Solanum erianthum (so-LAY-num er-ee-AN-thum ) is a perennial member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family of plants and a species of nightshade commonly found in riparian zones, dry forests, moist forests, disturbed areas, waste places, and elevations from sea level.
The plant is native to Central America, the Bahamas, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America, the Galápagos Islands, and southern North America.
It is also believed that the Spanish explorers, in the 16th century, introduced this plant to the Philippines, leading to its spread to southeast Asia, Asian Mainland, Australia, Malesia, New Zealand, and other Oceania habitats.
Indeed, this adaptable plant has been introduced and made at home in many settings around the world. In North America, it is naturalized in Texas and Florida.
The plant’s genus name, Solanum, means solitude or quiet and refers to the plant’s narcotic properties.
The specific epithet, perianth, is derived from the Greek words “eryon” and “anthos,” meaning wool flower. It actually refers to the furry texture of all parts of the plant, including the dense trichomes found on the blooms, fruits, small leaves, petioles, and stem tips.
You may also hear this plant referred to as Solanum verbascifolium. It also goes by several common names, including:
- Mullein Nightshade
- Velvet Nightshade
- Tobacco Tree
- Potato Tree
The common name, Potato Tree (Potatotree), is a reference to the fact that the roots smell like cooked potatoes when broken.
- Solanum Erianthum Care
- How To Propagate Solanum Erianthum
- Velvet Nightshade Main Pest or Diseases
- Suggested Mullein Nightshade Uses
Solanum Erianthum Care
No specific videos deal with Potato Tree care; however, the care of plants in the genus Solanum can be generalized.
Size and Growth
Potatotree is a quickly growing plant that may be grown as a shrub or a small tree. The plant experiences the greatest amount of growth in the springtime.
Depending upon environmental factors and care, Velvet Nightshade may grow to only about 6′ feet high or attain a towering height of about 25′ feet. Likewise, this plant can attain a spread of 6′ to 10′ feet, depending upon conditions, with several smaller trunks.
The crown of Salvadora is widespread and slightly rounded and holds a great deal of appeal for small birds, even though the wood of the shrub is quite brittle and soft.
The brown bark is smooth on young limbs but becomes rough and warty as it ages.
The simple leaves of Velvet Nightshade are about a foot long, furry, and yellowish-green.
Flowering and Fragrance
Salvadora’s five-lobed corolla is white and has five stamens with yellow anthers. The unscented, star-shaped flowers have five petals and grow in clusters or lateral cymes.
In a warm climate, the Potato Tree will bloom all year round. As the blooms mature, they transition into round, yellow berries.
Both blooms and berries are under an inch in diameter.
The oval or elliptical, greenish/yellow leaves of Velvet Mullein are soft and furry. Although the plant’s blooms are unscented, the leaves and stems have a strong tarry smell when broken.
As mentioned, the roots smell unmistakably like cooked potatoes when they are broken.
Light and Temperature
This enthusiastic native plant likes a full sun setting but can tolerate some shade.
Mullein Nightshade is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 10 and can tolerate cold temperatures down to 20° degrees Fahrenheit. In warm climates, the plant is perennial and blooms year-round.
In cooler climates, it exhibits the most growth and blooming in the springtime and may self-seed and return from seed annually.
Watering and Feeding
Tobacco Tree is adaptable to various climates and moisture situations and can grow wild in environments ranging from dry deserts to wetlands.
Generally speaking, this wild plant can do well with occasional deep watering until it is established. Once the plant is established, you may never need to water it.
Potato trees cannot tolerate high salt content in the soil, so in times of severe drought, you may occasionally need to flush the soil with fresh water to reduce salt content.
These hardy plants require no added fertilizer, but ample organic matter in the soil will help Salvadora thrive. In cool climates, a winter mulch can help protect the plant’s roots while providing slow-release nourishment.
Soil and Transplanting
Potatotree can be found thriving in all sorts of soil and all sorts of settings around the world.
It does best in disturbed soil, so it can spring up and prosper in recently forested woodlands, along roadsides, vacant lots, cultivated fields, and similar settings.
In some areas, such as Mexico, it has taken hold in wet lowlands, while in other locations, such as Florida, it has set down roots on dry coral limestone.
Generally speaking, Velvet Nightshade prefers loose, airy, well-draining soil with plenty of mixed organic content, but it tends to make do with whatever is presented.
Grooming and Maintenance
Little or no grooming or maintenance is needed with this plant. As with all plants, examine your Mullein Nightshade regularly and trim away any dead, damaged, or diseased limbs.
Deadhead the flowers if you want to prevent them from going to seed. Be sure to wear gloves when grooming this plant because the sap can be irritating.
How To Propagate Solanum Erianthum
You will probably wonder how to prevent Salvadora from propagating more than how to propagate it.
These plants reproduce freely from seed, shallow roots, and adventitious shoots. When left to their own devices in the landscape, they will spread rapidly, forming large colonies.
You can easily collect the berries as they mature and plant them shallowly in loose, well-draining potting mix in nursery trays or small pots.
Potato trees can also be grown from woody cuttings or root cuttings planted into loose, well-draining potting mix in nursery trays or small pots.
With either method, be sure the aspiring plants stay warm and sheltered from harsh extremes of sun and wind.
Keep the soil slightly moist until the plants germinate or begin to show new growth, then transition to a standard soak and dry watering method.
Your young plantlets can be transferred to the landscape when they are about four inches high.
Velvet Nightshade Main Pest or Diseases
These rugged, tarry-smelling plants are impervious to pests and diseases.
As with most plants, you could probably generate problems with fungal infection and root rot if you leave your Tobacco Tree plants standing in stagnant water for a long period of time, but there’s a good chance the plant would adapt or find a way to send out shoots and seeds to grow somewhere else.
Is the plant considered toxic or poisonous to people, kids, and pets?
As with most nightshades, Velvet Nightshade contains powerful alkaloids, which can be very toxic and may cause hallucinations if consumed.
In fact, the alkaloids from this plant are so powerful that some indigenous peoples use them to make hunting dart poison.
It can also cause symptoms, including weakness, confusion, cramps, drooling, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, arthritis, and decreased heart rate.
The alkaloids manufacture synthetic steroids commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry, and the plant has long been used in folk medicine as a treatment for a wide range of ailments; however, for the most part, you are best off avoiding ingesting the Potato Tree.
In some cultures, Potato Tree is cultivated for its medicinal value. Extracts of various parts of the plant are used to treat maladies ranging from headaches, dysentery, fever, and vertigo to cancer.
It’s also believed in West Africa that Potato tree leaves can cure malaria, leprosy, and sexually transmitted diseases.
In India, berries are sometimes used in a curry recipe in southern India; however, it is very important to know how to prepare these potentially toxic berries to avoid disaster.
Is the plant considered invasive?
Solanum erianthum is a fast growing evergreen shrub that can be wildly invasive. It is frowned upon as a cultivation escapee, an environmental weed, a naturalized plant, and an invasive plant in many parts of the world.
To prevent your Mullein Nightshade from becoming a public nuisance, plant only nursery cultivars and closely monitor them to thwart unwanted spread.
Suggested Mullein Nightshade Uses
Potato Tree does so well in harsh, dry environments that it is an excellent addition to a Xeriscape.
It is pretty in any natural landscape, providing both habitat and food for birds and wildlife. White Crowned pigeons are especially fond of its fruit.
In agricultural settings, it is useful as a shade plant (especially when growing coffee). It also makes a pretty shade tree in a yard or garden.
Because these plants are so very adaptable, it is easy to find a place for them in almost any warm yard or garden setting.
Moreover, Mullein Nightshade can be used as a medicinal plant in Tropical Asia and cultivated as a landscape ornamental.