This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This is one of those southern plants which rarely appear in the deposits containing seeds of ancient plants. The present range of Deadly Nightshade in the N. Temperate Zone is south of Denmark in Europe, N. Africa, and it is introduced in North America. In Great Britain it occurs in S. Wilts, Hants, W. Sussex; in the Thames province, except in Essex; Anglia, except in E. Suffolk, Norfolk, Hunts; in the Severn province, except in Worcester, Salop, Flint, West Lancs; in the Humber province, except in S.E. Yorks; in the Tyne province, except in Westmorland. It is probably indigenous on chalk and limestone, being often naturalized near ruins, from Westmorland to the south coast. In Scotland it is found near houses. It is native in Ireland and the Channel Islands, in so far as it can be called native anywhere.
The habitat of this plant is undoubtedly artificial in the majority of cases, e.g. in quarries, along railway banks, etc. Watson says: This plant possibly may be indigenous in some of the chalk or limestone districts. The roots are long lasting, and the seedling plants spring up freely in gardens; peculiarities which tend to establish the plant in localities to which it may originally have been carried by human hands. The localities on record for it afford not a few instances in illustration of the delusive manner in which superficial botanists have endeavoured to palm off the artificial as if genuinely indigenous localities."
The stems are herbaceous, stout, numerous, branched, often purple, glandular above. The leaves are stalked, egg-shaped, entire, smooth, and veined. There is a smaller leaf below each leaf, due possibly to displacement, the leaf-stalk being united below with following shoots as though arising from it.
The flower-stalks are axillary, and the flowers are drooping, bell-shaped, dingy-purple, clammy, glossy, and veined. The berry is black, velvety, round, sweet, bilocular, with brown seeds.
The Deadly Nightshade is 3-5 ft. high. It flowers in June and July. It is perennial, increased by division of the root.
The flower is bell-shaped, drooping, monopetalous, tubular, enlarged below, spreading above, with a short tube. There are 5 anther-stalks, bent below the anthers, 2 shorter, thicker at the base, hairy, bent inwards at the top, and as long as the tube. The anthers are large and yellow, with slits, and double. The anther-stalks lengthen after the anthers are ripe. The pistil is grooved both sides with a honey-gland at the base. The stigma ripens first, and projects beyond the anthers. The style is thread-like, longer than the stamens, inclined downwards; the stigma is pin-headed, two-lipped, green. The plant is adapted for cross-pollination by medium-sized humble bees, bees visiting it and also Thrips. Honey is secreted at the base of the ovary, and protected by stiff hairs on the stamens.
Photo. J. H. Crabtree - Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna, L.)
The fruit is a 2-lobed berry, which falls around the parent plant, or is dispersed by animals, birds, or man.
Deadly Nightshade is largely a sand plant living on a sand soil, or may be found on chalk.
A beetle, Crepidodera atropae, feeds upon it, and a moth, the Dotted Clay (Agrotis baja).
Atropa, Linnaeus, is from the Greek Alropos, one of the Fates who cut the thread of life, in reference to its deadly poisonous nature; and Belladonna, Mathiolus, means beautiful lady.
It is called Banewort, Belladonna, Naughty Man's Cherry, Daft-berries, Deadly Nightshade, Death's-herb, Dwale, Deadly Dwale, Dway-berries, Jacob's Ladder, Mad, Manicon, Mekilwort, Great Morel, Sleeping Nightshade. It is called Daft-berries because the berries cause giddiness, and Dwale.
"The frere with his fisik, this folk hath enchaunted, And doth men drink dwale that men dredeth no synne".
- Piers Plowman.
Dwale means opiate, that which dulls. Manicon is so referred to in Hudibras:
"Bewitch Hermetic men to run Stark staring mad with manicon".
It used to be called Solanum somniferum, or Sleeping Nightshade.
In Bohemia they superstitiously believe it a plant of the devil, who watches it, but may be drawn from it on Walpurgis Night by letting loose a black hen, after which he will run. In Italy it was used by women to give lustre to the eyes. The berries are sweet and poisonous. The leaves are dried and used as a drug. It is an anodyne for neuralgia, and enlarges the pupil of the eye, and is used for ophthalmic complaints. There is a legend that the berries of Dwale were mixed with the wine of the Danes who came with Sweno, by the Scotch when they held a truce, and that the latter afterwards fell on the Danes. The plant is narcotic. Goats feed on it.
Essential Specific Characters:224. Atropa Belladonna, L. - Stem stout, branched, leaves ovate, flowers purple, campanulate, drooping, axillary, on short peduncles, berries black, poisonous.