Belladonna — Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), also known as belladonna, dwale, Banewort, Devil’s Cherries, Naughty Man’s Cherries, Divale, Black Cherry, Devil’s Herb, Great Morel, and Dwayberry, is a well-known perennial herbaceous plant, with leaves and berries that are highly toxic and hallucinogenic. It is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which it shares with potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, jimsonweed, tobacco, goji, and chili peppers. In addition, Solanum nigrum is also called Deadly nightshade.
The Belladonna is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, and has become naturalized in parts of North America. It is not nearly as common in the wild as many field guides would suggest. This is because it is readily attacked by mint flea beetles Longitarsus waterhousei and has a low tolerance for direct sunlight. In areas where it has become naturalized it can often be found in shady, moist areas with a limestone-rich soil.
The Belladonna has dull green leaves and bell-shaped flowers that are an unremarkable shade of purple, which yield black, shiny berries measuring approximately 1 cm in diameter. The yellow form (Atropa belladonna var. lutea) has pale yellow flowers and fruit. The berries are sweet, but most of their alkaloids are in the seed. It is an herbaceous plant, and can grow to be approximately five metres tall. The leaves have an oily, “poison ivy”-like feel and can cause vesicular pustular eruptions if handled carelessly. Many animals, such as rabbits, birds and deer, seem to eat the plant without suffering harmful effects, though dogs and cats are affected.
When Belladonna is in its first stages of growing the star shaped base of the berries is barely visible.
Germination is often difficult due to the presence of germination inhibitors in the seeds. Belladonna is not common as a garden plant, and is considered a weed in some areas. Belladonna is a perennial branching herb growing to 5 metre tall, with 18 cm long ovate leaves. Belladonna contain the heaviest leaf in its angiosperm group. It is not a very hardy perennial and is sensitive to being transplanted. Germination requires several weeks in warm, moist, absolutely sterile soil, usually far from normal garden conditions.
The plant is an important source of atropine, which is an effective treatment for the effects of poisoning by cholinesterase inhibitors such as Parathion and Malathion. Atropine will also reverse the effects of poisoning by nerve agents designed for chemical warfare. In Europe, the plant is specifically cultivated for this purpose. While atropine can treat the symptoms of poisoning from these organophosphate compounds, the antidote is the unrelated compound pralidoxime.