Atropa belladonna   Deadly Nightshade C DD N

Atropa belladonna 1 Atropa belladonna 2

This is the plant which non botanists confuse with Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) which doesn't really look anything like Atropa belladonna. The gaudy green and red berries which come from purple and yellow flowers on Solanum dulcamara (Bittersweet) seem to tell everyone that the plant is poisonous so it is incorrectly assumed to be Deadly Nightshade.

Atropa belladonna isn't at all common in the north of the country and is probably only native in the south where this one was found. After flowering it produces a large black berry which is poisonous: as few as three can poison a child and it has a sweetish taste. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans particularly the roots although some animals like rabbits can eat the leaves with no ill effects. It contains various alkaloids including atropine which can be used medicinally to counter the effects of certain cholinesterase inhibiting chemicals (pesticides) such as malathion.

The name for the extract: belladonna comes from the Italian meaning "beautiful lady" Society ladies would at one time put drops into their eyes to dilate the pupils making them more attractive. Solutions in small concentration are still used by opticians to dilate pupils.

Atropa belladonna is a plant of the shade or woodland and is fairly common in South and Central England but uncommon elsewhere in England and only dotted about in Scotland and Ireland. This was only the third time I've ever seen it.

Regent Canal Towpath, Limehouse, London 1st July 2006

Added on 4th July 2006, updated 1st March 2010

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict