Thursday, February 04, 2010

Answer to the Mystery Plant - Black Nightshade

The one thing I love about blogging is that it allows me to communicate with friends near and far and to interact with a community of people sharing information.

Last week I mentioned a new plant in my yard that I was unable to identify. Tristan, a friend who is working in the field as a biologist, sent me the following information:

I saw the new plant on your blog, it looks like black nightshade (Solanum spp.). I see this plant often in the Central Valley. You're right about the berries being toxic to mammals, particularly in large quantities and when the berries are green (although I've seen the seeds of the green berries often in raccoon and coyote scat).

The Photos: From UC Berkeley were a dead ringer for the plant in the yard. Black nightshade is found all over the world, including California.

The interesting part is that we have just recently become aware of a raccoon that has been frequenting our yard. It could be the means by which the black nightshade had its seed carried onto our hill.

So the question I pull it out or let it stay? Some sources say black nightshade is very toxic. Others say that it is not that toxic and an important food for birds. At the moment there are only two small plants in a fairly out of the way part of the hillside, so I will let it stay and watch which, if any, animals interact with it.

Respecting biodiversity means sometimes reevaluating past beliefs about different species. There are no good or evil species, just species interacting with a web of life.

1 comment:

Douglas E. Welch said...

Didn't I say it looked "potatoish" when we were over the other day? (LAUGH)

Solonacae, indeed. Good to know I am not quite as bad a plant identification as I thought. That's not saying much, though. (LAUGH)