Orange-ya Glad for Wasps, Bats, and Potatoes?

19 Jul

Two Leaf Nightshade (Twin Leaf Solanum)

Solanum diphyllum (FL Exotic Pest Pant Council Cat. II invasive exotic)


Today John and George enjoyed the mangrove swamp at Peck’s Lake near Hobe Sound, a short boardwalk long on biodiversity, including wasps.  We had one of those wasp experiences I sorta like—wasps can be our pals.   (Stockholm Syndrome.)  We somehow riled up the hive, and 133 (I counted) wasps stormed out with gusto and buzzed our heads in a friendly but earnest warning.   We took the hint with equal gusto, and nobody got hurt.

All plant photos today are Solanum diphyllum by John Bradford.

All plant photos today are Solanum diphyllum by John Bradford.

As I arrived at the parking lot, John was already photographing the plant of the day…Two Leaf Nightshade, a member of the genus Solanum, with several additional species in Florida, including spuds.  With odd mismatched leaf pairs and highway-worker-vest orange fruits in pretty clusters, Solanum diphyllum gathers a lot of “likes” on its Facebook page.  You could spot those clustered little oranges from a helicopter.

John was shooting this photo as I arrived on the scene, July 18 at Pecks Lake.

John was shooting this photo as I arrived on the scene, July 18 at Pecks Lake.

The species is native to Mexico and Central America, and like a good weed (and as a garden species) it is scattered elsewhere in the warm climate world, maybe with a helping hand from Global Warming and gardeners in addition to wild creatures.  Today’s invasive exotic decorates the shores of the Intracoastal in Hobe Sound and likewise decorates the shores of the Nile in Egypt, where it fascinated Egyptian biologist Fatma Hamada of the South Valley University  as much as it fascinates us.  Hamada’s 2013 doctoral dissertation is a monograph on Solanum diphyllum, looking into everything from its beautiful internal anatomy to its cytotoxicity against human cancer cell lines. (so, no, those fruits are not for us to eat).

The "orange blossoms"

The “orange blossoms”

One of her findings was particularly intriguing.  Many plants of arid or salty places protect themselves from drought and salinity by accumulating extra dissolved materials in their tissues.  This is true of our Solanum, and here’s the good part: adjustably.  Apparently, and in need for more research, the plant build ups anti-drying compounds when dry, and later secretes the stuff from the leaves when dry times abate.  Maybe.  Another “maybe” is what seem to be patches of natural “sunblock” embedded in the leaf surface.  This little weed has some stuff goin’ on!   Now back to those fruits oranger than an orange.  Univ. of Miami bat expert Dr. Theodore Fleming described (citing earlier work in South American tropical forest) bird-dispersed fruits to be mostly white, black, red, blue, or purple in contrast with mammal-dispersed fruits predominantly orange, yellow, brown or green.  (Please no e-mails:  These are broad perceived trends—with overlaps and exceptions.)

So is Solanum diphyllum mainly a mammal berry?   Probably, although its dispersal in Florida with almost no fruit-eating bats implicates helpful birds and maybe a quadruped or two.  Research in the shrub’s native Mexico proves fruit eating bats to carry the seeds, not necessarily to the exclusion of birds or others of course.  Quibblers may raise a hand, and say, “bats are blind as a bat, so ixnay on the orange uit-frays.”  But recent research reveals increasingly sophisticated vision in bats, including living color.  Here is a quote (2001) from bat biologists Jorge Ortega and Ivan Castro-Arvellano on the Jamaican Fruit Bat widespread in the native haunts of the Two Leaf Nightshade:  “A. jamaicensis uses vision and olfaction to find fruits with brilliant colors and strong odors.”  By the way, bats don’t like getting tangled in twigs at night.  Note how the fruit clusters are presented for EZ access. Now back to Egypt, where as we already know, the Nightshade grows up and down the Nile.   Guess what was first discovered at the Great Pyramid of Giza, and flutters nocturnally up and down the Nile (and far beyond).   The Egyptian Fruit Bat.   Could it be that the corresponding Nile distributions of the Solanum and the bat are mere coincidence?   A connection might seem tempting to contemplate if Egyptian Fruit Bats go for orange-colored fruits.  Who knows?

Egyptian Fruit Bats at the midnight buffet. (From

Egyptian Fruit Bats at the midnight buffet. (From


Posted by on July 19, 2014 in Two Leaf Nightshade


Tags: , , ,

14 responses to “Orange-ya Glad for Wasps, Bats, and Potatoes?

  1. Uncle Tree

    July 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Wicked-cool post, George and John!
    Flying mammals, and yes! 🙂
    Orange is once again a fashion statement.

  2. George Rogers

    July 19, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Uncle Tree, Yea, right you are on the fashion statement—as in eyeglass rims. Gotta get some orange…maybe a jumpsuit with numbers on the back. Time now to go enjoy a little of your poetry!

  3. theshrubqueen

    July 19, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    These look like Jerusalem Cherries my grandfather used to grow in South GA? Got the book – Landscape Plants for SoFla and am really enjoying it..

  4. George Rogers

    July 19, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Family resemblance on the fruits—glad you’re enjoying the book.

  5. Laure Hristov

    July 19, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Very interesting and you made me laugh with your wasp buddies!

  6. George Rogers

    July 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Hi Laure, So nice to hear from you!

  7. Mary Hart

    July 20, 2014 at 5:03 am

    George, I’m Looking out the window at a floral Solanum, UK solanums include Bella Donna(Deadly nightshade!) potatos etc. Also amused by a post from Lake Fort Thomas, fla. a fiend in UK sent me of a Ranger(6ft. 1in.) standing by 25ft. alligator he’d had to shoot in a guy’s back garden……. Somewhat alarming.

    • George Rogers

      July 20, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Wish I could see the view out your window—I envision UK gardening as extra-pleasing, and no fire ants. Been so long since I’ve seen Bella Donna I went to look it up on Google—and came up with a rock band by that name, of course, before seeing the flower photos. Beautiful (and as you well know, psychotropic with atropine, which my eye doc puts in my eyes periodically).

      Would like to see that megagator—from a safe distance. We read a lot about hormones in the water. Maybe we’ll start spawning monster gators and bass as big as manatees. Actually there have been hormonal effects on FL gators, but not in a fun way.

  8. Beth

    July 20, 2014 at 1:45 pm


    • George Rogers

      July 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks Beth!

  9. SmallHouseBigGarden

    July 20, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I have this exact tree growing in the center of my succulent garden and it looks about the same size as the one you came upon John photographing. People are always telling me to remove it but It feeds so many birds I’ve let it stay. It also looks pretty in the midst of all my aloe and cacti, providing just enough dappled shade at high noon.
    Thanks for all this info..I know so much more about the tree thanks to you!

    • George Rogers

      July 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      Enjoyed seeing your Gaura…nice garden you must have! The Solanum is beautiful isn’t it. A friend in Orlando at Leu Gardens told me today it has generated 4 inquiries there over the last few days. The plant is an invasive exotic, but like so many weeds, is fascinating nonetheless.

  10. bernardino tordillo tel. no. 0935 7401845

    November 2, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Its true that solanu berries san cure cancer and lots of maladies. I accidentally tried it and my realtives and friends. Thanks GOD he created this plant.


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