horse nettle (Solanum carolinense)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMON NAMES:
Carolina horsenettle
Carolina horse-nettle
sand brier
apple-of-Sodom
horse-nettle
bull nettle
devil's tomato
sand briar

 

SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS:
Solanum carolinense forma albiflorum (Kuntze) Benke
Solanum carolinense var. albiflorum Kuntze
Solanum carolinense var. floridanum (Dunal) Chapm.
Solanum carolinense var. pohlianum Dunal
Solanum floridanum Raf.
Solanum floridanum Shuttlew. ex Dunal
Solanum godfreyi Shinners
Solanum pleei Dunal

 

CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.

 

TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of horse net-

tle is Solanum carolinense L. There are two generally accepted var-

ieties of Solanum carolinense - variety carolinense (variety found

in Sky Meadows Park) and variety floridanum (restricted to Florida

and Georgia).

 

NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.

 

GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

 

Habit: This native perennial plant is up to 3' tall, branching occa-

sionally. The stems have scattered white or yellow spines.

 

Leaves: The alternate leaves are up to 6" long and 3" across, and

have short petioles. They are broadly lanceolate or ovate, but rather

angular along the margins, which are slightly ciliate. There are white

hairs and scattered spines along the central vein on the underside of

each leaf.

 

Flowers: The upper stems terminate in small clusters of star-shaped

flowers with hairy pedicels. These flowers are white or light violet,

about ¾" across, and have 5 petals that are united at the base. Near

the center, there are 5 elongated yellow anthers that are very promi-

nent. There is no noticeable floral scent.

 

Fruit/Seeds: Afterwards, round fruits develop that are a little more

than ½" across and half-enclosed by a papery calyx. They become

yellow when mature, but are not edible to humans. Each fruit con-

tains numerous seeds that are glossy yellow and flattened.

 

Roots: The root system has creeping underground rhizomes, which

are responsible for the vegetative spread of this plant.

 

REGENERATION PROCESS: Horse nettle propogates itself by

reseeding and vegetative spread through rhizomes.

 

HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include mesic to dry black soil prairies,
clay prairies, sand prairies, openings and edges of woodlands, aban-

doned fields, areas along roadsides and railroads, yards and gardens,

vacant lots, and other waste areas. This plant is most typically observ-

ed in disturbed areas, but can be found occasionally even in high

quality habitats.

 

SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Horse nettle prefers full sun and moist

to dry conditions. Horse nettle grows readily in loamy or sandy soil, and

probably other soil types as well. It is a rather weedy plant that can be-

come aggressive at disturbed sites. Because of the intense competition
among plants and their root systems, horse nettle is less aggressive in

undisturbed natural habitats than in disturbed sites around develoved

areas.

 

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period can occur from
early summer to early fall, and typically lasts about 1½ months.

 

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Horse nettle is found throughout most

of the United States (with the exception of some areas of the northern

Great Plains and northern Rocky Mountain states); it does not occur west

or north of Ontario and has not been reported in the Canadian maritime

provinces.

 

SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.

 

IMPORTANCE AND USES: Bumblebees visit the flowers to collect
pollen, using 'buzz pollination,' which involves the rapid vibration of

thoracic muscles. The caterpillars of the day-flying moth Synanthedon

rileyana (Riley's clearwing) feed on horse nettle. This moth is a wasp

mimic. The mature yellow fruits are eaten, to a limited extent, by the

ring-necked pheasant, bobwhite, wild turkey, eastern striped skunk,

and possibly small rodents, thereby promoting the distribution of the

seeds and spread of this plant. They are apparently more immune to

the reduced toxicity of the mature fruit than humans. Experimental

studies have shown that the seeds can pass unharmed through the

digestive tracts of livestock. Mammalian herbivores avoid eating

the stems and foliage of this plant because of their scattered spines

and toxicity; the latter is the result of solanum, an alkaloid compound

that also occurs in other members of the Nightshade Family.

 

 

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