Solanaceae, what a useful plant family: potatoes, aubergines, tomatoes, chillies and peppers of many kinds, but also one with many poisonous plants including mandrake Mandrogora, and tobacco Nicotiana. Ornamentally, not so useful? But think of Brugmansia or Cestrum. Surely though, the member of the family one sees most frequently is the climbing potato, Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’. Common names though can be very misleading; you will get much pleasure, but no spuds, from this lovely plant.

This cultivar, a chance seedling probably, was noticed before 1882 at the then Royal, now National, Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, as being more vigorous and having larger, better coloured, flowers, and was distributed. The blue flowers are highlighted by the yellow anthers, an eye-catching combination, and one instantly recognisable as belonging to the potato family. Flowering can start in March, most will be in early summer but some blooms will persist into autumn. With mild winters there may even be some all winter in sheltered spots. It is a very vigorous grower, with shoots to several metres each year, a challenge maybe to keep under control but wonderful if allowed to fill a space; it tolerates a heavy prune in late winter if need be. It is still very popular, grown widely and easily available.

One last benefit, it is not eaten by the normally very destructive Squirrel Monkeys as I found out when trying to find a screen for their surrounds at the Zoo. Both the animal and the plant are from South America. Interesting.

(As appeared in Newsletter 150, September 2020. Text and photo courtesy of Stephen Butler)