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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Solanum mauritianum

Solanum mauritianum is a small tree or shrub native to South America. It's common names include Woolly Nightshade, Ear-leaved Nightshade (or "earleaf nightshade"), Flannel Weed, Bugweed, Tobacco Weed and Kerosene Plant.

The plant has a life of up to thirty years, and can grow up to 10 m tall. Its large oval leaves are grey-green in color and covered with felt-like hairs. The flower is purple with a yellow center. The plant can flower year round but fruiting occurs in late spring to early summer. It is tolerant of many soil types and quickly becomes established around plantations, forest margins, scrub and open land.

S. mauritianum is a favoured food plant of the African Olive-pigeon (Columba arquatrix). This is bizarre given the plant and birds ranges do not overlap. It is poisonous for many other organisms, including humans. The main toxic compound in S. mauritianum is the steroid alkaloid solasodine.

As invasive species

Woolly nightshade has naturalized in New Zealand. It arrived there by 1880, and is now well established from Taupo northward. Woolly nightshade is poisonous and handling the plants can cause irritation and nausea. The dust from the plant can cause respiratory problems if exposure is prolonged. Because of its ability to affect human health and because of its aggressive and fast growing character it is illegal in some areas of New Zealand to sell, propagate, or distribute any part of the plant.

This plant has also become naturalized in Australia, particularly on the east coast. In Australia this plant is known colloquially as "wild tobacco", although Australia possesses many species of Nicotiana which are more correctly known as wild tobaccos.

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