Enchanter's Nightshade is a native erect perennial forb growing 1 to 2 feet in height on a green usually unbranched stem. The stem frequently has white hair especially in the upper part.
The leaves are are opposite, oblong to egg shaped with long stalks and with shallow teeth, leaf width is no more than 1/2 the length which tapers to a pointed tip. Leaf bases vary on the stem from rounded to somewhat heart-shaped. The upper surface is smooth while the lower surface is paler and softer with fine whitish hair. The teeth have a tiny whitish tip. Blade length can be up to 5 inches.
The inflorescence is a stem-top raceme along which the small flowers are on long stalks and somewhat evenly spaced. The raceme elongates as flowers open from the bottom of the spike to the top. Some plants may have axillary racemes rising from the upper leaf axils.
The flowers are small (1/4 to 1/3 inch), without bracts, 2-parted, on hairy stalks that spread outward from the rachis of the raceme, which is also hairy. The corolla has two white to pinkish petals, notched at the tips, broadest just below the tips and then narrowing abruptly. The hairy green calyx has two sepals, placed alternate to the petals, that reflex backward when the flower opens. Flowers are perfect, with two stamens that have greenish-white filaments and whitish anthers where the pollen turns a reddish brown with age. There is a single style rising from a 2-celled ovary. Both the stamens and style are exserted beyond the petals.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce an ovoid 2-chambered seed capsule covered with hooked hairs that when mature attach themselves to animal fur or human clothing for seed dispersion. Each chamber of the capsule contains a single tear-drop shaped seed.
Habitat: Enchanter's Nightshade is usually found in a woodland setting where it receives dappled sunlight or medium shade. Moisture conditions can range from moist to medium dry. Soils are usually richer. Numerous plants can occur in a given area of a garden as the plant spreads by creeping rhizomatous rootstocks in addition to the seeds. The root system also has a short taproot.
Names: Neither of the scientific names refer to any of the plant parts, which would be more typical. The genus name Circaea, is named after Circe, the enchantress of the old classics. The species, lutetiana, is derived from the old Latin name for the city of Paris - Lutetia - which supposedly was known at one time the the Witch City. So, both names refer to enchantment or more darkly, bewitchment, but nothing about the plant seems to cause any 'enchanting' effects. [See Gerard's notes below]. The species name, C. lutetiana, is a recent reclassification from the older name Circaea quadrisulcata which has resulted in 2 varieties being adopted - C. lutetiana ssp canadensis for our Minnesota species [some references classify it as variety rather than a subspecies] and ssp. quadrisulcata which is native to Asia. The authorship of the plant classification is given to 2 people: ‘Asch.’ refers to Paul Friedrich August Ascherson (1834-1913), German botanist, Professor at the University of Berlin. His fundamental published work on the flora of Africa is considered important and ‘Magnus’ refers to Paul Wilhelm Magnus (1844-1014), German botanist, author, collector and specialist in algae and fungi, Professor of Botany at Berlin, who took part in a number of scientific expeditions in the Baltic and North Sea areas.
Comparisons: See notes at bottom of page.
Above: Note the opposite leaves on long stalks. The plant above has one axillary raceme rising from a leaf axil. Drawing courtesy Kurt Stüber's Online Library.
Below: Flowers of early July. Note the deeply notched two petals of the flower, the reflexed sepals, exerted stamens and style, and the hairy flower stalk.
Below: 1st photo - Note the small white tip on the teeth. 2nd photo - The hair on the calyx, at seed maturity becomes stiffer on the seed capsule to allow the seed capsule to stick to passing creatures - 2 footed or 4 footed.
Below: 1st photo - The mature seed capsule with stiff hooked hairs. 2nd photo - The underside of the leaf is softer with very fine whitish hair
Below: The rootstock of Enchanters has a short taproot and rhizomes.
Notes: Enchanter's Nightshade is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler catalogued the Dwarf Enchanter's Nightshade, C. alpina, as present in the Garden on her list of Sept. 6, 1907. Martha Crone listed both species as present on her 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. After that, the later census reports drop C. alpina. Both species are native to Minnesota along with a third species which is considered a hybrid - Circaea x intermedia (C. alpina x lutetiana). The DNR does not report a county location for the hybrid.
Comparison of Minnesota native species: The difference between the two well-distributed species is that with C. alpina, the height of the plant is shorter; the leaves are more coarsely toothed and are more than half the length in width; and the flowers are more tightly bunched on the raceme. C. lutetiana is native to most counties in Minnesota except the far NE, NW corners and the SW area where it is too dry. C. alpina is more prevalent in the NE quadrant of the state and in a few SE counties. In North America the C. lutetiana is found in the eastern half of the continent except Florida and the Canadian Maritime Provinces of Labrador and Newfoundland.
Why the enchantment? A mistake says John Gerard: "There is no use of the herbe either in Phisicke or chirugerie that I can read of, which hath hapned by the corruption of time, and the errour of some who have taken Mandragoras [Mandrake - Mandragora L., which plant can produce hallucinogenic, and hypnotic effects.] for Circea, in which errour they have still persisted unto this daie, attributing unto Circea the vertues of Mandragoras; by which meanes there hath not any thing beene saide of the true Circea." from The Herbal, 1597, Pg. 280, Pub. John Norton, London. (Ref. #6a)
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"