All In the Potato Plant Family
Like in the genealogy of human families, sometimes plant families can contain many members that don’t look at first glance to be related at all. For example, in my own family, some of us have medium to dark complexions, brown or black hair and brown eyes. Others, like my sister are blonde, fair-skinned, and have green eyes.
Or, then there is my brother, who before his kids gave him gray hair, was a red-head. His eyes are blue and he is quite freckled.
Such is the case of the over twenty-eight thousand members of the potato plant family. What’s especially unique about this plant family is it’s role in history. In the past, I’ve written about How Potatoes Changed The World.
Here in America, not only did members of the potato plant family change our world (even though they were here first), they literally changed the basic genealogy of the American people. Without the potato plant family, the virtual complexion of American genealogy would be vastly different, for certain members of this plant family were indirectly responsible for mass migrations of people that might not have ever come to our shores.
Like their closely related plant family, the Morning Glory plant family, members of this group are mainly tropical. Besides the White or Irish potato, it includes some surprising members:
Belladonna (Deadly nightshade)
Pepper varieties (from the small bird’s eye to the large red bell peppers)
Thorn Apple (Jimsonweed)
Woody Nightshade (Bittersweet)
How To Recognize This Plant Family
This plant family’s real scientific name is Solanaceae. It’s been said that the name evolved from the members of this plant family’s flowers resembling the rays of the sun in their general appearance. Others claim, that the scientific name came about because many of the members of this plant family have medicinal uses.
Flowers are funnel shaped (conical).
Flowers have five petals (almost always fused).
Flowers are bi-sexual.
Leaves are alternate.
Leaves generally are hairy.
Leaves are undivided and slightly lobed.
All members of this plant family have a fruit that can be either classified as a berry (tomato, for example), or a fruit that bears a seed releasing capsule).
Members of this plant family can be herbs, shrubs, or even trees.
Stems can be upright.
Stems can be low growing.
Stems can be climbing.
Seeds are round and flat.
Stamens most likely are in sets of four (but can be as many as eight).
All members of this plant family have some version of alkaloids. For humans and animals alkaloids can be:
Good and necessary
15. Some members of this plant family are important agricultural crops.
16. Some members of this plant family are sometimes both toxic and deadly.
17. Some members of this plant family are attractive flowering plants.