Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blue Potato Bush

The blue potato bush is a species of flowering plant that belongs to the nightshade family. It is also known as the Paraguay nightshade or the blue lycianthes. It is an evergreen bush with beautiful blue-violet or violet flowers.

It is native to Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay but it is cultivated as an ornamental plant throughout most of the world. In Malta it is not a common plant but it is slowly increasing in popularity. It has not been recorded propagating on its own in the Maltese countryside and is unlikely to do so. This makes it an ideal decorative plant for both private and public gardens. 
Its scientific name is Lycianthes rantonnetii. It was named after Barthélémy Victor Rantonnet, a 19th-century French horticulturalist, who worked on the acclimatisation of plants in a garden at Hyères, a town that forms part of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region on the south east coast of France.

The genus Lycianthes consists of about 150 species. Most of the species in this genus  are found in the Americas although between 35 and 40 species are indigenous in Asia and the Pacific.

The nightshades, known scientifically as Solanaceae is a genus consisting of between 1,500 and 2,000 plant species. Many species of nightshade are poisonous but three species, the aubergine, potato and tomato, are very important food crops.

The blue potato bush is closely related to the chilli peppers (Capsicum) another group of cultivated plants that is important members of the nightshade family.

Chilli peppers are used as spices, vegetables as well as in traditional and modern medicine. The fruit of these species contains capsaicin a chemical that can produce a strong burning sensation in the mouth of unaccustomed eaters. It is also used in pepper spray and as a natural insecticide. 

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 29 May 2014. 

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