A Darker View of Nightshade

 

The pretty purple flowers and silvery leaves of a common Texas nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium, spread along roadsides and ditches across Texas: from coastal prairies to the hill country, to the panhandle, and beyond. 

As its flowers fade, the developing fruits take on the appearance of small green tomatoes; in time, the fruits turn yellow and become even more appealing.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a fruit to use in jam or jellies. Poisonous even in its early stages, the fruit becomes increasingly toxic as it ripens, helping to explain why birds and mammals allow it to linger on the plant well into winter.

On a dank, rainy day at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, this nightshade — already missing its leaves and skeletal in appearance — caught my eye. The dark, water-filled canal behind it seemed the perfect background for a poisonous plant; a shutter speed of 1/1600 magnified the effect.

 

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