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A BITTERSWEET TALE

Here in beautiful Invasive Acres I have only to look around me to find abundant material for this column. I was going to provide an update on my struggle with the buckthorns, but as that would be rather depressing I decided to change the subject.

So the subject of this article is Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). I found some yesterday, lots actually, while I was rambling through the streambed in front of my house. I had a nice time pulling it up, as that is a much easier job than digging out buckthorns. You just grab a stem and pull, and before long you have miles of it, well, armloads anyway, and the air is full of a smell that reminds me of potato chips, which is not that surprising as it is in the potato family. To dispose of it (as long as it doesn’t have berries yet), I like to spread it in the driveway to dry out and get run over.

Probably most people know what this plant looks like – it is a perennial vine with attractive purple star-shaped flowers whose stamens are fused into a prominent yellow cone, much like a potato blossom. The flowers grow in clusters on short stalks extending out from the stems, and produce berries which are at first green then red and full of flattened yellow seeds. The main root grows horizontally, just below the soil or duff layer, and suckers frequently. The plant spreads by seeds (via birds and waterways) as well as vegetatively.

This thing grows pretty well anywhere, but seems particularly lush around streams, where it can emerge even from water. Recalling that last year I had found a small stream nearby almost completely choked with it, I took a walk over there hoping to get a good picture. But alas, I mean yay, my attempt at eradicating it there had been almost totally successful, and all I got, while providing meals for many mosquitoes, was this lousy shot.

- Lynne Douglas, PEIISC Member