Hyoscyamus niger

Alexis was the author of today’s entry:

Today’s photo was taken by James Gaither (J.G. in S.F.@Flickr) at the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Thanks, James!

Hyoscyamus niger, better known as henbane, black henbane or stinking nightshade, belongs to the nightshade family. Originally from Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, this species was introduced to North America in the 17th century for ornamental and medicinal purposes. It is now considered a weed in some places, e.g., Nevada (PDF), and has spread throughout much of Canada and the USA.

Henbane is poisonous to people and animals; luckily, many tend to avoid it because it is sticky to the touch and gives off an unpleasant odour. Symptoms of henbane poisoning can include tachycardia, blurred vision, delirium and confusion (Lampe’s 1985 AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants). Several recorded cases of people, especially children and youths, consuming henbane have resulted in death or hospitalization (Frohne and Pfander’s Poisonous Plants (2005)). Despite its harmful potential, Hyoscyamus niger has been used as a painkiller in folk medicine, and also as a hallucinogen (Allen and Hatfield’s Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition (2004)).

You may recognize this species from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which King Hamlet is murdered by a distillation of henbane being poured into his ear (see: Kotsias, BA. 2002. Scopolamine and the Murder of King Hamlet . Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 128:847-849).

Hyoscyamus niger

9 responses to “Hyoscyamus niger”

  1. Loraine

    This is so incredibly beautiful.

  2. James Singer

    Ditto Loraine.

  3. bugscuttle

    So THAT’s what it looks like! I couldn’t get any to grow, two years in a row!
    Thanks for another gorgeous pic!

  4. Anne

    I had to laugh because I just saw another photo of what we thought was a solanum in a plant id forum. I am so fascinated by deadly plants. They let us know we are not necessarily the ones in charge.

  5. Diana Ferguson

    Stunning – thanks so much for sharing this. A truly beautiful photo.

  6. Blake Hodgin

    Wow! I collected seeds from this plant in Montana two years ago not knowing what it was. I still have them. Have always wondered what it was and here it is! By chance, I watched a performance of Hamlet just the other night – crazy!

  7. Annie in Texas

    Speaking of a deadly plant, when the photo first popped up the water droplets and stamin looked to me as if tiny little shoes were just sticking out of the flower. EEeeuuuwww!

  8. Bonnie

    I would like to know how to contact James. His flickr site has some gorgeous pictures, just as this one is. Strange that a sticky plant would not keep someone from eating it.

  9. iris lefleur

    Hmmm so thats how you do it, pour it in the ear!
    BTW most “deadly “plants are not necessarily eaten as is. The sap, and root are most often the poison centers. Please Anne dont try this at home!

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