The Potato Clan

Published on September 23rd 2018
As the potato harvest season draws to a close here are 15 facts about the humble spud and its diverse family.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh is most-commonly cited as introducing the potato to England in the 1580s.
  • The potato’s Latin name is Solanum tuberosum and the family’s scientific name is Solanaceae, commonly known as the nightshades.
  • Tomatoes, bell and chilli peppers, aubergines and goji berries are all relatives.
  • Many common bedding plants are nightshades, too, including petunias, nicotiana and million bells.
  • Deadly nightshade is one of the potato’s more sinister relatives, with fatal levels of alkaloids in the roots and berries and these same alkaloids are present in potato foliage as well as green potatoes.
  • Aside from deadly nightshade other British nightshades include henbane, thorn-apple, black nightshade and bittersweet.
  • Ingesting any part of the thorn-apple can cause delirium, hallucinations and even death.
  • Henbane, though highly toxic, yields a drug which helps counter the effects of nausea caused by chemotherapy.
  • The beautifully exotic angel’s trumpet, Jessamine, cup-of-gold-vine and the marmalade bush are nightshades.
  • The Jerusalem cherry is not a cherry at all, but in fact very closely related to the potato.
  • Although one of the less-poisonous nightshades, tobacco is the biggest killer and nicotine is present in very low amounts in potato plants.
  • Capsaicin, the chemical which causes the burning sensation in chillies, has no effect on birds.
  • Harry Potter fan? Mandrake is in the same family and does have unusual, occasionally anthropomorphic roots, but sorry, it doesn’t actually shriek.
  • Brunfelsia is an unusual shrub commonly known as yesterday-today-and-tomorrow due to the blooms starting purple, then fading to white.
  • World domination? The humble spud is the world’s 4th largest food crop after rice, wheat and maize.
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