Top ornamental plants of nightshade family

Top ornamental plants of nightshade family


Do you associate nightshade plants (Solanaceae) only with tasty tomatoes, peppers, potatoes or eggplants? If so, know that it is also worth taking a look at them, taking into account their decorative properties. 

The nightshade family has nearly 2,500 species present on all continents except the Arctic Circle. Many of the nightshade plants are distinguished by their decorative fruits, flowers and even leaves.

That is why the decorative aspect of species from the Solanaceae family is more and more often used in creating plant arrangements, both in the garden and at home. Nightshades are more and more often grown in home gardens, both as climbers and bedding elements with perennials, or plants for container cultivation, for balconies and terraces.

History of nightshade plants cultivation

The history of the cultivation of nightshade as ornamental plants dates back to ancient times, or more precisely to the ancient Maya and Aztecs, where these plants come from. Originally ripe tomato fruit, tomatillos and sweet peppers constituted an important part of the diet of the inhabitants of South and Central America. They reached Europe in the 15th century, that is, at the time of European colonization. And already 100 years later they were grown as ornamental plants, decorating Italian and Spanish homes.

In the past, people were afraid of the colorful fruit of the tomato and the smell of the plant itself, which scared away potential consumers. Only with time did nightshade vegetables become typical utility plants.

The consumption of nightshades did not develop on a large scale until the 20th century. Nevertheless, cherry tomatoes, annual peppers, plants of the Physalis species or cultivars and hybrids of hot pepper are still cultivated for their colorful fruits of various sizes and shapes, and for the bellows protecting the berries. Other species with decorative flowers, shoots and leaves are part of floral arrangements such as bouquets, table decorations, windows, flower wreaths and dry arrangements.

Decorative nature of plants from the Solanaceae family

The decorative character of plants from the nightshade family is mainly determined by colorful fruits of various shapes and sizes. Examples of plants commonly used in cultivation for their colorful berries are poisonous nightshades, as well as varieties and cultivars of hot pepper and annual pepper.

Decorative fruit and follicles of nightshade plants

Plants belonging to the genus Physalis L. are characterized by original follicles that cover the berry (fruit) inside them. During the development of the fruit in the bellows, the calyx sepals gradually expand, which cover the fruit that is formed inside them. Decorative bellows can be used to create floral arrangements and as an element of dry bouquets.

In turn, such species of nightshade as tomato, pepper, eggplant produce not only tasty but also colorful fruits of various sizes and shapes. Such plants, commonly classified as vegetables, can be grown together with other ornamental plants on a mixed bed or used in container plantings.

Colorful flowers of nightshade plants

Nightshade plants are also plants with decorative flowers. An example is the garden petunia, jasmine tobacco or blue potatobush (Lycianthes rantonnetii), known as the "sapphire storm" is an excellent example of a species of the nightshade family with ornamental flowers. Lycianthes rantonnetii is called a sapphire storm because of the purple-blue flowers that cover the plant This plant comes from Latin America and in the climatic conditions of Poland it is grown only as a potted plant. In addition to the blue-flowered varieties, the cultivation also includes white-blooming varieties.

Decorative leaves and shoots of nightshade plants

Some species of nightshade produce decorative leaves and shoots, such as coral nightshade of 'Variegata' with white-green leaves and annual peppers of 'Purple Tiger Variegata', which are characterized by purple-white-green leaves. In turn, long and slender shoots produced by jasmine nightshade determine its decorative character and use as an ornamental creeper from the nightshade family.

List of the best ornamental plants of the nightshade family


Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum L.)

Jerusalem cherry or Madeira winter (Solanum pseudocapsicum L.) is a commonly sold plant from the Solanaceae family. The most popular varieties are: 'New Patterson' - with orange-red fruits, 'Goldball' - with larger golden-yellow fruits and 'Variegata' which is characterized by white and green leaves.

Christmas cherry (Solanum capsicastrum L.)

Christmas cherry, also known as Kangaroo apple (Solanum capsicastrum L.), is a plant native to South America. Usually it is cultivated as a seasonal plant with decorative red fruits. Kept in a slightly sunlit but cool place, for example on a window sill, it keeps the fruit for up to several months. If we leave the plant at home after fruiting, it will certainly repeat flowering and fruiting in the next season.

Both the Jerusalem cherry and Christmas cherry are perfect for oriental and modern rooms. These plants are perfect for growing on a kitchen or bathroom window sill. Nightshades are very often confused with the Capsicum annuum of the 'Koral' variety. Unlike peppers, they are poisonous perennial plants. Therefore, when giving them to a loved one, make sure that both animals and children will not have contact with them.

Potato vine / Jasmine nightshade (Solanum jasminoides)

Jasmine nightshade (Solanum jasminoides) is an exotic plant with overhanging, slack stems. Therefore, it can be planted in hanging baskets. The flowers of the nightshade are very similar to the flowers of many-flowered jasmine (unfortunately they do not smell). Thanks to its long and slender shoots, it can be grown like a climber. This plant, however, does not produce clinging organs, so its shoots should be pinned to supports by ourselves.

Peppers (Capsicum annuum)

The capsicum annuum is a plant with edible and decorative fruits from the nightshade family. Both large pepper fruits used in commercial cultivation and those with smaller fruits (the 'Koral' and 'Poupila' varieties) can be an interesting garden decoration. Peppers are planted in a perennial bed will certainly be an attractive solution and complement the entire composition. Its fruits come in a wide range of colors. Common to cultivate are cream-white, yellow, orange, red and purple berry varieties.

In North America, popular varieties of peppers are 'Christmas Greeting' and 'Fiesta'. Their fruits ripen in autumn and winter, which is why in the USA they are called pepper or Christmas peppers, where these plants successfully match traditional Christmas trees or poinsettias. In Europe, they have not yet gained popularity as Christmas plants and usually only appear on sale from February.

Jalapeno pepper

Jalapeno is not only one of the spiciest peppers in the world. They are also beautiful and decorative plants. Up to 30-35 fruits may appear on one plant during the season. Jalapeno peppers can be grown at home by sowing seeds. You can now find a mix of jalapeno seeds with different colored fruits on the market. This mix is sold under the name 'Rainbow'. As it ripens, the fruit changes color from creamy white, through yellow, orange, red, to purple.

Jalapeno, Cayenne and Naga Jolokia varieties, as well as cultivars of hot peppers are appreciated for their decorativeness. The fruits of these plants are edible and very spicy due to the high content of capsaicin (an alkaloid responsible for the burning taste of pepper fruits).

Red hot pepper

A variety of hot red pepper with a very original appearance is 'Peter Pepper', also known as sin pepper because of its shape. Obtaining seeds of this variety is extremely difficult, as only 50% of the fruits of this variety are correctly shaped. Another popular variety of hot pepper is 'Fish Pepper' with mosaic-like white-green leaves and two-colored berries.

Goji berry (Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense)

Another example of a plants with decorative fruits are Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense, or goji berry, also known as wolfberry. Fruits are sold in health food stores as a superfood, under the name 'goji berries'. Spiky fruit has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Under natural conditions, wolfberry occurs in China.

It is a very dense shrub with overhanging shoots, growing up to 2-3 m in length. The inconspicuous purple flowers of goji berry appear on the plant from May to September. Decorative red-orange fruits appear on the plant from August to October. The entire plant is poisonous, including the unripe fruit. As a pioneering shrub with low requirements, goji berry is planted in Europe to stabilize steep slopes and embankments. It is also often used for the rehabilitation of degraded areas.

Physalis L.

Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi L.)

Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) - Zwerg
Physalis alkekengi L. var. "Zwerg" commonly known as Chinese lantern

Chinese lantern was brought to Europe in the 19th century. During the growing season, it is an inconspicuous perennial whose decorative qualities are appreciated in autumn. In September and October, the initially green 'lanterns' (bags) covering the berries begin to turn yellow and orange, depending on the variety.

The so-called 'Chinese lanterns' remain stained on the plant even when it loses leaves. Often in this period, the shoots of the chinese lantern are cut, which are used for seasonal, autumn flower arrangements, such as bouquets or wreaths. The cut "lanterns" can also be used to dry and create dry bouquets. After drying, the bag of chinese lantern can be skeletonized, then gilded and used in Christmas compositions.

The tiny variety of the chinese lantern is 'Zwerg', growing up to 30 cm in height. Due to its small size, it can be successfully grown on the edges of flowerbeds and in containers, decorating autumn terraces and balconies.

Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana L.)

A little less decorative, but equally beautiful follicles are produced by the Cape gooseberry, which is grown mainly because of the tasty and more and more popular mini berries in a 'paper bag'.

Wild tomatillo, Mexican groundcherry (Physalis philadelphica L.)

Wild tomatillo or Mexican groundcherry is another decorative plant in the nightshade family. Wild tomatillo is characterized by rapid growth, depending on the variety, it reaches 0.6 to 1.5 m. Its fruit is surrounded by a decorative follicles that grows in size as the berry grows. When growing the wild tomatillo, it is worth paying attention to the varieties with purple fruit color. The recommended varieties are 'Purple' and 'Purple De Milpa'. They produce purple, even black fruit when the fruit is fully ripe.

During cultivation, both the cape gooseberry and wild tomatillo will present itself perfectly against the background of other plants. Despite the inconspicuous flowers, the plants delight with beautiful fruit cover, which will surely arouse the interest of observers.

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa L.)

Physalis pruinosa L. is often referred to as the little sister of the cape gooseberry. The Germans call it 'pineapple berry' because it tastes like ripe and aromatic pineapple fruit. In turn, the Latin species name 'pruina' means frost and probably refers to the felt-hairy bag protecting the berry.

Moonflowers (Datura L.)

Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia)

An example of another plant from the Solanaceae family is Brugmansia, popularly known as 'angel's trumpets'. Brugmansia, due to its oval, dark green leaves and beautiful and large flowers, is recommended for cultivation in containers placed on the balcony, terrace and in the garden. Due to the enormous decorative value, it is recommended to exhibit the plant as a solitaire. When cultivating Brugmansia, one should remember that the whole plant is highly poisonous. Allergy can even cause contact with the cell sap secreted by the plant from damaged tissues.

Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium L.)

Decorative large white flowers of Jimsonweed influence the cultivation of this plant. The whole plant has strong narcotic properties. The very scent of Jimsonweed flowers is also intoxicating. Jimsonweed seeds are contained in large, hard bags with spikes, which, after drying, can be used as decorative drought.

Jasmine tobacco, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata L.)

Jasmine tobacco (Nicotiana alata L.)
Jasmine tobacco, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata L.)

Jasmine tobacco or flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata L.) is an annual plant, reaching up to 80 cm in height. It blooms from June to autumn frosts. Fragrant flowers, depending on the variety, have a color from creamy white through yellow, pink to mauve. Flowering tobacco is ideal for growing in perennial beds, especially in close proximity to relaxation nooks.

Garden petunia (Petunia x hybrid)

Garden petunia (petunia x hybrid)
Garden petunia (Petunia x hybrid)

A popular ornamental plant from the nightshade family is the garden petunia (Petunia x hybrid), which is a hybrid of two species of petunia: Petunia axillaris and Petunia violacea. Colorful petunia flowers, appearing on plants from May to autumn frosts, are a perfect decoration for flower beds and balcony boxes, as well as garden beds. Especially popular are varieties of petunias with long, overhanging shoots - surfinia (Petunia × atkinsiana Surfinia Group). Due to the shape of surfinia, they look best in boxes and hanging pots.

Shoo-fly plant (Nicandra physaloides L.)

Shoo-fly plant (Nicandra physaloides L.)
Shoo-fly plant (Nicandra physaloides L.)

Nicandra physaloides looks like an exotic plant with bell-shaped, lavender flowers and decorative purple-green bags protecting the fruit. Shoo-fly plant is a very decorative and expansive plant. Leaving the fruit on the plant means that shoo-fly plant can spread throughout the garden. The homeland of shoo-fly is Peru, where this plant is considered a common weed. Due to the content of steroid lactones, it repels insects. When the plant is dry, its stems with fruit can be used to create dry arrangements.

Painted tongue (Salpiglossis sinuata L.)

Painted tongue (Salpiglossis sinuata L.) is an attractive annual plant with a wide range of applications. It is recommended for growing in flower beds, in the company of lower plants that will obscure its long shoots. Ideally suited for cultivation in boxes and containers placed on the balcony and terrace. Due to its attractive inflorescences, it can be grown as a cut flower.

How to exhibit a decoration made of nightshade plants?

Decorations made of nightshade plants can be made almost all year round. These plants look especially attractive in summer. If you are creating a mixed bed, you can plant decorative peppers or cherry tomatoes between the plants. Smaller species can be used for planting pots. On the other hand, plants with hanging shoots, such as cascade petunias, will look best when planted in hanging baskets.

Pots with decorative peppers and nightshades grown at home should be placed on a balcony or terrace in summer. In winter, in turn, plants should be protected from the cold and grown at home, preferably on a light window sill, depending on the climate zone.

Plants from the nightshade family are an interesting decoration of the house, garden and balcony. It is worth remembering that most of the species in this family are poisonous. Therefore, if you want to create a colorful and interesting composition, remember to place it out of the reach of animals and small children who could eat some of the plant or fruit.

Are nightshades toxic?

Almost all plant species belonging to the Solanaceae family have poisonous compounds - glycoalkaloids. The most popular alkaloids found in nightshade plants are tomatin and solanine. According to many studies, their primary task is to protect plants against pests, as evidenced by the accumulation of these compounds in damaged potato tissues.

Glycoalkaloids are present in all organs of nightshade plants, from the root through the stem, leaves, flowers and unripe fruit. It has been suggested that light is the factor inducing the occurrence of glycoalkaloids. Both the content of tomatin and solanine in plants depends on the species, variety, cultivation method and position, as well as the physiological condition of the plant. Tomatin has a toxic effect similar to solanine, but is less poisonous. Numerous studies conducted on mice indicate that the lethal dose of tomatin is 1000 mg per kg of body weight. Unripe fruit of edible tomato can cause poisoning in humans and animals. Therefore when consuming mixtures, preserves and pickles made of 'green tomatoes', one should choose only those fruits that have already reached the stage of 'already grown green fruit'.

When creating seasonal decorations with hot pepper fruits, it is worth paying attention to its use and the position in which it will be exhibited. Arrangements with hot peppers should be avoided in rooms where small children and animals will come into direct contact with them. The spiciness of the pepper fruit is evidenced by the content of the alkaloid - capsaicin, the content of which is closely related to the variety and the stage of plant development. It is most abundant in the placental tissue that supports the seed. From there, it penetrates into other tissues of the fruit, giving it a specific spicy taste. The presence of capsaicin is due to the protection of plants against herbivores and fungi.


Species belonging to the Solanaceae family are not only popular utility plants such as tomatoes and peppers. They are also ornamental plants that are grown for beautiful flowers, colorful bags and interesting shoots. There are many ways to use nightshades. Each element of the plant can be used in floristry and bouquet making. However, the decorative follicles of Physalis species deserve special attention, as they can be used both for live and dry flower arrangements, both seasonal and occasional.

On the other hand, garden petunias or painted tongue can be used to create colorful plantings decorating balconies and terraces, and to plant baskets and pots in season. There are many possibilities of decorative use of nightshades, but remember to be especially careful in rooms and facilities where both children and animals may come into direct contact with these beautiful plants.

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