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.
1 Bittersweet (Solanm Dulcamara, L.). 2. Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna, L.). 3. Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger, L.). 4. Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus, L.). 5. Creeping Toadflax (Linaria repens, Mill.). 6. Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris, Mill.).
This is a rambling, climbing plant, with a wavy stem, woody, and much branched, usually smooth, with egg-shaped, heart-shaped leaves.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Bittersweet (Solanum Dulcamara, L.)
The upper ones lance-shaped and spear-shaped, or clasping the stem. The stem is hollow and nearly round.
The flowers are borne in drooping cymes, which are opposite the leaves. The corolla is purple, with two rounded green spots below each petal, the mouth black. The flower-stalks are swollen at the base. The calyx is purple, and does not fall. The corolla is wheel-shaped, with 5 lance-shaped segments, and turned back. The berries, at first green, are red when ripe, egg-shaped, and poisonous.
The plant may reach a length or height of 20 ft., but is usually 3-6 ft. It flowers in June and July. It is a herbaceous perennial, reproduced by cuttings, and is worth cultivating.
There is no honey in the flower, and it is therefore but little visited by insects. Rhingia rostrata examines the two round, shining, green spots in a ring at the base, or in the middle, of the shiny violet corolla below each segment which serve as honey-guides, and then strokes the tips of the anthers with its labellae. The stamens are blackish-purple, inserted on the tube of the corolla. The anthers are yellow, and form a sub-conical tube round the pistil, with a pore at the end. The greenish knobs may be pierced and sucked by insects. The style is longer than the stamens, the stigma blunt and simple. The plant is visited by pollen-collecting Bombi and pollen-feeding Syrphidae.
The berry, containing many kidney-shaped, tapered seeds, is dispersed chiefly by falling ripe on the ground in winter, but occasionally is eaten by birds and man. The seeds are pitted and rough, white, cartilaginous.
Bittersweet is infested, like the potato, to which genus it belongs, with a fungus, Phytophthora infestans, potato disease. Several beetles infest it, Pria dulcamarae, Meligethes incanus, Crepidodera ventralis, Epitrix pubescens, Psylliodes affinis, P. dulcamarae; 2 moths, Gelechia costella, Acrolepia pygmaeana; and a Heteropterous insect, Cymus glandicolor.
Solanum, Pliny, is the Latin name for this or a similar plant. Dul-camara, Dodonaeus, is Latin for Bittersweet, which is so called because the bark is first bitter then sweet.
The following are some of the names by which Bittersweet is also known: Aw'f'ood, Belladonna, Blue Bindweed, Bittersweet, Deadly Nightshade, Dogwood, Dwale, Fellon-wood, Fellonwort, Mad Dog's Berries, Bittersweet Nightshade, Wood Nightshade, Poison-berry, Poison Flower, Poisonous Tea Plant, Pushion Berry, Robin-in-the-Hedge, Skaw-coo, Snake-berry, Snake's Poison-food, Sweet Bitter, Terrididdle or Terrydivle, Tether Devil. The name Fellonwort is explained by Coles thus: "The leaves or berries stamped with musty bacon, applyed to that joynt of the finger that is troubled with a felon, hath been found to be very sucessful for the curing of the same".
In mediaeval times it was used in witches' potions as charms and spells:
"And I ha been plucking plants among Hemlock, Henbane, Adder's Tongue, Nightshade, Moonwort, Hibbard's Bane; And twice by the dogs was like to be ta'en".
- Ben Jonson, Masque of Queens.
It was held to be a plant of ill omen, of which Gerarde says: "If you will follow my counsel, deal not with the same in any case, and banish it from your gardens, and the use of it also, being a plant so furious and deadly, for it bringeth such as have eaten thereof into a dead sleep, wherein many have died". When dried the shoots are used for skin diseases. The berries are poisonous, causing vomiting. The roots smell like the potato, but are bitter when chewed. The leaves have been used for scurvy and rheumatism.
Essential Specific Characters:223. Solanum Dulcamara, L. - Shrubby, woody, climbing, leaves cordate, upper hastate, flowers purple, with two green spots at the base of each segment, drooping, anthers yellow, united to form a cone, berries scarlet, poisonous.