Bittersweet; Solanum dulcamara

Bittersweet, is also known as Woody Nightshade, also many people wrongly refer to it as Deadly Nightshade, which it is not. They are related, both being in the Solanaceae family and they are both poisonous  but the flowers are different and Deadly Nightshade has larger black fruits that are spherical whereas Bittersweet has smaller red fruits that are egg shaped, also in bunches and Deadly nightshade bears its fruits singly.

Also in this family are potatoes and tomatoes and the flowers of Bittersweet do have a close resemblance to the flowers of these garden vegetables/fruits.

The fruits start off green and then as they ripen they turn yellow and then red, and resemble as miniature group of plum tomatoes, BUT they are poisonous. It contains an alkaloid called Solanine

Solanine acts narcotically; in large doses it paralyses the central nervous system, without affecting the peripheral nerves or voluntary muscles. It slows the heart and respiration, lessens sensibility, lowers the temperature and causes vertigo and delirium, terminating in death with convulsions.

This plant is a scrabbler, it winds its way round other plants and up through bushes to gain height and light, it is almost vine like in its growth. Here it is growing up over an old dead willow trunk.


Apart from Deadly Nightshade which is Atropa bella-donna, there are other nightshades which are in the same genus such as Black Nightshade Solanum nigrum, this is more a plant of cultivated ground whereas Bittersweet is more likely to be found in a hedgerow or open woodland. Also there is Green Nightshade and Hairy Nightshade. They are all a bit hairy but Hairy Nightshade has yellow fruits not red.

Below are two photos of Black Nightshade, this has a similar flower structure but the petals are white. Also it gows in disturbed ground. These photos were taken in a field in France, there were thousands of them along with a nice mix of other arable weeds/species. However I doubt if the farmer would have been as taken with them all as I was!

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Cicely Mary Barker (28 June 1895 – 16 February 1973) was an English illustrator best known for a series of fantasy illustrations depicting fairies and flowers. She depicted a fairy in the style of Bittersweet.


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2 thoughts on “Bittersweet; Solanum dulcamara

  1. I have seen Black Nightshade at the edges of fields here, too.


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