The foliage and berries of Belladonna (Atropa belladona) contain tropane alkaloids, such as Atropine, which are extremely toxic in high doses, causing delirium, hallucination, and death. These chemicals are common in plants belonging to the family Solanaceae; more benign members of the group include the potato, the tomato, and the eggplant. These alkaloids prevent nerve transmission by blocking the binding site of acetylcholine and this has beneficial, pharmacological, application relating to surgery of the eye.

The beautiful specimen seen here was photographed on the southern coast of Appledore Island, the largest of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Maine.


12 thoughts on “Nightshade

  1. Usually your posts and photos show me something, some part of nature I might never have appreciated before. But this time I sort of recognize it: I have often looked at the violet blossoms of potatoes and eggplants and stood in awe of their beauty – and figured that this combination of aesthetics and edible fruits is really fortunate 🙂 Also the berries of Belladonna look beautiful, don’t they? Just as the shiny fruits of the eggplants!

  2. According to Wikipedia, “The genus name Atropa comes from Atropos, one of the three Fates in Greek mythology, and the name ‘bella donna’ is derived from Italian and means ‘pretty woman’ because the herb was used in eye-drops by women to dilate the pupils of the eyes to make them appear seductive.” I’d always imagined the Italian name for this potentially lethal plant was an ironic comment about some women being beautiful but deadly.

  3. I haven’t thought about my cataract surgery in some time, but your mention of eye surgery intrigued me. I found that, after the removal of a cataract, acetylcholine chloride (Miochol-E) is used following placement of the intraocular lens. Apparently its value lies in providing a rapid and complete constriction of the pupil. I may dig out my itemized bill and see what shows up in the drug category.

    I’m glad I’ve got eyes to see your lovely photo. Purple and yellow combinations make me smile, and those tiny green dots are a perfect complement. Is this a small flower? I know Texas nightshade (Solanum triquetrum) and this seems more like the small flowers of that plant.

    • Right … acetylcholine will counter (by constriction) the action of the Atropine (which causes dilation). One stimulates nerve (and muscle) impulse while the other shuts it down. Isn’t chemistry cool? And, yes, this is quite a small flower … maybe 5 mm or so end-to-end.

  4. I’m not sure which editing skills you used on this image, but WOW! You have made something deadly look drop-dead gorgeous! If I’m not mistaken, I think the berries of this flower were featured in the first installment of The Hunger Games novel! It almost reminds me of an orchid. Fantastic!

  5. Aka Deadly Nightshade. Your specimen is looking much more attractive than the ones growing along our garden fence this year. In addition, The Deadly Nightshade was also the first all women country folk rock music group.

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