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The Dark Arts of Deadly Nightshade

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Halloween may be over for another year but there is still something dark and dangerous to be found hiding in hedgerows, woodlands and even your own garden! There has been a lot of hype in the last couple of years about the increase in Deadly Nightshade growing in the UK. I too have noticed that there does seem to be a lot of nightshade around lately… But is it the deadly sort?…

The Nightshade family is highly complex and includes edibles such as tomatoes, chillies and potatoes but it also includes other less palatable varieties that can be harmful and in some cases fatal.

The confusion however arises over what is Deadly Nightshade and what is just Nightshade – harmful but not as bad as the deadly variety.


Chances are if you have Nightshade growing in your garden it will more than likely be the Black or Woody variety as the Deadly variety is fairly rare however all varieties should be treated with caution.

Here’s a guide to the different varieties it is by no means exhaustive so if in doubt pull it up and get rid of it…


Atropa belladonna – Deadly Nightshade

SONY DSCatropa_belladonna2 1060lg

This is the one that scares everyone and rightly so as just eating as little as two of the shiny black berries or a leaf can be fatal!

What makes it worse is that the berries actually taste sweet and therefore tend to be ingested and not spat out making this a very dangerous plant for young children to be near.

The flowers of the true Deadly Nightshade are BELL SHAPED and a very DULL MAUVE BROWN and extremely different to the other varieties.

The fruit is green in summer and turns SHINY BLACK in early autumn and are borne SINGULARLY on the branches.


Solanum nigrum – Black Nightshade


This is a far more common variety and again very easy to identify. While ingestion should be taken very seriously, it isn’t as toxic as the Deadly Nightshade variety. The unripe berries are much more toxic than the ripe ones. There are actually edible strains of this variety and toxicity seems to vary with growing conditions making this plant highly complex.

The flowers of the Black Nightshade are WHITE with yellow anthers so completely different from Deadly Nightshade. The other difference is that the fruit is a DULL BLUEISH BLACK and is found growing in BUNCHES not singularly.


Solanum dulcamara – Woody Nightshade


Another common variety and often found in gardens. This again is very easy to distinguish from the other varieties. It has BRIGHT PURPLE star shaped flowers with yellow anthers and the OVAL fruit is RED when ripe with the smell and look of a tiny tomato and is actually a climbing vine if given the chance. Again this variety isn’t as toxic as the Deadly Nightshade with its unripe berries being the most toxic part.

If you see any of these varieties in your garden and are nervous about them – pull them up making sure you are wearing gloves and pop them straight in the garden refuse waste bin. Although the more common varieties don’t pose a significant health risk if birds eat the fruit which some do they will disperse the seeds all over your garden making it a real weed problem!

Hopefully this post has lessened any fear and mystery surrounding this dark and sinister plant and armed you with a little bit of confidence… There are so many poisonous plants in our gardens… the list would scare you but they are really nothing to worry about and rarely cause any problems.

Oh and one last thing, you may have noticed the flowers of the two Solanum varieties are very similar to another two Solanums the lovely climbers Solanum Crispum and Solanum jasminoides grown for years up many an arch and pergola (and also poisonous by the way).


Please feel free to submit any questions about Nightshade in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them.


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