COMMON NAME

Bittersweet nightshade
Climbing nightshade
European bittersweet
Woody nightshade
Fellenwort


FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME

Solanum dulcamara L.


FAMILY NAME COMMON

Nightshade family


FAMILY SCIENTIFIC NAME

Solanum dulcamara


IMAGES


Habit

Flowers close-up

Fruit

Close-up of Fruits

Incursion

White Flower Form

NOMENCLATURE/SYNONYMS

Synonyms: None


DESCRIPTION

Botanical Glossary

Solanum dulcamara is a perennial vine that can grow 1-3 m (3-10 ft.) in height. It grows from a rhizomatous root system. The stems of this plant start out green and can turn a dark red to black color. The stems are generally glabrous (although they can have hairs when young), hollow and can have a woody base. The alternately arranged, ovate leaves are dark green in color and can have a purplish tinge. Some of the leaves are deeply 3-lobed or even divided, while others are simple. In the 3-lobed leaves, the terminal lobe is much larger than the 2 opposite lobes at the base and has an acute apex. The leaves measure 2.5-8 cm (1-3 in.) in length and are 1.5-5 cm (0.5-2 in.) in width. They have an unpleasant odor when crushed. The flowers of Solanum dulcamara are arranged in cymes. These cymes are positioned opposite the leaves. The peduncle measures 1.5-4 cm (0.5-1.5 in.) long. There are usually 10-25 flowers in each inflorescence. The five petals are fused, blue violet (rarely white) in color and their bases are fused. Each of the petals has two shiny, dark green basal spots. The yellow anthers are fused together and emerge from the center of the flower. As the flowers open, their petals become reflexed. These flowers measure about 1.2 cm (0.5 in.) in width. Solanum dulcamara blooms between late May and September. The juicy berries are ovate in shape, start out green and ripen to bright red. They measure 8-11 mm (0.3-0.4 in.) in length. These fruits can persist on the plant after its leaves have fallen off, and contain many disc-shaped yellowish seeds. Page References Bailey 869, Crow & Hellquist 276, Fernald 1253, Gleason & Cronquist 404, Holmgren 379, Magee & Ahles 902, Newcomb 328, Peterson & McKenny 324. See reference section below for full citations.


SIMILAR SPECIES

Solanum nigrum L. (black nightshade) Solanum nirgrum is an annual and a generally "coarser" plant. It has white to very pale purple flowers and black fruit as compared to the purple flowers and red fruit of S. dulcamara. The range of S. nigrum is more restricted in that it has only been reported from Maine (USDA Plants Database).


REPRODUCTIVE/DISPERSAL MECHANISMS

Solanum dulcamara can spread by means of either seed or vegetative reproduction. The fruits of this plant are dispersed by birds. Vegetative reproduction occurs when the nodes of prostrate stems come into contact with the soil and take root.


DISTRIBUTION

This plant is native to most of Europe, North Africa and eastern Asia. It is distributed throughout most of the United States with the exception of extreme southern states such as Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. This plant has been reported from all New England states.


HISTORY OF INTRODUCTION IN NEW ENGLAND

The exact time of introduction of this plant into New England is unknown. It is known to have been cultivated in Europe since 1561. This plant was likely intentionally introduced into the United States from Europe as an ornamental or perhaps for medicinal reasons. It was becoming widespread by the late 1800s.


HABITATS IN NEW ENGLAND

Abandoned Field,Agricultural Field,Coastal Beach or Dune,Early Successional Forest,Edge,Open Disturbed Area,Pasture,Railroad Right-of-Way,Roadside,Utility Right-of-Way,Vacant Lot,Yard or Garden

Solanum dulcamara is found in thickets, along hedgerows, edges of agricultural fields, on the banks of lakes and streams and other disturbed areas. Though it can succeed in fairly dry soil, it grows best in moist situations and can tolerate a fair amount of shade.


THREATS

Solanum dulcamara is most often found in highly disturbed situations. However, there is a report of it from northern New Jersey (Sussex County) where a botanist found it on an undisturbed and untilled island in Smartswood Lake. He stated: "it was a surprise to see S. dulcamara flourishing luxuriantly amongst the aboriginal vegetation." (Porte 1884). The vines of these scrambling plants can pull down smaller native vegetation. The seedlings of this plant are tolerant of low-light conditions, allowing it to move into areas away from the edges. The fruit and leaves of this plant are toxic, making it a threat to some animals and people. This plant is also an alternate host for the Colorado potato beetle which threatens other solanaceous crops.


DOCUMENTATION NEEDS

Documentation required: Picture of the leaves with flowers or fruits.
Best time for documentation: Summer, fall.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Taxonomic information about the species

PLANTS Database
General information and map

Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide
Good description and images

Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide
Brief descriptions and images

Virginia Tech Dendrology
Brief description and images

GRIN database
General and distributional information


REFERENCES

Andersen, R.N. 1968. Germination and Establishment of Weeds for Experimental Purposes. Weed Science Society of America Handbook. WSSA, Illinois.

Bailey, L. H. 1949. Manual of Cultivated Plants. Macmillan, New York.

Braun, M. and A. Toth. 1994. Morphology of bitter sweet (Solanum dulcamara L) in contrasting marsh habitats. Flora 189 (4): 307-313.

Crow G.E. and C.B. Hellquist. 2000. Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Northeastern North America. Vol 1. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

Fernald, M.L.  1950.  Gray's Manual of Botany 8th edition.  American Book Company, New York.

Foster, S. and Duke, J.A. 1990. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central North America Houghton Mifflin Co New York, USA.

Gleason, H. A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York

Gleason, H.A. and A.C. Cronquist.  1991.  Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed.  New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual.  New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Magee, D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999.  Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Newcomb, N. 1977.  Newcomb's Wildflower Guide.  Little Brown, Boston.

Peterson, R.T. and M. McKenny. 1968. A field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America.  Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Porte, T.C.  1884.  A Botanical Trip to Northern New Jersey.  Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 11(8): 90-92.

USDA Forest Service.  1970.  Solanum dulcamara L. (Bitter nightshade).  In: Seeds of the Woody Plants in the United States, pp 777-778.  USDA Agricultural Handbook 450.

USDA, NRCS.  2001.  The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov).  National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.