds and mammals. The flowers are attractive to bumblebees. The plant provides shelter and nesting for wildlife.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Nesting
    Climbing Method:
    Scrambler
    Edibility:
    The plant is toxic, especially the leaves and berries, and is non-edible.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 2 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 8 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Poisonous
    Shrub
    Vine
    Weed
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Climbing
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Long-lasting
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruits are clusters of green berries that ripen to a bright shiny red. They are oval and measure 3/8 to 1/2 inches in diameter. They ripen during the summer and fall. The berries contain many tiny yellow seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Purple/Lavender
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Long Bloom Season
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Star
    Tubular
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers appear in clusters. Each flower measures 3/4 inches in diameter. It has five bright purple petals that curve backward and has a protruding yellow column of stamens in the center of the bloom. Occasionally, the flower petals are white.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Lobed
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are alternate, simple, and have entire margins. Each leaf is ovate frequently has basal lobes. The leaf color is dark green on the upper surface and is light green beneath. The leaf surface is smooth to sparsely hairy. The leaf measures 1.25 to 4 inches long and is 0.75 to 2.5 inches wide. When the leaves are bruised or crushed, they have an unpleasant odor.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Surface/Attachment:
    Lenticels
    Bark Description:
    The bark is light brown, thin, and has lenticels.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are many-branched and may be smooth to sparsely hairy. The young stems are purple and then turn greenish-brown and do not have tendrils. The lower stems are woody. The stems are stiff, erect, and climbing with a hollow pith and single bundle scar. When the stems are crushed or bruised, they have an unpleasant odor.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Pond
    Vertical Spaces
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Songbirds
    Problems:
    Contact Dermatitis
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Children
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    High
    Poison Symptoms:
    HIGHLY TOXIC, MAY BE FATAL IF EATEN! Nausea, vomiting, salivation, drowsiness, abdominal pain, low blood pressure, low heart rate, diarrhea, dilated pupils, weakness, respiratory depression; may be fatal to humans, pets, and livestock.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Solanine and other alkaloids
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Bark
    Flowers
    Fruits
    Leaves
    Roots
    Sap/Juice
    Seeds
    Stems