Friday, 2 June 2017


I spent a few minutes earlier today strolling around the grounds of Northampton General Hospital. Most of what were once extensive grounds have now been built upon or are used for car parking, but it is surprising what turns up.
Traveller's Joy, Clematis vitalba, is virtually a weed in many of the flower beds (as it is around the town's Sixfields area) and was acting as a food plant for a fly, Phytomyza vitalbae, whose grubs were mining the leaves.
Phytomyza vitalbae grubs were forming mines in Traveller's Joy.
Northampton General Hospital. 2 June, 2017
Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum, grew here and there and, given a few more days, will be in flower. It is theoretically handy to have such a ready source of opium in the hospital grounds but the strain usually occurring in Britain contains virtually none of the alkaloids . With its rather large flowers and glaucous foliage it is quite an attractive plant but seedlings are liable to crop up in enormous numbers if the fruiting capsules are not removed.
The fat flower buds of Opium Poppies were close to opening.
Northampton General Hospital. 2 June, 2017
But it was the nightshades that really caught my attention. The first species noted was Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum. It is an annual with flowers and fruits very like a tomato, a plant which, though closely related, is placed in a separate genus. The ripe fruits are edible but have only been consumed in an emergency, as in a famine. The green, under-ripe fruits are toxic and deaths have been reported, usually involving children. Birds will eat the fruits and apparently in Spain the Great Bustard, Otis tarda, is known to feed on them. 
Black Nightshade is a common weed throughout most of the world - and
at Northampton general Hospital. 2 June, 2017

The Woody Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara (Latin for bittersweet) is a scrambling plant, common in hedges throughout Britain. It is not yet in flower although the flower buds are in place and will soon be brightening up neglected borders at the hospital. 
Woody Nightshade scrambles through an ornamental hedge. Northampton
General Hospital. 2 June, 2017
You will gather from this that I regard it as quite an attractive plant though perhaps not quite garden-worthy. I grow instead a close relative, Solanum crispum, a vigorous climber from Chile.
Solanum crispum cloaks our garage wall at Stefen Hill, Daventry.
2 June, 2017
Then of course comes Deadly Nightshade, Atropa belladonna. I have mentioned this plant on a couple of occasions but such is its mystique that I do not apologise for giving it more blog-space. It is now in full flower and, although I may be in a minority of one, it regard it as a rather handsome plant. Its campanulate flowers have a sombre beauty and the colour of their maroon-purple flowers is of a shade not often seen in nature.
The sombre, bell-shaped flowers of Deadly Nightshade.
Northampton General Hospital. 2 June, 2017
Atropos was one of the three Fates of Greek mythology. She was not a woman to cross as it was she who wielded the 'dreaded shears' to cut the thread of life. There is another link between Atropos and death for Acherontia atropos is the Death's Head Hawkmoth, so-called for the skull-like marking on the insect's thorax.

N.B. Enchanter's Nightshade, Circaea lutetiana,  is quite unrelated, being a member of the Onagraceae - the Evening Primrose/Willow Herb family.

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