Electronic Flora of South Australia
Electronic Flora of South Australia
Census of SA Plants, Algae & Fungi
Identification tools


The plant family Solanaceae, has world-wide distribution and many of its species such as potato, tomato, capsicum and egg-plant are of considerable economic importance. Other representatives are of horticultural importance e.g. Petunia, while still others are important for their pharmacological properties and for their use within various cultures e.g. Nicotiana, Datura, Solanum.

Many species have been introduced to Australia and some of these are of a significant weed status e.g. Apple of Sodom (Solanum linnaeanum) and Thorn-apple (Datura spp.) but there are also a large number of species which are native and unique to Australia. The tribe Anthocercideae, for instance, is endemic to southern Australia, particularly in the south-western corner of Western Australia, and there are a great many native species of Solanum.

When the Flora of Australia account of Solanaceae was published in 1982 it consisted of 206 taxa in 23 genera; 140 of these taxa were native and 66 introduced.  At the time of writing this account (May 2010) it covers 289 taxa in 24 genera; 206 of these taxa are native while 83 are introduced. By far the largest proportion of the increase in numbers of native taxa is due to the recognition of new Solanum species from eastern and northern Australia; there have also been some new species of Nicotiana and, to a lesser extent, a few new members of the endemic Anthocercideae. The increases in introduced Solanaceae are predominantly due to species which would have already been present in Australia in 1982, but were not at that time known to be naturalised or their taxonomy was difficult and species not easily distinguished. The genera Cestrum, Lycium and Physalis all have more members than in the 1982 treatment.

There are 5 keys within this product. If you know that you have a Solanum or Nicotiana species then you should go directly to these keys. If you only know that your material belongs to the family Solanaceae then use the Solanaceae key. Should you know the genus, provision is made at the start of this key for you to proceed directly to a known genus.

All three of these keys open with the complete set of features used for separating the species. It is recommended in all cases that you immediately switch to the use of the subset of features labelled “use me first” or “best features” by clicking on the button labelled “subsets” in the row above the key.

The two subsidiary keys to the subfamilies of Solanum and to the groups of subgenus Leptostemonum are provided for those who like to understand just where in the genus a particular species is considered to belong and what its relatives are. If identification is your prime aim then there is no particular advantage to using these.

Fact sheets have been produced for each genus and each species and these can be accessed through the appropriate keys, through the list of taxa (which includes all accepted names as well as synonyms) or through the list of common names. Each fact sheet has the basic taxonomic treatment taken from the flora account by R.W.Purdie, D.E.Symon and L.Haegi in the now out of print Flora of Australia volume 29. This has been supplemented with further information and links by the present author together with a series of images for each species from various sources. At the time of publication web-links within the fact sheet were up to date, but unfortunately addresses do change and apologies are extended for those which have become in-operative.

While there is a general distribution statement for each species, distribution maps have not been included in the fact sheets, except for those of Solanum which did have static maps generated from Australia’s Virtual Herbarium attached in 2006. Distribution within Australia for all species can be accessed through Australia’s Virtual Herbarium, the latest version of which also enables mapping of subspecies and varieties.

The project to produce these keys has had a longer history (see History of the Project) than originally envisaged and some of this delay may be exposed in some of the information provided. Every attempt has been made to make the information presented here as up to date as possible and to provide access to other sources of information which will continue to be updated. However the state of taxonomy within this family is constantly changing and the information presented can only be snapshot of the present day thought. The author would still be keen to hear about any difficulties experienced or bloopers that have been missed so that, if possible, they can be fixed.

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