Bittersweet nightshade, known botanically as Solanum dulcamara, is a flowering fruit-bearing shrub distributed widely throughout Ohio and considered a weed species, according to Ohio State University. A member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and tobacco, bittersweet is a woody vine with a trailing, sprawling growth habit that thrives in moist to wet soil conditions.
Look for bittersweet growing along stream banks, ditches, ravines, marshes, wetland forests, woodlands, waste sites, roadways, railroads tracks and inactive orchards and adjacent to farm fields throughout Ohio. The soil will be nutrient-rich and moist.
Identify bittersweet by its spring, summer and early fall foliage consisting of ovoid leaves of deep greenish purple that are slightly shiny and pointed at the outer tip. Leaves range in size from 2 to 5 inches along the central vein that attaches to the branch by a long stem.
Look for bittersweet's violet blue small flowers on the shrub from May through September. Each flower has five pointed petals reminiscent of a star surrounding a set of central yellow, pollen-bearing anthers. Each flower is 1/2 inch in diameter and appears in slightly pendulous clusters.
Identify bittersweet shrubs by their bright fall and winter seed fruits. The thin-skinned berries are red to coral in color and contain seeds that are egg yolk yellow. They are oval in shape and just 3/8 inch in diameter. The fruits appear on the shrubs in summer and persist on the bare branches into winter.
Tear a leaf or cut a branch and it will smell bittersweet, as all of the plant tissues emit a foul scent when bruised.