Solanum dulcamara: Bitter Nightshade
Solanum dulcamara is native to Europe and Asia but it has naturalized in many areas, North America being one of them where it is an invasive weed. Here in Chicago you can find it growing in roadsides and empty lots but it is also commonly found growing in gardens. The flowers and fruits in the photos above were growing in a neighbor's garden happily growing up the chain link fence. In gardens this plant can scramble over plants, trees and shrubs and be hard to control.
Bitter Nightshade is one of those plants that people either love or hate. One reason why some people hate this plant is because it has a reputation for being a poisonous plant. All parts of this plant are poisonous to people and livestock but the fruit is reported to be the most dangerous. Oddly enough the reason I like this plant is because of the fruit that start off green and turn yellow-orange until they ripen and turn the wonderful red you see above. Other people appreciate this plant because it has an extensive history of being used in homeopathic medicine and herbalism usually as a treatment to skin conditions.
When I was a kid it was common to pick the fruits and squish them between your thumb and index finger or hurl it at someone. Many girls who lived in my neighborhood would use the fruits to decorate mud cakes or add them to "salads" made of various weeds and daylily leafs. Improper handling of the berries was so common as a kid that I'm surprised none of us were ever poisoned.
Bitter Nightshade is one of those weeds that I often see around Chicago that hold a special place in my heart but with young nephews it can't hold a special place in my garden. But every time I come across this plant I have to resist the urge to pick a really ripe berry and squish it between my fingers and hurl it at someone.