- Name also: European Black Nightshade, Garden Nightshade, Small-fruited Black Nightshade, Duscle, Hound’s Berry, Petty Morel, Wonder Berry, Popolo
- Family: Nightshade Family – Solanaceae
- Growing form: Annual herb.
- Height: 20–80 cm (8–32 in.). Stem ascending–erect, sparsely bristly, glabrous or smoothly haired, occasionally very hairy.
- Flower: Regular (actinomorphic). Corolla white, fused, wheel-shaped, 5-lobed, 6–14 mm (2.2–5.8 in.) wide. Calyx fused, campanulate, deeply 5-lobed. Stamens 5, anthers in a conical group. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Inflorescence a lax, usually 3–8-flowered cyme.
- Leaves: Alternate, stalked. Blade ovate, elliptic or diamond-shaped, thin, margin large-toothed or sometimes entire.
- Fruit: Spherical or slightly wider than long, black or sometimes green when ripe, 5–10 mm (0.2–0.4 in.) long berry.
- Habitat: Gardens, yards, cultivated land, heaps of earth, wasteland, shores.
- Flowering time: July–October.
We can thank or blame the northern climate for the fact that not many central European plants thrive here, or are rare. Black nightshade is a dangerous poisonous plant further south – its nature is well described by its shadowy name, which refers to the fact that the plant has been seen as an ally of death and darkness, and the witches that serve them. Further south it is a common weed, but in Finland it grows mainly in the south of the country, on rich warm ground in gardens, on wasteground and in fields, usually in places that have been disturbed by humans. In the most southerly parts of Finland this annual plant is only able to ripen its seeds in good summers, and the first night frosts often cut down plants which could still be flowering in October. Elsewhere in Europe black nightshade has been used as folk medicine: the fresh leaves were pounded into a mass and used externally to treat infections and weeping wounds. Nightshades’ alkaloids, especially solanine, are also common ingredients in modern medicine. There is even literature that says that berries or leaves may be eaten, but this information is not to be trusted.
Hairy nightshade (S. physalifolium), a South American lookalike of black nightshade whose leaves are very hairy and have entire margins, can be found growing casually in Finland mainly around harbours, allotments and yards in the south of the country. It is easiest to recognize in the fruiting stage, when the calyx enlarges to become a rather loose and papery protector, encompassing the ripening berry.
American nightshade (name also glossy nightshade) is a casual alien in southern Finland’s wastelands and e.g. harbours. It is easiest to differentiate from black nightshade by its small flowers (5–9 mm wide) and leaves which are sparsely toothed at base.