What is Nicandra?

Sara Schmidt

The flowering plants of Peru known as the nicandra genus are members of the nightshade family. The typically purple blossoms are sometimes regarded as weeds. Some people, however, cultivate the nightshade on purpose as an ornamental plant. The plants can also work as insect repellent.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Firm, erect stems and round, violet flowers are common markers of a member of this plant genus. Flowers may also be white or blue and bell-shaped. Serrated oval leaves frame the plant.

Types of plants from the nicandra genus have very colorful names. One common name is the apple of Peru; another is the shoo-fly plant. Annual plants, nicandra usually grows up to 24 to 36 inches (61 to 92 centimeters) in height. Some plants have grown up to 8 feet (2.5 meters). The plant's large leaves may grow up to 1 foot (30 centimeters) in length.

Introduced to the United States from South America, nicandra is considered poisonous to mammals. These plants should be kept out of reach of small children and pets who might attempt to eat their harmful leaves. The small fruits that the plants bear, which are similar to gooseberries, are also inedible in most species.

To grow this annual ornamental plant, soil should be kept moist though well-drained at all times. A mixture of sand, loam, and peat moss works well in starting these plants. Full or partial sunlight is recommended for best growing conditions. Flowers only bloom for a single day, usually in the late summer to early fall.

These leafy plants are self-propagating and will seed when healthy. It grows so well that many consider it a nuisance or weed. For this reason, it is typically kept in containers when purposefully grown. The plant is also often used to delineate garden borders.

Nicandra plants are often kept for their insect repelling properties. Its seeds may be rubbed directly on the skin to help ward off pests, such as bothersome mosquitoes. Some people even mix the plant's juice with milk and leave it out as a fly poison. The flowers are also attractive to welcome garden guests, such as various bee species.

Nicander of Colophon, the Greek poet, is the plant's namesake. The genus was named after the doctor due to his love of writing about plants. His writing about poisonous plants and animals and their remedies was often used as a medical reference during the second century.

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