Monday, July 5, 2010

Climbing Nightshade Ahead in Early Balloting for the Weed of the Year Award

Each year, it seems a different weed will take hold in the garden. Some years, I've fought thistle and bindweed. Others it has been purslane and dandelion. But this summer so far, the Weed of the Year award would have to go to Solanum dulcamara, a member of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family.

This weedy vine goes by a large number of common names, including felonwood and poisonflower, but I've always called it climbing nightshade. Its single-stemmed vines climb up through any kind of garden plant, most often in my western perennial and shrub border. The foliage and vine looks similar to clematis, and will disguise itself well as it weaves its way through other plants. Often I won't even notice it is there until the characteristic purple and yellow flowers bloom.

When disturbed or torn, the stems and foliage have a strong, distinguishing nutty or smoky scent. The berries of Solanum dulcamara are highly poisonous, so I try to rip it out as soon as I see it.

In years past, a few nightshade vines will pop up here and there, but one must have been allowed to seed last season because it has become a true pest throughout the garden this summer. Weeding is a bit of a challenge, as the stems easily break when pulled and are often intricately intertwined with desirable plants in the garden.

If it weren't so invasive, not to mention poisonous, it might be an attractive garden plant. The foliage, flowers and berries all have aesthetic value, but they don't outweigh the negatives, making  Solanum dulcamara the leading candidate for the Weed of the Year award.

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