Deadly nightshade is a highly toxic shrub-like perennial from the nightshade family Solanaceae, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant and chile peppers. It grows rampant in Seattle and I suspect it is spread by being ingested by rabbits and rodents such as rats and mice.
I say this because I’ve researched it, but also because I have noticed that deadly nightshade tends to grow where the earth has been disturbed and in rockeries. Both of those characteristics would indicate places where rats come and go. How many more clues do we need as to the yin nature of deadly nightshade? It is associated with poison, rats, nocturnal activity and hidden danger.
The problem is, it doesn’t look dangerous. In fact, it looks pretty enough to make you think it’s something somebody might have planted on purpose. Think you’ve seen those purple flowers on some other plant in a nursery before? It may have been another member of the family Solanaceae called Solanum integrifolium, also known as ornamental eggplant or “Pumpkin on a Stick”.
Deadly nightshade is poisonous to humans and domestic animals like dogs and cats. Its purple flowers and red berries are right at toddler eye level – beware the “fatal attraction”. Atropa belladonna is named after Atropos, who is one of the three daughters of Nyx (Night) in Greek mythology. The three sisters are also known as the Fates who portion out each person’s life. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures out the thread, and Atropos cuts the thread, ending it.
When I see those red berries I remember my own 3 or 4 year old adventures with pyracantha berries where I tried to pretend they were earrings and would let them roll right down into my ear canal. That was fun. Another memory of being attracted to little red “berries” was my discovery of a chiltepin plant on the way home from 5th grade one day. Ouch.
If you have kids or pets and you see deadly nightshade in your yard it’s probably best to put on some gloves, yank it out and take it directly to the yard waste bin. Curious hands, minds and snouts may not be able to resist the glamour.