Taxonomy

Scopolia carniolica is a member of the Solanaceae family. This group of more than 3,000 species includes economically important plants such as potatoes, tomatoes and peppers as well as many ornamental (Cestrum, Petunia) and medicinal (Atropa, Mandragora, Datura) plants.

Most members of the family occur in the tropics, but a small group of seven genera known as ‘hyoscyaminous plants’ is distributed in Eurasia with the centre of diversity in the Hengduan Mountains in south-west China.

Scopolia belongs to this unusual solanaceous tribe, together with Anisodus, Atropanthe, Hyoscyamus, Archihyoscyamus, Physochlaina and Przewalskia. These genera form a well defined phylogenetic group united by such characters as:

  • curved embryo, usually more than a semicircle
  • two-chambered ovary with numerous ovules
  • calyx enlarged after flowering and enclosing the fruit
  • capsule with circumscissile dehiscence, opening along its circumference
  • presence of tropane alkaloid compounds

Although great importance is attributed to the presence of a circumscissile capsule in the hyoscyaminous tribe, some researchers believe that two genera with berries as fruits - Atropa and Mandragora - should also be included in the group.

Since the original publication of Scopolia in 1764, more than ten species have been described within the genus. But most of them have since been confirmed as S. carniolica, or transferred to Anisodus and Atropanthe.

Today the genus Scopolia comprises just two species:

  • S. carniolica - occurs in south-eastern Europe
  • S. japonica - found in Japan and Korea

Apart from the geographical difference, S japonica is distinguished from S. carniolica by:

  • a curved style
  • calyx teeth of unequal length
  • less obovate leaves with much longer petioles
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Glossary
Calyx

Group of sepals.

Corolla

Group of petals.

Ovules

Structures that develop into seeds when fertilised.

Parasympathetic

Part of the nervous system that regulates muscle contraction.

Relict species

Species that were formerly widespread but now only occupy small areas.

Rhizome

Underground stem of a plant.