Solanum family overview

Solanum family overview

The solanum family is often referred to as the ‘nightshade’ family and contains some very commonly home grown food plants – potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers like capsicum and chili along with some very large industrially cropped plants such as Tobacco.

Tomato and relatives

Except for the potato (which is a tuber, not a fruit), the crop plants of the nightshade family produce fruits (peppers, tomatoes) that we con­ sider culinarily to be vegetables. Most of the family’s cultivated veg­etables come from the New World and were unknown in Europe until the 16th century; their wild ancestors are found in Central and South America. The exception is the eggplant (aubergine), which is native t India and was brought to Spain by Arabs in the 10th century.

There are more than just food plants in this family, however. Sev­eral members are ornamentals (tobacco, petunias), and many spe­cies are loaded with toxic alkaloids. Various thornapples (Datura spp.), bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), and deadly nightshade (Atropa spp.) are poisonous but nevertheless valuable pharmacologically.

Botanical characteristics

Botanically speaking, nightshade flowers are perfect, with five petals and five sepals con­ joined; the ovary is superior, and the fruit is either a capsule (thornapple) or a berry (pepper,tomato,eggplant)

General propagation Characteristics

Most nightshade family plants are annual or perennial herbaceous plants. In either case, fruits and seeds are produced in the first growing season. (Every rule has an exception: the tree tomato, Cyphoman­dra betacea, does not set fruit until the second or third year.) Pollination behavior is less straightforward. Cultivated night­ shade family plants mostly self-pollinate in the short days of the northern latitudes of North America and Europe, but the possibility of cross-pollination cannot be ruled out.
More precise information is found in the individual entries.

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