This species of Solanum is sometimes called the woody nightshade, bittersweet-nightshade, scarlet berry, violet bloom and fever-twig.
The bittersweet is a climbing, somewhat woody and hairy perennial, three to seven feet high, with thin green leaves paler on the underside. The leaves are stalked, heart-shaped, the upper with two ear-like lobes at the base. The flowers are loosely clustered, rich purple with bright yellow stamens arranged in a cone at the centre. The berries, which give the plant a very attractive appearance in the autumn, are bright scarlet when ripe. Often on the same cluster of fruit, bright green, pale yellow, orange, and scarlet berries are seen. The seeds are round, flat, and yellow. The plant is in bloom from June to September.
Introduced from Europe, it is now rather common in Canada from New Brunswick to Ontario, chiefly found on moist woody banks, borders of streams, and around dwellings. It also occurs in British Columbia.
The stems, leaves, and berries contain the alkaloid solanine. The stems contain, as well, the glucoside dulcamarin which gives the plant its peculiar bitter-sweet taste, and which has not yet been fully investigated. The degree of toxicity of the plant has not been determined; no doubt it varies under certain conditions. Chesnut says, "Besides solanin (0.3 per cent) this plant contains another less poisonous compound, dulcamarin ... Neither of the compounds is abundant. The berry, though its taste is not remarkably disagreeable, is somewhat poisonous, and it has been shown that an extract of the leaves is moderately so. The plant has nevertheless caused some ill effect." Schimpfky reports that the berries have been used to poison dogs, and the juice of the fruit acts as a poison to rabbits.
Bittersweet, under ordinary conditions, is hardly Likely to be eaten by stock. Gillam, however, records (Veterinary Record, 1906) a case of poisoning of sheep.
In the case of sheep poisoning reported by Gillam, the symptoms given were, small, intermittent pulse, temperature 104° F.. quickened respiration, staggering gait, dilated pupil, and greenish diarrhoea.
Remedy and Means of Control: About thickets and on the edges of woods where children are likely to be attracted by its crimson fruit, the plant should be cut off when in flower, caustic soda or hot brine should be poured upon the roots to check new growth and in time kill the shrub. Young plants may be readily handpulled. Older roots should be grubbed out.
Photo - F. Fyle