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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 13th September 2011

I started to write a piece about the lies that get told about poisonous plants but then I came across one of the frequent ones and thought that I’d do another ‘compare and contrast’ post in the hope of reducing the confusion over these two plants.

As with Sunday’s blog, Atropa belladonna is one of the plants concerned but, this time, the other one is Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade. There is a previous blog post on this topic but I thought I'd give some more images and put them side by side.

The confusion arises not because of any similarity in appearance but because some people insist on calling the woody nightshade ‘deadly nightshade’. I think I’ve discovered how this is occurring. If you do a Google image search for ‘deadly nightshade’ four of the top ten pictures show the flowers of Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade.

Luckily, two of the top ten are pictures from this site so I’m hopeful that this blog post might have an influence on stopping the spread of this misidentification. It wouldn’t matter so much if ‘deadly nightshade’ was just used as another common name for Solanum dulcamara but, on three of the pages hosting those top four images, the words are clearly describing Atropa belladonna because of references to atropine and ‘belladonna', and one page even names it as Atropa belladonna.

So, here are some images that very clearly show the difference between the two plants. In each pair, the Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, is on the left and the Solanum dulcamara on the right.

We'll begin with a general view of the two plants showing that the Atropa belladonna has single flowers whereas, with Solanum dulcamara, the flowers appear in clusters.

        Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade        Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade

Moving closer into the flowers, the differences become very obvious.

        Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade        Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade

At the unripe berry stage the difference between the single of the Atropa belladonna and the cluster of Solanum dulcamara is the deciding factor for identification.

        Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade        Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade

And, finally, the ripe berries are very different in colour, shape and structure.

        Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade        Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade

So, there can be absolutely no confusion, visually, between these two plants and you should be able to spot immediately if someone uses the wrong plant. I have, in the past, pointed out errors, received a polite thank you and the image has been changed. In one instance, however, someone had already pointed out the error and received for their troubles a sneering response along the lines of they must be new to the Internet if they expected things to be accurate.