Enchanter’s Nightshade is a late summer flowering woodland plant. This is to my mind very much a woodland species, some of the plants I have included in this blog are plants which tolerate shade and thus may grow in a woodland but also they grow in hedgerows and other habitats. This one though is a full on woodland wildflower.
A very delicate plant with little starry flowers that need a close look in order to see their structure. As you can see in the close up below they have what looks like four white petals, two up and two down. However there are actually only two petals which are strongly divided into two lobes and so they appear as four. Most unusual for a flower to have just two petals, I cant think of another one that has this few. Protruding out from the centre of these are two stamens, which flank the single stigma that splits at the end resembling a snakes tongue.
The leaves look quite similar to those of Dog’s Mercury, perhaps not so long and not so dark green but as they grow in similar habitats they are easy to muddle up.
The name Enchanters Nightshade is somewhat odd and needs explanation, evidently it comes from the scientific name, Circaea lutetiana. Circe who was an enchantress who seduced Ulysses, in Homers Odyssey. OK but why was this fairly insignificant plant liked to Circe and Ulysses?
Here is a bit more I have discovered thanks to a web site called …...Witchepedia???
History and Folklore
The genus Circaea is named after Circe, an enchantress featured in The Odyssey by Homer. Some say this plant was part of the potion she used to turn Odysseus’s companions into swine. However, she is not the only Homeric hero associated with this herb. The common name Sorcerer of Paris and Paris Nightshade alludes not to the city in France, but to Paris of Troy from The Illiad.
Enchanter’s nightshade is listed as an ingredient in many of the “ancient” herbals and magical compendiums, but berries are often mentioned. Since this plant has sticky burrs, not berries, one can only assume that these texts are referring to a different plant. Likely candidates include Bittersweet or Woody nightshade Solanum dulcamara which is native to Europe and Asia and a noxious weed common throughout the United States or Dedly Nightshade aka belladonna Atropa belladonna which has a long history of use in medicine, magic and cosmetics.
In the language of flowers, enchanter’s nightshade means witchcraft or sorcery.
Make what you will of all that, but here is a photo of the seeds from which you can see they are not berries and do have little hairs in order to attach themselves to the fur of animals or the trousers of people who take their photos and thus get dispersed to other woodlands.