Purple Little Tomatoes? Or Deadly Nightshade?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Ginny Freeman
Posted on: August 19, 2005

I have a friend that is an ornamental horticulturalist. I had, (until yesterday when she pulled it out), a plant in my yard that had leaves that looked exactly like a refined tomato plant. The leaves were shaped exactly the same as a tomato plant’s, and the bush was approximately 3 feet tall. It produced little flowers, just like tomato plants do, and the fruit was very small pea sized, in clusters, and the ripe fruit was very dark purple.

Today, I went on line and checked the web in a search for what this plant looked like and I have found nothing. It’s not exactly like the wonderberry or the garden huckleberry.

Judi, my garden friend, was deeply concerned that this plant was toxic, so she ripped it out. Now, I’m not so sure. She thought that it might be deadly night shade, or in the very least, toxic. So, what do you think?

Your friend is right to be concerned because there are plants related to the tomato with small dark purple fruits that are poisonous. But from what information you provide it is not possible to give you a definite answer what you had. A likely candidate is the annual herb deadly nightshade. The botanical name is Solanum nigrum or S. ptycanthum. This is a medicinal plant in its own right with diaphoretic, purgative and narcotic properties. Herbalists advise that this herb should only be used under the supervision of a qualified health care giver. The fresh berries can cause serious though not usually fatal poisoning.

Unfortunately I was unable to find an image of it showing the berries, but here are several links to online images showing the leaves and the whole plant:

http://www.swsbm.com/Images/New2-2001/Solanum_nigrum.jpg http://www.ibiblio.org/herbmed/pictures/p13/pages/solanum-nigrum.htm http://www.ibiblio.org/herbmed/pictures/p13/pages/solanum-nigrum-1.htm http://www.gov.on.ca/OMAFRA/english/crops/facts/ontweeds/eblack_nightshade.htm

The fruit is described as a "many-seeded, pea-sized, purple or black berry."

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