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Solanum americanum Mill. 1768
pronounced: so-LAH-num uh-meh-rick-AH-num
(Solanaceae — the nightshade family)
synonym: Solanum nodiflorum Jacq. 1786
pronounced: so-LAH-num no-dee-FLOR-um
common name: Glossy Nightshade
Solanum is the ancient Roman name for the deadly nightshade; americanum is, as one would expect, botanical Latin for ‘of America’. In the synonym, nodiflorum is from the Latin nodus, a knot, and flora, a flower – flowers from nodes. There is still some disagreement among botanists as to which of these is the correct name of the species. Some consider this to be more than one species, while others list various subspecies.
This plant has a wide though uncertain native range. It is found in the tropics and subtropics of the Americas, Melanesia and Australia: here it is found in the coastal areas of Queensland and NSW, where it may be of indigenous or pre-European introduction, and it is also found in scattered localities in the northern Territory, Western Australia, Victoria, and Lord Howe Island, where it has become naturalized from later introductions. It can easily be confused with other black nightshade species.
Solanum americanum is an erect or spreading herb or short-lived perennial shrub that can grow to about 130 cm high, usually found as a weed of habitats disturbed by human activity. It is either glabrous, or sparsely pubescent with simple hairs; while usually green, the stems and leaves are often purplish, and the stems are often angled or narrowly winged.
There is a short inflorescence with 4-12 flowers; the peduncle is up to 2.5 cm long, but lengthens to about 4.5 cm when in fruit; the pedicels are 5-8 mm long. The corolla is deeply 5-lobed, less than 1 cm in diameter, white to pale purplish in colour, with the anthers forming a yellow-green central cone.
Various parts of the plant are used in traditional medicines, especially in Cameroon, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Hawaii and Panama, and in a few places young green shoots are cooked and eaten a a green vegetable. Authorities disagree as to whether the fruits are poisonous. The level of toxicity of the glossy nightshade may well depend on locality and soil types. Some say that the berries may be eaten when black, but are poisonous while still green. Due to the ease with which this plant can be confused with other more poisonous nightshades, experimental tasting of the fruits, or, indeed, of any part of the plant, is not advised.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2012
Page last updated 17th February 2017