horse nettle (Solanum carolinense)
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Crooked Run Valley