Blue Witch

Blue Witch © GBarton

Blue Witch Nightshade
Solanum umbelliferum
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Nightshade Family (Solanaceae)
  • Evergreen to deciduous shrub
  • Stems green and densely hairy
  • Leaves oval and hairy
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a loose cluster of blue-purple flowers at the top of stems
    • Each flower has 5 fused petals and sepals (usually green, outer flower parts)
      • Prominent, thick, yellow anthers (pollen-producing part of the stamen/male structure) surround the protruding pistil (female flower part)
      • Base of each petal has 2 green spots
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall), initially green, becoming purple when mature
  • Height to 2-3 ft.; may grow wider than its height

Distribution

  • Native to California
    • Grows in chaparral and low-elevation oak woodlands
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows in Arizona and south into Baja California, Mexico
  • Grows at elevations to 5,200 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Fruit eaten by birds
    • Frequented by bumblebees and other native bees capable of “buzz pollinating”
  • Native people
    • Ate the fruit (preparation is undocumented)
  • CAUTION – The glycoalkaloid solanine, which is toxic to people and some animals, is in all plant parts, including leaves, fruit, and tubers, of many Solanum species

Name Derivation

  • Solanum (so- LAY-num) – from the Latin solari, “to soothe” or “to quiet,” referring to the narcotic properties of some species (e.g. Datura species)
  • umbelliferum (um-bel-IF-er-um) – from the Latin for “bearing an umbel” (a spoke-like flower cluster with stalks radiating from a single point), referring to the flower arrangement
  • Blue witch – “witches’ weeds” is a name used for some Nightshade species, as their poisonous properties made them common ingredients of potions and imagined witches’ brews
Flower (L), Developing Fruit (R)
© DSchiel

Notes

  • Nightshades (Solanum species), California poppies (Eschscholzia species), and wild roses (Rosa species) are examples of plants with nectarless flowers that offer only pollen
    • Pollen provides no immediate energy, so bees foraging on these flowers must intermittently visit nectar-bearing plants to keep their sugar buzz! (Thorp 2002)
  • Pollinated most effectively by sonication or “buzz pollination”; see Nightshade family for details
  • Flowers close at night to protect pollen
  • Drought-deciduous as well as winter-deciduous
    • Sheds leaves during the summer to conserve water
    • Stems are green, so plant can continue photosynthesis when leafless

At Edgewood

  • Found in chaparral and woodlands
  • Flowers January – September

See General References

Specific References 

Breckling, B. 2008. Spring Wildflowers of Henry W. Coe State Park and the Inland San Francisco Bay Area. Pine Ridge Association.

Solanaceae Source. Morphology.

Thorp. R., P. Schroeder, and C. Ferguson. 2002. Bumble bees: Boisterous pollinators of native California flowers. Fremontia 30(3-4): 26-31.