Woolly nightshade is a spreading, capsicum-smelling shrub or small tree growing up to 10m tall, with all parts covered in dusty hairs, and whitish, branching, soft-woody stems. It was originally from South America. Velvety, oval, grey green leaves are whitish underneath with prominent ‘ears’ at the base which clasp the stem. It is usually quite easy to spot as it is paler than surrounding plants. Dense clusters of mauve to purple flowers with yellow anthers are visible year-round and are followed by clusters of round berries that ripen from hard green to soft, dull yellow.
It is a nasty weed and spreads quickly, forming dense stands which crowd out other plants. Even though the berries are poisonous to people, kererū and other birds can safely eat them, spreading seeds over large areas through their droppings. Each plant produces thousands of seeds, which also fall and grow around parent plants. The dust from the leaves and stems can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. Woolly nightshade grows in a large range of areas locally, including gullies, roadsides, farms, and wasteland, all well as urban areas – anywhere that birds visit. For more detailed information about woolly nightshade and how to control its spread see weedbusters.org.nz or www.tiakitamakimakaurau.nz/
Photo credit - Carolyn Lewis