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A Pretty But Potentially Toxic Weed

(credit: Phran Novelli)

(credit: Phran Novelli)

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By Phran Novelli

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - It’s hard to hate pretty plants – even when they’re pretty invasive and even poisonous too. That’s true of the weed Solanum dulcamara often called Climbing Bittersweet (confusingly so, because it’s unrelated to other climbing plants also commonly called Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens and Celastrus orbiculatus).

You often see it this time of year, as it scampers up a shrub showing off its starry purple flowers with petals bent back to display a yellow center, before producing little green fruits that turn first yellow and then red. It’s really quite cute, but I still yank out this smothering vine, also known by many other names – Shooting Star or Woody Nightshade – since it’s part of the Nightshade family.

Throughout history this Solanaceae plant family has been revered and feared, mostly because the plants contain solanine alkaloids which can be poisonous depending on their concentrations. But, unlike other nightshade family plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, which give us wonderful things to eat, this climbing bittersweet nightshade isn’t welcome in your garden. It’s alien, invasive, and all parts of it are said to be toxic – although it smells so unappetizing, it’s hard to imagine being tempted to taste it.

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