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Posts Tagged ‘Black Nightshade’

Our most beautiful time of year is almost here, when there are scenes like this just about everywhere you look. It’s much like living inside an impressionistic painting for a while until the hillside forests break into the full, blazing glory of fall.

Our late summer asters keep coming and the tall white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) is one of the most common and easily seen due to its 3-4-foot height. Large, mostly flat-topped flower heads give it another common name of flat-topped aster. They sway in the breeze and are usually covered with bees.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) seemed a little late this year but when I say that about a flower, I often find that it’s me who is expecting to see them earlier than they want to appear. In fact if I look back year to year on this blog, I find that most flowers are fairly consistent in their bloom times and jewelweed is no exception. It usually blooms in early to mid-August so it’s right on schedule.  

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur but I watched an ant trying to come up with a way to get at that sweetness one day. Jewelweed typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

I think most people who read this blog know this, but for those who don’t; these are the jewels that give jewelweed its name. Raindrops sparkle like diamonds on the wax coated leaf surfaces. When you come upon a large colony of them after a rain it can be a very beautiful thing.

Since I’m seeing seedpods forming on our beautiful little eastern forked blue curl plants (Trichostema dichotomum) I’m going to say that it’s time we said goodbye, even though in a good year they might bloom through September. If so, it’ll be a bonus. When a heavy enough insect lands on that spotted lower lip those curved anthers, each carrying several white pollen grains smaller than grains of salt, will dip down and dust the insect with pollen. It’s another miraculous event in a world filled with them.

I found some low growing, potato like plants with lots of leaves and just a few small white flowers. It was obvious by the flowers that it is in the nightshade family but that’s about as far as I got. I think it might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

Do you see that tiny white flower to the right of center in this shot? All those leaves and one tiny flower? Clearly this plant doesn’t seem that interested in seed production.

But it does produce fruit, and these black berries are what leads me to believe it is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country so I doubt this is that plant. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this plant as Eastern black nightshade (Solanum emulans,) so I can stop wondering about that. Thanks Sara!

Many of the plants in this post are not native and are considered invasive in many instances but only a few like purple loosestrife are truly pests in this region. In a large percentage of cases these plants were brought here because their flowers were beautiful and I can see that beauty, so I can understand the why of it. Many plants were also used medicinally and people went to a lot of trouble to get them here. Imagine bringing plants over on a wooden ship where extra deck space was nearly nonexistent. You’d have to present a very convincing argument I think, though in the case of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare,) which is pictured above and which has a long history of being used as an insect repellant, the ship’s captain might have been a little more understanding. Recent research shows that tansy repels ticks, moths, and other insects, so it might have gotten a free pass on deck space. And of course it might have arrived in the form of seed.

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is a plant I don’t have any memories attached to because before a year or so ago I never saw it growing here. Then all of the sudden there it was, and now I see it regularly. It’s a pretty little plant that Native Americans used to treat sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds, and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a dry vase. I keep forgetting to check these flowers for scent but the flowers of sweet everlasting smell like maple syrup.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is another “invasive” that most pay little attention to in this part of the world, but I’ve heard that it can be a real pest in pastures. It was introduced from Europe as a garden ornamental and, as the old familiar story goes, has escaped and is now considered a noxious weed. A single hawkweed flower head can produce between 12 and 50 tiny black seeds, so when you do the math, it is obvious that these plants are here to stay. They are said to be much harder to control than dandelions. Though it’s easy to find many reasons to hate such a plant, we don’t have many orange wildflowers in this part of the country and I enjoy seeing it.

False dandelions (Hypochoeris radicata) are another imported plant but unlike orange hawkweed I see these plants almost everywhere I go at this time of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like yellow hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves. Yellow hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter. Another name for this plant is cats ear.

Native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. It is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles. Both names refer to the twisted, feathery seed heads. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a toxic plant that can cause internal bleeding so you have to know what you’re doing to use it.

Another name for virgin’s bower is traveler’s joy and I can say that it is that. Its small white but pretty flowers are another reminder that fall is near. Clusters of them often cover the entire plant. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is another white flowered vine that drapes itself over the tops of shrubs to get more sunlight. It climbs using tendrils like a grape vine, unlike virgins’ bower which climbs by curling its leaf stems (petioles) around whatever it is climbing. Both strategies work well and each vine gets plenty of sunlight. You’ll note that the leaves on wild cucumber are two or three times as big as those on virgin’s bower though, and that’s because this vine prefers partial shade over full sunlight.  

The flower spikes (Racemes) on wild cucumber grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

If you’d like a native shrub that will attract pollinating insects clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is a very good choice. It’s also called summersweet because of its sweet fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Insects love it and this one was covered with just about every one that I could name.

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summersweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush; whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns.

The flowers of blue vervain (Verbena hastata) bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. Sometimes a stray plant will make it to first frost but usually not. This is a plant that doesn’t mind wet feet and that’s a good thing because the field that it grew in was flooded by all the rain. I couldn’t get near it so I had to use a lot of zoom for this shot. I love the color of the flowers so I was happy to see so many on this plant.

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) has just about reached the end of its flowering season I thought, when I noticed the third of an inch, brown winged fruits forming. Each mature fruit has a loose skin covering a rather large starchy seed. Native Americans snacked on the raw seeds or roasted them and ground them into flower. They’re said to be quite tasty but you have to be quick, because they’re a favorite of waterfowl.

There are far fewer fragrant white waterlilies in this pond than last time I was here and that tells me that they’re nearing the end of their time with us for this year. They’re very beautiful and I’ll be sorry to not be able to visit them for a few moths. To sit with them is to learn; they ask for nothing but have everything.

He is richest who is content with the least, for contentment is the wealth of nature. ~Socrates

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Our warmer seasons always end beautifully, with wildflowers along most roadsides and a backdrop of colorful fall foliage. This year is no exception; I saw this scene along a roadside recently. I liked the drift of dark purple New England  asters. 

As I’ve said here before, we do love our asters, and we love them enough to devote considerable amounts of garden space to them. When you think about it, to grow asters you need to have large amounts of garden space taken up by a plant that is green all season and then has only a short burst of bloom in the fall. But as this beautiful plant that I found in a local park shows, it’s worth it.

The flowers on the garden aster are about half the size of a New England aster blossom and bees love them. There were hundreds of bees buzzing this plant on this day.

Though native black cohosh (Actaea racemose) is also called bugbane I saw plenty of bees on it as well. Another name for it is black snakeroot and though it is native to the forests of this country I’ve never seen it in the wild. Some insects are repelled by its odor and it was once used to keep bedbugs away. Black cohosh root was used by Native Americans to treat colds, coughs, rheumatism, kidney disorders, malaria, and other ailments.

I see wild mint (Mentha arvensis) occasionally but I wouldn’t call it common. I found this one at the edge of the woods in bright sunshine. There is some speculation that the North American species came by way of ancient hybridization of European species but there is a long history of its use by Native Americans, who used it as an insect repellant and also used it to treat colds and flu. They also used it in their pemmican and soups, and to add flavor to cooked meats.

As many as 20 flowers can surround the stem in the leaf axils, blooming from the bottom up. Each tiny tubular flower is only about 1/8 inch long. They can be pink to pale lavender to white, with darker spots on the inside. They’re hard to get a good photo of and I had to try several times for this one. Even so I failed to show the darker spots on the inside so you’ll have to trust me that they were there.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a plant that won’t be finished until we have a freeze. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

It’s hard to tell when a sweet everlasting blossom is actually fully opened but the papery bracts that show when the flowers have opened to release their seeds look like small flowers. If you crush a few blossoms and smell them, they smell like maple syrup. I find it growing in sunny, sandy waste areas and on roadsides.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) has a very long blooming period. I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, sometimes into November. I’ve noticed that when it gets cold the small, normally white daisy fleabane blossoms take on a hint of purple. We’ve had a few cool nights so that explains these purple blossoms. I’ve seen other white flowers do the same, so it isn’t unusual.  Many white chrysanthemums for example will turn purple when it gets cold. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

I was very surprised to see a violet blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this late in the year.

What I first thought was zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) grew on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Gilsum but the leaves were wrong for zigzag goldenrod, so I think it must have been blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia,) which has longer narrower leaves. I didn’t see any sign of blue stems but the blue isn’t a reliable identification feature because the wax coating which cause the color can wash or melt off in hot or rainy weather, and it has been hot. Both plants grow in wooded areas instead of out in the open and prefer shade and moist soil.

More roadside flowers for your viewing pleasure.

I wish I could put a name to this aster because I see lots of it, often all the way along the sunny sides of rail trails, especially.

The numerous flowers are small at about a 1/2 inch across and light blue. It might be the blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) because it does grow at the edge of the woods. I’ll have to pay closer attention to the leaves. The leaves in this photo are no help; they’re from the raspberry plant that was propping the aster up.

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria vulgaris) gets its common name from a black / brown smudge on its leaves, supposedly left there by a mysterious lady we’ll never know. Small pink flowers crowd the flower stalks (Racemes) on this plant in the knotweed family. Each flower has 5 sepals but no petals. Flowers can be pink, red, greenish white, or purple. All of these colors sometimes appear on the same raceme. This plant is native to Europe and Asia.

The “lady’s thumb print” on Persicaria vulgaris leaves.

A plant I’ve only seen once before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that turn black. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

This will probably be the last beautiful blossom from this clematis that lives in the garden of friends.

Sunflowers are still going strong in the same garden.

Including this unusual but very sunny example. It was grown from seed.

Still more roadside flowers, just because they’re so beautiful.

Beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place or object. ~ John O’ Donohue

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In my last flower post I ended with a stand of wildflowers that I drive by each morning on my way to work. I didn’t think that photo showed all of the beauty there was to see there so I went back and took more photos. This is one of them.

And this is a wider view. How lucky I am to see this each morning. I think about how, if they stopped mowing the roadsides, they might all look like this. I don’t know why they can’t wait until the flowers are finished blooming to mow certain areas. Some states actually spend a lot of time and money trying to get their roadsides looking like what happens here naturally.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. It is plant that has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn. I always make sure I miss them with the lawn mower.

Finding one or two forsythia blossoms in fall isn’t that unusual but if I saw a bush full of them I’d be concerned. This shrub had exactly one over anxious blossom on it, so it should still bloom in spring like it usually does. Forsythia was first discovered by a European growing in a Japanese garden in 1784 by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is still blooming, I was happy to see. Orange is a hard color to find among wildflowers in this part of the world.  Other than orange daylilies which really aren’t wildflowers, and orange jewelweed, I can’t think of another orange wildflower.

This New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) had a lot of red in its purple and leaned toward a rose color. My color finding software sees violet, plum, and orchid.

Though it is nearing the end of September I wasn’t surprised to see silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) blossoming. Sometimes the shrub can have ripe fruit on it and still grow a flower cluster or two in a fall re-bloom. These bushes are big; many are 10 feet across. Silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. I thought I’d show a blossom on a penny so you could see just how small they are. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The plant gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

A plant I’ve never noticed before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that I’ve read should turn black. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

The swept back petals and bright yellow centers remind me of another nightshade I regularly see called bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara.) Its flowers are blue and yellow rather than white and yellow but they look much the same otherwise. If this plant reminds you of a potato plant, that’s because they’re in the same family.

According to an article on National Public Radio scientists have found that once sunflowers mature they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) bloomed in a field that has been mowed all summer long.  This plant stood about three inches tall but it was still blooming as if it hadn’t been touched. I love its cheery, bright blue color. Our average first frost happens in mid-September, so this might be the last photo of it this year.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba,) is a plant in the aster family that blooms as late as asters do. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite. William Byrd of Virginia wrote in 1728 that “the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely.” I hope nobody actually tried that. This plant is not toxic, at least not enough to kill; the Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of it in a tea that they used to relieve pain.

This cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows on the banks of the Ashuelot River and I’ve never seen them anywhere else. The small oval burs aren’t quite as sticky as burdock burs but they will catch on clothing. Cocklebur leaves require long nights to trigger production of the chemicals needed to produce flowers, so they are considered “short day” plants. Their leaves are so sensitive that any light shining on them at night can keep the plant from flowering.

Cockleburs grow male flowers along its upper half, and female flowers grow in the lower half but I’m never early enough to catch them. All I ever see are the burs.

I can’t explain these white squiggly things appearing from the cocklebur fruit. The plant is here in a flower post because I thought they might be flowers but good information on this plant is very hard to find, so I’m not sure what they are. The seeds in cocklebur pods were eaten raw or cooked by Native Americans and among certain tribes in the Southwest the seeds were ground with squash and corn and applied externally to heal puncture wounds.

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful dark blue veins.

I liked this zinnia I found in a friend’s garden recently. These flowers are usually butterfly magnets but I didn’t see any this day.

This roadside view of asters is quite different from the first two photos in this post. It’s more pastel and subdued and has a different kind of beauty than those views I started out with, but I like them all.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

Thanks for coming by.

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