Bryonia dioica Bryonia dioica Bryonia dioica Cucumis sativus Cucurbita pepo Citrullus lanatus

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White Bryony

Bryonia alba

  • Name also: Bastard Turnip, Black-berried Bryony, Black-berried White Bryony, Devil’s Turnip, Parsnip Turnip, Snakeweed
  • Family: Gourd Family – Cucurbitaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb-stemmed twining climber. Rootstock very swollen, swede-shaped.
  • Height: 2–3 m (80–120 in.) long. Stem limp, branched, terminal leaflet modified into a tendril, rough-hairy.
  • Flower: Regular (actinomorphic), barely 1 cm (0.4 in.) wide. Corolla lime green, fused, deeply 5-lobed. Calyx fused, deeply 5-lobed. Stamens 3, of which 2 are with 2 anthers, and 1 is with a single anther. Gynoecium composed of 3 fused carpels, ovary trilocular, style solitary. Inflorescence in axils, racemose–umbellate.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked. Blade ovate–5-cornered, cordate-based, 5-lobed, with toothed margin; lobes ovate–triangular, central lobe clearly longer than others.
  • Fruit: Spherical, black, 7–8 mm (0.28-0.32 in.) long berry.
  • Habitat: Old gardens, walls, fences, roadsides, dumps. Ornamental, escape and leftover from cultivation.
  • Flowering time: July–September.

White bryony is not found so often in Finland these days, but in its time it was a more common site in gardens, from where it sloped off into the wild in southern Finland. There are no records of it being cultivated as a drug in Finland, but further south it was used as a part of folk medicine to treat e.g. cold extremities and rheumatic aches. It is however good to remember that all the parts of the plant are highly poisonous, especially the tuber-shaped base and berries. Even touching the plant can irritate the skin and cause a rash.

White byrony takes its name from its scientific name alba, meaning ’white’, but in fact its flowers are no whiter than its berries. Its corolla is lime green and its berries are pitch black. The name comes from the plant’s white latex.

Red Bryony

Bryonia dioica

White bryony’s cousin red bryony can also sometimes be found in the wild. In keeping with its scientific name it is dioecious, with the stamens and pistils on separate plants. Its berries are red. Flowerless shoots are best told apart by the leaves, whose lobes are quite similar sizes and have winding margins. Especially rubbish dumps, where the soil is often very nutritious and warm long into the autumn thanks to the rotting rubbish, can provide a home for more exotic family members too: plants that have been found in Finland include cucumber (Cucumis sativus), pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) and even watermelons (Citrullus lanatus)!

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