Friday: Nature Unknown

Know this plant either by common name or family association?

This plant, growing at the edge of the  pasture, seemed to glow in the shadows. But that apparently has nothing to do with the common name of this plant or of the family to which it belongs.

This is a  nightshade relative, an ally of tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers and tobacco. I can’t find out the derivation of the common name that seems to include two plant families, the Convovulaceae (morning glory family) and the Solanaceae. The latter seems to be based on the Latin word sol or sun, and perhaps that name comes from the starburst appearance of many of the flowers.

The members of the genus solanum, like the ones pictured here, carry an alkaloid that can be poisonous. You probably know not to eat green potatoes because of their ill effects.

This photo prompted next week’s Floyd Press piece written while we were in SaintSteaming Louis last week.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Beautiful flower photo, Fred. We are both big admirers of your work.
    I’m afraid my botanizing is way elementary compared to yours. Latin names never caught my interest!

  2. I know this plant as Horsenettle, so called probably because horses wouldn’t eat the hay if this plant was mixed in with it. It has spines along the stem which can puncture the skin. It’s a noxious weed, difficult to remove bcause of a deep root system and resistance to herbicides.

  3. Yes, horsenettle. I’d forgotten that one, I think learned in my Alabama botanizing early-days. You definitely want to have thick gloves on to pluck this one.

  4. We have a weed similar to this too that grows along our house mixed in with mugwort. I’ve been trying to ID it for a while now and it’s either horse nettle or jimson weed. They’re both from the Solanaceae family. All I know is that I certainly wear gloves when removing it. OUCH! How do I know which it is? Whatever it is sometimes gets these small -round-green fruits on it too. Slightly larger than a berry. Any ideas?

  5. I wouldn’t be Jimson Weed whose fruit pod is much larger and conspicuously thorny, flowers also a couple of inches across. Definitely sounds like some kind of nightshade.

  6. Well this nightshade must be hardy to survive amid all the mugwort! It’s interesting how certain weeds always take up habitat in the same spots. I once came across a book called “Weeds and What They Tell” by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer that said weeds had a lot to tell us about the soil/water in the area they’re growing in. Certainly abundances or deficiencies of various minerals etc. I remember reading that mugwort grows in areas where there is a deep table of water. And it’s growing all around the perimeter of our house! Good thing we have a sump pump in the basement! Perhaps its trying to help prevent flooding by absorbing some of that water into its deep root systems! I don’t mind the mugwort since it can be dried and made into dream pillows bath soaks etc. I just read something recently that has changed my relationship with bindweed- which constantly threatens complete take-over of our raised beds. Apparently composting bindweed roots adds a large amount of minerals to the compost. I was previously afraid to compost it for fear it would grow in whatever we spread the compost on. Now I’m curious what the presence of Horsenettle implies about the soil/water etc. =)