Category Archives: the Horror!

WTF – Black Bindweed

I feel this garden season has been packed with plant identification. In no way am I complaining about this. Plant identification is a pretty enjoyable game to me. When a fellow gardener was telling me about a swift-growing vine with heart-shaped leaves in her home garden, I fought the urge to immediately hiss “bindweed” (Convolvulus arvensis). The weed is from the Morning Glory (Convolvulaceae) family and is a complete terror on the Lot. I agreed to make a visit to help with some pruning, so I pretty much had to find out if I was right or not.

Analyzing the Offender

When I arrived and was able to meet the vine in person, I realized it wasn’t bindweed. I would recognize my Nemesis anywhere, in any growing zone, and this wasn’t it. Yes, the vine was eating the porch alive and the leaves were heart-shaped. However, I immediately noticed what looked like white seed heads in large clusters all along the vine… not a trait of the bindweed we deal with on the Lot.

Black Bindweed covering Lantern

There aren’t many weedy vines in our state, so I started going through some weed ID sites looking for the vine that would be going to seed at this time of the season. Eventually I found a site for a project at the University of Michigan: Burnham, R.J. (2008-2014). “CLIMBERS: Censusing Lianas in Mesic Biomes of Eastern RegionS.” (September 6, 2017).  And that is where I found the name of the plant I was looking for: Black Bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus) of the Buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family.

Up Close and Personal

When ID’ing a plant, there are a lot of clues one can pick up by taking a thorough look at the specimen. Parts of the black bindweed helping me to ID it were:

  • alternate, simple, heart shaped leaves
  • vine, twining from right to left
  • glabrous (free from hair) ocrea (sheath around the stem)
  • roots are non-rhizomatous
  • branching of vine located more near base of plant
  • papery calyx (sepals of the flower)
  • flower understated with no petals

Black Bindweed on Railing

Evicting the Weed

I struggled to find a control method for black bindweed. It’s an  aggressive, annual weed introduced from Eurasia. The plant spreads by prolific reseeding. The seeds themselves are enclosed by a hard shell and can be viable for more than a single season in the soil. In fact, this was the reason my gardener friend inquired about the plant. She said though a crazy climber, the plant was kind of pretty (which it was). But then she saw all the flowers (future seeds) and thought “Oh sh*t.” Yeah, we’ve all done that before.

What we do have on our side when removing this vine is the fibrous root system and the small area of a home garden. Though fairly deep, the roots aren’t a rubbery, rhizomatous system that takes off underground like a berserker gopher. The plant was removed and burned. Next season, the gardener has to keep an eye open in the spring for any new seedlings and pull as needed.

No More Snow

Lenten Rose in Snow

Here is the new growth on the Lot’s lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) after a dousing of snow. The temperature today is predicted to max out in the mid-thirties. Brr. The perennial is an evergreen acclimated to Zones 4-9 so it should be able to weather through this. No pun intended. Well, maybe a little. In comparison, this gardener is ready for the more warm temperatures of Spring.

Hort Horrors – Deadly Nightshade

Sally and Deadly Nightshade
Sally at the Pantry

I love Halloween, so a holiday-appropriate post appearing on my garden journal was only a matter of time. For October, I wanted to further research some of the more gruesome features of a garden. The first choice was a given. Deadly Nightshade is known throughout literature, film, and even bits of history for its poisonous properties. When a witch is shown cackling over her cauldron, you can bet money one of those potion ingredients will be nightshade. So, I wanted to learn more about this plant whose name is more fun if you whisper it in your most spooky tone of voice.

Nightshade Cameos

Bittersweet Nightshade in Penny Dreadful
Vanessa Ives and Dorian Gray admiring Nightshade

Recently the Other Half and I were watching an episode of Penny Dreadful where the characters Dorian and Vanessa were strolling through a greenhouse together. Vanessa mistakes the flower to be attractive and sensual but otherwise harmless. Dorian identifies the plant as deadly nightshade. Though the plant is a great symbol of Dorian’s role in Vanessa’s life, I of course noticed the plant looked just like one I had ripped from the Lot.

While researching deadly nightshade, I identified the flower in Penny Dreadful and the Lot as Solanum dulcamara or bittersweet nightshade. I’m wondering if this flower had the attractive face for film, so it was chosen over the actual deadly nightshade plant. According to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health,  all parts of bittersweet nightshade (foliage, flowers, fruit, root, stem) is toxic so one should wear gloves when handling the plant. Though I love the feel of soil in my hands, I decided seasons ago to begin wearing gloves in the garden. Thank goodness.

The Real Deal – Atropa Belladonna

Atropa belladonna is a perennial belonging to the family Solanaceae, or the nightshade plants. Colorful, common names for this plant include devil’s berries, naughty man’s cherries, death cherries, beautiful death, and  devil’s herb. Other plants in this family include tomatoes, tobacco, potatoes, and eggplants. Deadly nightshade hails from Eurasia and prefers to lurk about wetlands in shady areas. How appropriate.

Atropa Bella-donna3.jpg
Atropa Bella-donna3” by Tom Oates at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service states when “Linnaeus formally applied a scientific name to this plant in 1753, he acknowledged its toxic nature as well as its social value.” Many sources shared that “belladonna” is translated as “beautiful lady.”  Women of the Venetian court would use deadly nightshade to dilate their eyes, making them appear more alluring. “Atropas” is one of the three Fates in Greek Mythology, her tool being a set of shears she would use to snip the thread of (and therefore end) life.

Effects of Deadly Nightshade

All parts of deadly nightshade are poisonous, including the seductively sweet berries. Most poisonings with the plant happen through ingestion. The North Carolina State Cooperative Extension site identifies belladona poisoning symptoms as “Fever, rapid pulse, dilation of pupils, hot and dry flushed skin, headache, dry mouth, difficulty of swallowing, burning of the throat, hallucinations, convulsions.” Doesn’t sound like a good time.

But why?!

Yeah, I couldn’t stop the research at “this plant is bad news.” I wanted to know why it caused these symptoms. Stick with me because this is really interesting. Atropa belladonna contains toxic tropane alkaloids. These have the ability to block functions of the body’s nervous system. In fact, I discovered many optometrists use eyedrops containing atropine to dilate a patient’s eyes before the exam.

For Evil or Good

However, the Medicinal Plant Genomics Resource (a project through Michigan State University) cites how several of these alkaloids are utilized as medicine. Atropine is used for bradychardia and Wenckebach block, scopolamine for motion sickness, and hyoscyamine treats symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders. Sister G, being a nurse by profession, put atropine’s general use in medicine into layman’s terms for me.  She summarized it’s use as “something to dry up secreting glands.” For example, hospice patients are given a drop of atropine beneath the tongue so their airway is not blocked by saliva.

Rip it Out

I agree with most horticultural sites I browsed when they say nightshade should be viewed as a weed. It rambles about and can easily lure domestic animals or neighborhood children to their doom… or at least an expensive vet / doctor bill. In its stay on the Lot, I hardly ever saw pollinators visiting the bittersweet nightshade. Plus, when I removed the plant, it released an awful smell and the fleshy root constantly broke. Deadly nightshade is supposed to have the same root structure.  Either way, it will try your sanity as a gardener.