Solanum genus, some members of which I’ll be writing about today, is in the Solanaceae or the Nightshade Family. The Nightshade Family is very diverse with a wide range of annuals and perennials of various sizes. According to the “Flora of United Arab Emirates” book by UAE University (picture in the end of this post) the Nightshade Family is represented by 6 genuses (or “genera” to be academically correct) in the UAE. These genesus are further represented by 9 species, excluding the cultivated ones.
Everyone, well at least those who have gardened long enough, knows that most of the species in the family are poisonous. Some are even deadly. Now, there are some familiar species that are perfectly fine to eat such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. There’s is one interesting species of solanum that is edible, yet is easily confused with the non edible and poisonous ones. It’s is the Solanum Nigrum or Black Nightshade. It’s berries start green, when they’re highly poisonous, and turn to attractive black little things that resemble blueberries. The black ripe berries are edible and are often eaten by kids in some places, and is apparently even made into jams and preserves. It grew in my garden a few seasons ago and it was then that I was introduced to it. You can read about it here.
This is what the volunteer Solanum Nigum that grew in my garden looked like:
This year, I’ve noticed a lot of similar looking plants growing in my backyard, among my edibles. It may have come from manures, compost, or got spread by wind or birds. I guess I’ll never know and it doesn’t really matter, or does it? Well, as it often happens, gardeners in the same area happen to be bothered, or blessed, by the same weeds. And from what I’ve seen in Facebook posts, these seem to be growing in other people’s gardens this year too. Being the cautious me, coming across these I felt I shouldn’t trust my “faint” memory of the volunteer plant from seasons ago. Not in a hurry to try it, off to the books and Internet I went to search more about it and to correctly identify it. My guts were right again, it seems. The species that is growing in my backyard now is probably not the edible one. I’m not 100% sure but I’m not going to take the chances. Here’s the picture of the plant growing in my garden this year:
At first sight, both look very similar. Attractive, little black berries waiting for you to taste them. Ignoring the leaf shape for now, if you look closer you’ll see that there’s a difference in the calyx/sepals (this is the part that surrounds the flower and later adorns the berries):
Have you notciced how the sepals are turned away from the berries in the picture on the left, and how they're gently hugging the berries in the picture on right? Here’s the clarification, I circled it for you:
According to the internet search, the picture on the left seems to show Solanum Americanum and the picture on the right seems to show Solanum Nigrum. Most sources on the internet state that the Solanum Americanum species is poisonous, so I personally would go with this. But, since the Solanum genus is represented by 4 species in the UAE including the Solanum Nigrum and excluding Solanum Americanum, I decided to double check using the “Flora of the United Arab Emirates” book that I got a few years ago from the Sharjah Used Books Festival:
The only issue with the book is that it doesn’t include colored pictures for all the species, so matching the species sent me back to the Internet. Considering that that other three species, Solanum Incanum, Solanum Luteum, and Solanum Surattense, all have yellow fruits when ripe, I came to a conclusion that the unidentifed fruit in my garden is either the most probably poisonous Solanum Americanum, or some other unidentified solanum that I wouldn’t want to consume. I am not even sure now if the solanum that voluntarily grew in my garden a few seasons ago was the edible Solanum Negrum, even though I did try it back then.
I do not claim that the species mentioned here are what I suppose them to be, so please use your own judgment and do not consume anything you are not 100% sure is edible. Please share your thoughts in the comments and correct me if I’m wrong.