Nicandra physalodes

Nightshade Family [Solanaceae]

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1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
Standing about 80 cm high and bushy.

1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
The side-branches have leaves and flowers on each side.

9th July 2011, a garden, Sutton Coldfield. Photo: © Chris Turner
Large lanceolate coarsely and irregularly toothed leaves. Trumpet shaped flowers with five splayed-out light-blue petals, throat white, and indigo to violet streaks near the very centre of the flower.

1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
The sepals of un-opened flower buds taper to a 5-flanged point. Leaves have black dots on the edges being the glands of more trichomes.

1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
A partially opened flower; the sepals are mostly blackish but some parts are left light-green. Sepals are triangularly tapered to a point, and have flanges, often wavy, where they join. These flowers are lilac-coloured rather than light-blue; it may be a garden cultivar. The petals look like they have been air-brush sprayed with a darker shade.

1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
Sepals are light-green on the inner surface. Petals yet to fully open.

1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
Petals are more trumpet-shaped than with a distinct number of petals. Here the petals are still un-folding from their five-flanged position within the sepals.

1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
Inner throat of flower white, darker patches of colour nearer the centre. Five stamens with cream-coloured pollen.

1st Oct 2011, a garden, Lango, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD
A birds-eye view of flower bud, the blackish sepals of which have five large flanges. Flower stem black.

9th July 2011, a garden, Sutton Coldfield. Photo: © Chris Turner
Like Black Nightshade the stems are black, but angular or fluted with perhaps greenish stripes on the edges. The leaves are covered in a smattering of raised black dots, which are the glands of transparent trichomes which emerge from them. Un-opened flower buds are black and droop downwards.

9th July 2011, a garden, Sutton Coldfield. Photo: © Chris Turner
Black winged as-yet un-opened flower buds have black stems with deep grooves or flutes.

9th July 2011, a garden, Sutton Coldfield. Photo: © Chris Turner
The black 'dots' are actually the black bases of transparent trichomes (stiff glandular hairs). They exude a sticky substance which is a strong contact-adhesive and can be absorbed through the skin to cause hallucinations.

14th Jan 2012, Langho, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
A shoot in winter suspending a frost-covered seed pod which has turned to 'paper' by January. From afar the seed pods resemble those of Honesty

14th Jan 2012, Langho, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
'Paper' seed pod (from the front) showing the small highly poisonous brown berry within.

14th Jan 2012, Langho, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Hoar-frost covered 'paper' seed pod hanging downwards (from the rear).

14th Jan 2012, Langho, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Close-up of 'paper' seed pod showing disintegration between the veins.

Often mis-spelled: Nicandra physaloides', (even 'Wikipedia' does it [well, they can't even spell their own name correctly as 'Wikipædia']) but it is un-like anything.

Not to be semantically confused with : Thorn-Apple or May Apple (Mandrake) [plants which are in the same Nightshade Family]

Some similarities to : Bindweeds such as Sea Bindweed, but it is blue rather that white, pink or red. Also the seed pods look similar to those of Japanese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi) or to the related Cape Gooseberry (aka Winter Cherry) (Physalis peruviana).

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : Black stems, large leaves with small black 'dots' and a foetid odour.

No relation to : Apple, Apple Mint, Pineapple Weed or Crab Apple [plants with similar names].

Apple-of-Peru is a plant native to Peru, and is grown in the UK as an ornamental, from which it can escape into the wild. It is the only member in the Genus Nicandra and, according to some, is highly toxic. The dark coloured 'dots' that adorn the surface of the leaves are actually trichomes; sharp stiff hairs that physical defence it against herbivorous insects. It already has a highly effective chemical defence. It exudes a foetid odour which keeps flies away by paralysing them.

Its other common name is Shoo Fly which comes from its former popular use to shoo flies away; it was used as an insect repellent by rubbing the leaves and tender stems on exposed skin, although as mentioned above, this practice can cause hallucinations because the trichomes release a sticky toxic substance. The seeds are regarded as more toxic than the other parts of the plant.

The fruits are dry, brown and encased in a brownish, loose papery net-veined covering that was the sepals.


The poisonous principles in Apple-of-Peru include Withanolides (named after the Withania Genus which also belongs to the Nightshade Family) such as Nicandrenone (which is an insecticide), pyrrolidine alkaloids (the roots contain 0.1% Hygrine) and some calystegines.

All parts of the plant are considered hazardous, although ingestion of the fruits is rarely dangerous, but highly in-advised!

Note the double epoxide group on NIC-1 (and its lactone).

Withanolides, such as Withaferin A, can be regarded as multiply oxidized Cholesterol with an extra methyl group at the C-24 position, and indeed are produced by the oxidation of steroids. Withanolides are found not only in members of the Nightshade Family (Solanaceae), but also in other plant families. Over 300 withanolides have been described since they were first found in plants in 1965.

They have exhibited a wide range of pharmacological effects including anti inflammatory, immunomodulatory, hypno-sedative, anti-arthritic, anti-cholinesterase, anti-oxidant and angiogenesis inhibition.

Withaferin A is a steroidal lactone exhibiting anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and anti-angiogenic properties.

Shown are the two! Withaferin A structural formulae that are to be found on the internet. The first is on the NextBio website, the latter on the Wikipaedia website (as of 13 July 2011)  Withanolides. Your author does not have the super-powers necessary to tell which, if any, is the correct formula, but the two are very different! But they are both obviously Withanolides, and each have the same number of carbon atoms (but not of oxygen nor hydrogen !). Based upon the relative number of occurrences on the internet, the latter seems favoured, but that is indeed an error-prone method of discriminating between two possibilities. [A further search for Withaferin A in 2017 reveals that the NextBio structural drawing cannot now be found - except on this website...]


A glycosidic Calystegine alkaloid (Calystegine B1-3-O-β-D -glucopyarnoside) was found in 2001. Calystegines are based upon the Tropane skeleton, and are found extensively in other members of the Nightshade Family. See Danish Scurvygrass for more information about Calystegines.

The calystegines are named from the Bindweed Genus Calistegia, indeed, Apple-of-Peru has some physical resemblance to the Bindweeds.

  Nicandra physalodes  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Solanaceae  

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Nicandra physalodes

Nightshade Family [Solanaceae]

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