Nightshade Family

Blue Witch © GBarton

Solanaceae (so-lan-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Leaves most often alternate and simple
  • Saucer-, trumpet-, or tube-shaped flowers with pleated petals
  • Flower parts in fives
  • Fruit often a fleshy berry

Description (Jepson)

  • Eudicotyledons (eudicots) – a major lineage of flowering plants including most plants traditionally described as dicots and generally characterized by
    • 2 seed leaves (dicotyledon)
    • Netted (reticulate) leaf venation
    • Flower parts in fours and fives
    • Pollen grains with 3 pores (tricolpate)
    • Vascular bundles in stem arranged in a ring
    • Taproot system
  • Annual and perennial herbs to shrubs
  • Leaves generally alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) and generally simple (not divided into leaflets)
  • Flowers
    • Bisexual and generally radially symmetric
    • Saucer-, trumpet, or tube-shaped with pleated petals
    • Flower parts in sets of five
    • Anthers (pollen-producing part of the stamen/male structure) are often large and tightly packed around the pistil (female flower part)
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Inflorescence (flower cluster) in many forms
  • Fruit is a berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall) or capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


  • Approximately 3,000 species worldwide, mostly in tropical regions
    • Greatest diversity is found in South and Central America
    • Family includes many important agricultural crops, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and tobacco, as well as medicinal plants and ornamentals
  • Many plants in this family (e.g. blue witch) are pollinated most effectively by sonication or “buzz pollination”
    • Flowers have specialized “poricidal,” tube-shaped anthers containing firmly-attached pollen and having, unlike most anthers, small openings, like a salt shaker, which regulate the dispersal of pollen
    • Only bumblebees, along with a few other native bees, can release this pollen by grasping the flower with their legs or mouthparts and vibrating their flight muscles without moving their wings
      • Watch this short video to see how buzz pollination works (KQED 2016)
    • Vibrating bees may generate forces 50x that of gravity–5x what fighter jet pilots experience (U. of Stirling 2020), causing pollen to “blast out” of the anthers (Zimmer 2013)
    • Buzz-pollinating bees make a distinctive, middle-C “raspberry” sound, which is higher pitched than the buzz of flight (Rosenthal 2008)
    • Only about 9% of the world’s flowers are buzz pollinated (Buchmann 1985)
    • A number of important agricultural crops, such as tomatoes and potatoes, require buzz pollination
    • Poricidal anthers have evolved several times in disparate plant families, an example of convergent evolution (de Luca and Vellejo-Marin 2013)
  • CAUTION – many species are highly toxic, containing powerful tropane alkaloids, which affect the central nervous system; some have been used traditionally for their hallucinogenic, narcotic, and anticholinergic properties
    • Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) has been used as a medicine, poison, and cosmetic to dilate pupils; Belladonna is Italian for “beautiful lady” (NIH 2020)
    • Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), whose roots resemble human figures, has been associated with magic and used as a medicine and poison (Encyclopædia Britannica 2018)
    • Sacred Datura or Jimsonweed (Datura wrightii), native to California, has been used by Native people as a hallucinogen in spiritual practices and as a medicine (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 2017)
  • Scientific name from the included genus Solanum, from the Latin solare “to sooth” or “quiet,” in reference to the narcotic properties of some species
  • Common name may refer to the preference of some species for shade and/or that some flower at night
  • Represented by 3 species at Edgewood

See General References

Specific References

Buchmann, S.L. 1985. Bees use vibration to aid pollen collection from non-poricidal flowers. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 58: 517-525. JSTOR.

de Luca, P.A. and M. Vellejo-Marin. 2013. What’s the “buzz” about? The ecology and evolutionary significance of buzz pollination. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 16: 429-435.

Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018, Nov. 2. Mandrake. Britannica.

KQED San Francisco. 2016, Jul. 9. This vibrating bumble bee unlocks a flower’s hidden treasure [Video]. Deep Look. YouTube.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 2017. Datura wrightii. Plant Database. University of Texas at Austin.

NIH (National Institute of Health). 2020. Belladonna. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus.

University of Stirling. 2020, Jul. 29. Bees’ buzz is more powerful for pollination, than for defense or flight. ScienceDaily.

Zimmer, C. 2013, Jul. 11. Unraveling the pollinating secrets of a bee’s buzz. New York Times.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family