Imposter in the Garden: The Black Nightshade Saga

In our last post about cleaning up the existing garden at the new house we mentioned we had pepper plants. Even though that is what I ended up calling them, there was some debate around here about what exactly the plant was. I thought it was a pepper because it had smoother leaves than the tomato plants, and the flowers were white and not yellow. H though they were tomatoes because of the small round fruits that were starting to form on some of the plants.

After some time had passed and the fruit just didn’t grow, we started to have questions. We searched “tomato plant with white flowers”, and we had our answer, thanks to the Dickinson County Conservation Board. Our mystery plant is Black Nightshade, or Solanum ptycanthum.

Black Nightshade is a different plant than Deadly Nightshade, and there are some cuisines who use the ripe berries and cooked leaves [1] . Other parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes [2]. Because we don’t know with absolute certainty what this plant is, we have decided not to allow them to mature and give them a try. They are classified by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs as a weed [3].

Another thing that tipped us off that this might not be a purposefully planted veggie is that it seemed to be everywhere, not just in the veggie patch. It turns out that birds and mammals eat the fruit and deposit the seeds in their droppings [4].

We decided to pull them from the garden to allow more light and airflow to the tomato plants which have been doing quite well. Because they were all in such close proximity, it was hard to tell how many of each we had, but it looks like we had many more Black Nightshade than tomatoes. Hopefully it will do the garden some good to have these gone.

[1] https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Black_Nightshade_Berries_12970.php

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanum_nigrum

[3] http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/ontweeds/eblack_nightshade.htm

[4] http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/black_nightshade.htm

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