ORRIN MORRIS: Bittersweet is part of nightshades

"O Lord, how many are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them all; The earth is full of Thy possessions" Ps. 104:24.

Summer officially arrived this past Tuesday. Many wildflowers grace our fields and roadsides. Several of my favorites are morning glories, Turk's cap hibiscus, butterfly weed, trumpet creeper, various sunflowers and coreopsis.

Along with these wildflowers that proudly display their blooms are several species that have beauty to share but do it modestly, such as the wild potato vine and partridge pea. The wildflower featured this week is another that displays a brilliant tiny flower that is modestly nestled in a shrub or other host plant.


Solanum dulcamara

Bittersweet is in the night shade family as is the horse nettle (featured in April 2011). Care must be taken handling bittersweet since it contains highly dangerous toxins. Be sure to teach your children, or as in my case, grandchildren, to look but do not touch.

Some wildflower books add the family name and call it bittersweet nightshade.

The plant is a vine that grows up to 8 feet in length. As already noted, it prefers to intertwine within a host plant such as a shrub but has been found on fences. It may be found in open fields but mainly where the surrounding plants provide partial shade.

The blooms are shaped much like the horse nettle but much smaller. These star-shaped flowers are a classic example of color contrast. The stamens, that form a protruding structure, are yellow (a primary color along with red and blue). The petals are purple, the perfect contrast because it is opposite to yellow on the color wheel (purple is a secondary color along with orange and green).

Shortly after the bloom fades, seed pods form. At first they are light green, but turn bright red in the fall. Often, the bright red fruit is what attracts one's attention since the yellow stamens are so tiny.

In September, the end of its blooming season, it is common to see buds, blooms, green pods and red fruit side by side.

Bittersweet differs from horse nettle in another way: it has no thorns or irritating bristles on the stem or the leaves. The leaves have a distinct configuration as shown in the sketch. They occur in triplet with the large leaf shaped like the head of a spear. This central leaf is accompanied by two smaller leaves positioned opposite each other at the base.

May the personal praise you offer to the Lord tomorrow be, "O Lord, how many are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them all; The earth is full of Thy possessions" Ps. 104:24.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. Notecards are available of the wildflowers published in the Citizen. His email is odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com or call him at 770-929-3697.