The kingdom of plants is very wide and sometimes we find that we do not know much about plants that are very common in our country. Such is the case of the Atropa baetica , known as the belladonna of Andalusia.
But what is Atropa baetica ? What characteristics does it have? Where does it grow? Does it have any uses? If you are wondering all this about a plant that is not common to see in gardens, or that is part of bouquets of flowers, then continue below and you will know it a little more thoroughly.
Characteristics of the Atropa baetica
The Atropa baetica receives multiple common names. There are those who know it as Shepherd’s Tobacco, Yellow-flowered Belladonna, Coarse Tobacco, Fat Tobacco, Andalusian Belladonna … All of them refer to the same plant, a perennial herb, rizamatous that occurs above 1100 meters and in soils that have suffered alterations, such as rocky areas, dry slopes, etc. It is essential that it be in a very sunny place, although some have known how to adapt and are able to develop in humid places or near water sources, or even in shady soils.
The Atropa baetica can be found both in the Iberian Peninsula and in North Africa . However, there are no more places in the world where it grows, which is why it is protected. In fact, it is known that there are some populations of Atropa baetica in Almería, Granada, Jaén, Málaga, Córdoba, Cádiz, Cuenta and Guadalajara.
It belongs to the Solanaceae family, which is the same as tobacco, hence those common names. It is capable of growing up to one meter in height, with oval-shaped petiolate leaves and its flowers. Now, although the plant is perennial, the flowering time of the plant takes place between the months of June to October, in summer.
These flowers are very characteristic of the plant. They are yellow, pentameric, solitary, pedicellate and actinomorphic. The most beautiful thing about them is that they have a bell-shaped calyx and, when the flowers mature, they leave berries of about 10 mm, black and globose.
Uses of Atropa baetica
Regarding its uses, it must be said that this plant has always been used for medicinal purposes. The first time they found it was in 1845, by Wilkomm; and later in 1890 by Porta and Rigo. Both found it in the Barrancón Valley (also known as Barranco Agrio de Sierra María, in Almería) but it disappeared because many people used it to heal diseases or as a treatment, especially the part of the roots.
Keep in mind that it is very similar to belladonna, which implies that an excessive use of it can be very dangerous. In fact, the studies they have carried out on plants have resulted in the existence in them of up to 15 different alkaloids, similar to what Atropa belladonna harbors . Therefore, it can be said that both share medicinal uses.
However, this plant is very toxic, capable of paralyzing the nervous system (among its symptoms is dilating the pupils, drying the throat, not being able to swallow and causing dizziness or fainting). If taken in excess, hallucinations can occur, but also coma and death due to respiratory paralysis). For this reason, it is recommended that it is not used under any circumstances to avoid a greater evil.
Curiosities of the Atropa baetica
Have you ever wondered why this plant is called that? Why is it considered a “tobacco”? Well, it is related to one of the popular uses of the plant. And it is that, in the past, shepherds and people from the area where this plant believed what they did was smoke its leaves because, once they dried, they produced a hallucinogenic effect, hence many experimented with it and used it to « enjoy ”(something similar to the effect that sativa marijuana produces).
Therefore, the use of the roots for a pharmaceutical purpose, and the leaves for a recreational one, put Atropa baetica on the brink of extinction.
Plant in danger
The Atropa baetica is included as a plant “endangered” and is part of the Red List of vascular flora of Andalusia, which means it is not advisable to look out for cut field.
It is estimated that there are only about 150 Atropa baetica plants still alive, and there are many threats that it faces such as the predation of herbivorous animals, hybridization with the Atropa belladonna , the destruction of the soils where it grows, etc.
Now that you know a little more about Atropa baetica , you know that you should not touch it if you find it. In fact, notifying the competent authorities may be a good idea for them to take care of it and help the plant, and the species itself, not become extinct.