Atropa belladonna | ‘Belladonna’, ‘Deadly Nightshade’, ‘Devil’s Cherry’ | 50 seeds
An herbaceous plant of the family Solanaceae, Atropa belladonna – most often known as the ‘Belladonna’ or ‘Deadly Nightshade’ – is a highly-poisonous native of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. This folkloric plant has long been cultivated and much-discussed around the world, leading to the use of many other evocative names to describe it, such as ‘Banewort’, ‘Beautiful Death’, ‘Belladonna’, ‘Deadly Nightshade’, ‘Death Cherries’, ‘Devil’s Berries’, ‘Devil’s Cherry’, ‘Devil’s Herb’, ‘Divale’, ‘Dwale’, ‘Dwayberry’, ‘Great Morel’, ‘Love Apple’, ‘Naughty Man’s Cherries’, ‘Sorceror’s Cherry’ and ‘Witch’s Berry’.
Atropa belladonna is a branching upright perennial which is often grown as a subshrub to around two metres tall. It prefers to grow in moist calcareous or limestone-rich soils, on disturbed ground, field margins, hedgerows and open woodland, where its seed is spread by birds and other small creatures. The species forms blue-green, ovate leaves up to approximately eighteen centimetres in length, bell-shaped and faintly-scented maroon-purple-whitish flowers and sweet, shiny black berries of roughly one-and-a-half centimetres in diameter. The blooms appear mid-summer to autumn and are attractive to bees, birds and butterflies.
Besides the common form of ‘Belladonna’, there is also a variety called Atropa belladonna var. lutea, which produces pale-yellow flowers and fruit. Despite the berries’ apparent sweetness, it is important to remember that both these and all other parts of the plant’s foliage are extremely toxic – certainly not a plant we’d feel comfortable growing around small children and most pets!
Atropa belladonna makes for an interesting addition to any garden situated within USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9. The species can be a slow and sporadic germinator (sometimes doing so over a period of several weeks or months), but is well worth the wait when it does! Germinate in a cool place using a commercial peat-based soil mixed with, for example, perlite. Germination can also be improved by the application of gibberellic acid. Plant the resultant seedlings in mildly to very alkaline soil in full sun to partial shade, watering regularly in average amounts (so ensure proper drainage). Space approximately ninety centimetres apart when planting in the ground, to allow each plant enough room to develop to maturity.
All the seed sold by Arkham’s botanical was freshly and ethically sourced in 2018