Alas, with this weed, I will be taking a hiatus from the weekly weed post for a time. Still be on the lookout for new nature-related posts, as I’ll continue to post photos of my botanizing adventures!
I haven’t seen this next weed very frequently, but since it is a widespread and fairly easy-to-recognize species, I decided to write about it. Carolina horsenettle (Solanum carolinense), like tomatoes and peppers, is a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Indeed, the flowers of this plant are very similar to those of tomatoes and peppers with five (sometimes six) papery white petals that are united into a tube for about half of their length, but then spread out into a flat, starry shape. Five thick, bright yellow anthers (male, pollen-producing parts) protrude from the center of the star, as well as the less conspicuous style and stigma (female, pollen-accepting parts). These yellow-on-white flowers are a dead giveaway that this plant is in the genus Solanum.
Even the non-reproductive parts of this plant are easy to distinguish. The whole plant is armed with spines, from the thickest stalks to the rachises (central veins) of the leaves. The leaves are roughly the shape of an extended triangle or fat, pointy feather, though they are most easily recognized by their wavy lobes. They are also strongly veined and, as I mentioned before, super spiny!
The fruits of this plant also look like tiny, albeit yellow, tomatoes…but don’t chow down on them! These plants contain high levels of toxic solanine, like modern-day tomatoes once did before we domesticated them. Maybe in a couple hundred years we can selectively breed the poison out of them, but until now, leave them for the birds and the rodents.