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 woodland wild flower is found in the North Temperate Zone in Europe, N. Africa, Siberia, Western Asia as far east as the Himalayas, and in temperate America, and there are no earlier records. In Great Britain it is general in the Peninsula, Channel, Thames, Anglia, and Severn provinces; and in S. Wales generally except in Radnor and Carmarthen; in N. Wales generally except in Montgomery and Merioneth; in the Trent province everywhere except in S. Lincs, throughout the Mersey, Humber, Tyne, and Lakes provinces. It is common in the West Lowlands and in E. Lowlands, except in Peebles, Selkirk, and Linlithgow; in the E. Highlands, except in Stirling, Banff, and Elgin; in the West Highlands, except in Mid Ebudes; and in the N. Highlands, except in E. Sutherland. In Yorkshire it ascends to 1200 ft.
Enchanter's Nightshade is a familiar denizen of woods and copses, preferring the dark depths of shade beneath the outspreading branches of woodland trees, or else the comparative light diffused in the rides which intersect a wood, where it grows amid the wet herbage which grows rank and rife, untouched by browsing animals or the scythe. Occasionally it turns up in the garden or on waste ground.
This plant has a characteristic habit, the central stem being nearly or suberect, with wide-spreading nearly patent branches, i.e. almost at right angles. It is purple in colour and downy. The leaves are egg-shaped at the base to heart-shaped, on long, nearly round or sub-rotund leaf-stalks, glandular, pale green underneath, and alternate.
Photo. Messrs. Flatters & Garnett - Enchanter's Nightshade (circcea Lutetiana, L.)
The small flowers are white in terminal loose racemes, with a hairy calyx, and petals equalling them in length, blunt, with a median point and spreading. The stigma is bright red. The ovary is inferior or below the perianth. The fruit or capsule is pear-shaped, persistent, with hooked bristles, borne on flower-stalks turned back when ripe.
The Enchanter's Nightshade is about 1 foot in height usually. Flowers are in bloom from June to August. The plant is perennial, and reproduces by division.
The flowers are small and contain honey. There are only two stamens. The Enchanter's Nightshade is pollinated very much in the same way as Veronica Chamcedrys. A single style projects, with the stamens spreading away from the centre of the corolla, which is erect. Together they form with the stamens a platform by which insects may reach the abundant honey secreted by the fleshy ring surrounding the style. The latter stands lower than the stamens, slightly forward, and forms a resting-place. When an insect settles it touches the stigmatic knobs at the end with its abdomen. It stretches across the stamens, and grasps the anthers, which are at first distant but are drawn down, so that the insect's fore feet are dusted by the pollen from them. If the insect alights on one of the stamens as it bends down, it grasps the base of the stamen and style at their base with its fore feet, and if the style touches the ventral surface with the stigma it touches the side opposite that which the anther touches at the same time. Thus the plant is cross-pollinated if the insect has come from another flower.
The flowers wither rapidly, unless self-pollination follows in the absence of insects, as it may do when the stamens bend over and touch the stigma. The plant is visited by Baccha elongata, Ascia podagrica, Melanostoma mellina, Anthomvia, and other Muscidae and Syrphidae, as well as by Musca domestica.
The single-seeded fruits catch in the coats of animals or passers-by, and are thus dispersed.
Enchanter's Nightshade is a humus-loving plant requiring an ordinary humus soil, such as that to be found in a wood, or under a hedgebank, or in a shrubbery.
The two fungi Melampsora circcece and Puccinia circcece attack it. The beetles Graptidera oleracea, Psylliodes chalcomera, the Hymen-opterous insect Tenthredo colon, the Lepidoptera, Elephant Hawk Moth, Chcerocampa elpenor, Asychna terminella, Anybia langiella, and the Hemipterous insect Metatropis rufescens feed upon Enchanter's Nightshade in some shape or form.
Circcea, Dioscorides, is from Circe, the enchantress, who from her knowledge of herbs would procure love, and Lutetiana from Paris, Lutetia being the old name for it.
The plant is called Mandrake, Bindweed, Enchanter's Nightshade.
Of the name Enchanter's Nightshade, Gerarde says: "The error of some who have taken Mandragoras for Circaea, in which error they have still persisted unto this daie, attributing unto Circaea the virtues of Mandragora . . . ".
Essential Specific Characters: 120. Circcea Lutetiana, L. - Stem erect, branched, downy, leaves ovate, acute, dentate, flowers white, in a raceme, calyx 2-cleft, hairy, stamens pink, fruit with hooked bristles.