Belladonna (Atropa bella-donna) is extremely toxic to toxic to humans, cats, dogs, and horses. It’s a plant that by no means should you ever plant it in your yard. Belladonna escaped its native areas in Eurasia and has naturalized in other parts of the world. It can be anywhere, almost. It is important to be able to identify belladonna and remove it promptly before it can cause any harm.
The botanical name of the genus already gives away how deadly the plant is. Atropa was named in the mid-1700s after Atropos, the Greek goddess who, as one of the three goddesses of fate and destiny, holds the shears to cut the thread of life. The common name and the species name, belladonna, comes from the Italian word for beautiful woman, “bella donna”. Ladies at the Venetian court used eye drops made of belladonna to dilate their pupils, viewed as a sign of special beauty at the time.
Which Parts of Belladonna Are Toxic?
All parts of belladonna—leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots—are highly toxic.
Belladonna is also highly toxic and lethal to dogs, cats, horses, and other domesticated animals. It is not toxic to birds and wildlife.
When honeybees feed on belladonna, the honey they produce can contain significant amounts of atropine, which also makes the honey poisonous—another compelling reason to remove belladonna promptly wherever it pops up.
How to Identify Belladonna
Belladonna is a tall, bushy, upright, perennial of the nightshade family. It grows three to four feet high and wide. As a perennial, it comes back every year.
The dark green leaves are oval and unevenly sized, ranging from three to ten inches in length. The leaves on the lower part of the plant are solitary, on the upper part of the plant, they grow in pairs.
Belladonna blooms for an extended period of time, from June through early September. The flowers are dull purple or lavender with a green tinge and distinctly bell-shaped. The flowers are located in the leaf axils, the angle between the leaf and the upper part of the stem. They are distinctly bell-shaped and have a mild floral scent.
The fruit, which ripen between late August and September, are black and shiny like a cherry. The berries are not evenly sized and can reach about three quarters of an inch in size. Once they ripen, the berries dry up quickly.
Due to their slight resemblance with wild edible berries, such as blueberries and blackberries, the purplish-black, sweet-tasting fruit of belladonna pose a particular risk of being ingested.
Where Does Belladonna Grow?
Belladonna is native to England through central and southern Europe, North Africa to Iran. In the United States, belladonna has been found in several states, including New York, Michigan, California, Oregon, and Washington. It often grows in wasteland and areas with disturbed soil such as dumps and quarries, and along roadsides.
How Does Belladonna Spread?
Belladonna spreads rapidly like a weed. The plant dies back during the winter and regrows in the spring from its thick, fleshy roots.
Birds that eat the seeds without any ill effects spread the plant to other locations in their droppings.
How to Get Rid of Belladonna from Your Yard
If you have positively identified belladonna in your yard, take all the necessary precautions to avoid skin contact. Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves. If the plant is tall and there is the slightest risk that your face can get in contact with the plant, also wear goggles or a full-face respirator.
Dig out the plant with all its roots. Be thorough because belladonna regrows from any roots left in the soil. Safely dispose of the entire plant including its roots in the trash. Don’t forget to disinfect the tools you have been using for removing the plant—shovel, pruners etc. with bleach water (1 cup bleach per 1 gallon water). When cleaning the tools, wear waterproof gloves. Wash your clothes immediately and separately from other clothing.
If belladonna starts to regrow from residual roots, the most efficient chemical to use is a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate. Make sure to apply the herbicide when the shoots are still very small to minimize the use of herbicide and hit the plant before it can spread again.
Poison Control - National Capital Poison Center. “Poisonous and Non-Poisonous Plants.” Poison.org. N.p., n.d. Web.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Deadly nightshade." Aspca.org. N.p., n.d. Web.
United States Forest Services “Solanaceae: Belladonna.” Fed.us. N.p., n.d. Web.