Bittersweet nightshade is a vine or a sprawling, mounding shrub. Its lower stems are woody while the upper stems are herbaceous and die back each year. Leaves are dark-green to purplish and are arranged alternately along the stem. Plants can have two distinctly different types of leaves; deeply lobed at the base or simple, ovate to oval leaves without lobes. Leaves have an unpleasant odor when crushed.
Each star shaped flower has 5 purple to white petals, and contrasting yellow stamen that surround the solitary pistil. They are approximately ½” in diameter and grow in clusters from the along the stem.
Favorable environment notes:
Bittersweet nightshade is common throughout the Northwest. It occurs most often along fencerows, roadsides, drainage ditches and along streams and wetlands where it thrives in moist soil and partial shade. It is seen less often in maintained nursery crops, although it is common among landscapes.
Plants flower from approximately mid-May thru September. Small egg shaped berries are 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide, and slightly longer than wide. They are initially green ripening to bright red. Mature fruits contain around 30 yellowish, flat seeds each. Seeds are spread by birds and animals collecting and eating the berries. Plants also spread by prostrate stems rooting at nodes and suckering of the main root which grows horizontally just below the soil surface.
Bittersweet nightshade is a member of the same family as potatoes and tomatoes, but all plant parts are mildly poisonous and it should not be consumed by people and/or livestock. This plant is sometimes mistakenly called deadly nightshade, a very different plant (Atropa belladonna) that is extremely poisonous with berries that are black when ripe.