A small family of herbs, some of them very valuable, having colorless juices, alternating leaves and regular five-parted flowers, usually with five stamens and a short pistil.
Bittersweet; Nightshade (Solanum Dulcamara) (European), although an immigrant, is quite common in the eastern half of our country. It chooses for its habitat, moist thickets or the edges of ponds where there are plenty of shrubs to help support it, for this species has weak stems with climbing tendencies.
It is a species that often attracts the attention of the casual passerby because of the beauty and quaint forms of its flowers and leaves. It grows from 2 to 8 feet tall and throws out numerous, long branches that climb and sprawl over the surrounding vegetation. The dark green leaves are variable in form; some are lobed, others have small lateral leaflets and still others have another pair of still smaller leaflets on the leaf stem. The flowers hang in loose clusters on long peduncles from the axils of the leaves; they have five, reflexed, purple petals and a yellow, conical center formed by the stamens. The berries that succeed the flowers are first green, then turn yellow and ultimately a deep ruby-red. This species blooms from June until September and, like most plants with a long period of bloom, we may often find flowers and berries in all stages of color at the same time.
B. Black Henbane.
Black Nightshade (Solanum Nigrum) is a native species with a smooth, erect, branching stem 1 to 2 feet high. The long-stemmed ovate leaves have a wavy-lobed edge. The five-parted white flowers grow in few-flowered clusters from the leaf axils, the round berries are black when fully ripe, and are quite poisonous. This species is found throughout our range, frequenting waste ground.
Purple Thorn Apple, Datura tatula.
Purple Thorn Apple (Datura Tatula) is a large, ill-scented, rank-growing weed with a stout, smooth stem from 1 to 5 feet high. The long-stemmed leaves have very irregular, coarsely toothed outlines. The lavender-colored, trumpet-shaped flowers are about four inches long. The flaring corolla has five broad sharply pointed lobes and is seated in a light green, five-parted calyx about half its length. Usually the color of the corolla is more intense on the lobes and often shades to white towards the base of the tube. After flowering, a large green, fruit-capsule about two inches long appears; it is ovoid in shape and armed with stout prickles. The entire plant has poisonous juices, because of which and the unpleasant odor, farmers usually try to suppress it on their premises. It grows in waste ground, especially about barnyards, from Me. to Minn, and southwards.
Thorn Apple; Jimson Weed (Datura Stramonium) also comes from across the water; it is very similar to the preceding, grows in the same places and in the same range. The flowers are white and the leaves are lighter green; the stem is also somewhat stouter.
All the preceding members of the Nightshade Family have more or less poisonous qualities, but there are others that are of inestimable value to mankind. The Potato, one of the most valuable and widely cultivated vegetables throughout the civilized world, belongs to the genus Solanum. It is specifically termed Sclanum tuberosum. The common Tomato belongs to another genus of this same family (Lycopersicon). The Egg Plant is Solanum Melongena. Not only do these valuable food products come from members of this family, but one of the oldest and most widely cultivated of our garden flowers does too, - the Petunia.