Silverleaf Nightshade

Silverleaf nightshade. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Silverleaf nightshade.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

One of the few plants to flower even in the heat of a Texas summer,  the silverleaf nightshade has tiny hairs in its stem and leaves which give it a silver tint.   An important thing to know about nightshade is that it is poisonous.   The leaves and  yellow berries are toxic, containing the chemical solanine, and have no nutritional value to wildlife or livestock.    In spite of this, native peoples used crushed nightshade berries to curdle milk to make cheeses and to make medicines to treat sore throats and toothaches.   Obviously, they had to be very careful in controlling the amount of berries in their concoctions.

Today, nightshade is officially classified as a noxious weed in many parts of the U.S.  Most gardeners, ranchers and farmers try to remove it wherever they find it.  This can be a tough task since nightshade plants use both seeds (above ground) and deep root systems (below ground) to spread.   Wildflower and native plant enthusiasts value nightshade for its lovely purple flowers and seed pods that look like mini-tomatoes.

Final interesting tidbit, did you know that nightshade is related to  potatoes, tomatoes,  eggplant, and the petunia?  In fact, the green portion of the potato is poisonous, which is why cooks cut out the green parts of a potato before cooking.   In fact, the Solanaceae family (nightshade) contains about 2,700 species of plants that thrive across a wide variety of ecosystems.  It just goes to show that being related is a relative thing!