Autumn Mandrake

Mandragora autumnalis is about the only herbaceous member of the nightshade or potato family (Solanaceae) currently above ground on the Systematic Beds, let alone in flower! A ground-hugging rosette of crisp, puckered dark green leaves herds a jostling crowd of pale grey-blue flowers with a rather sickly sheen. This sinister appearance is heightened by a covering of white, synthetic-looking hairs to the petals.
All parts of mandrake are poisonous and due to the presence of hallucinogenic alkaloids and to the claim that the tuberous roots can occasionally resemble an homunculus, the plant has accumulated a rather gothic ghastliness in folklore and legend.

Legend has it that the plant screams when dug up, killing anyone in earshot, a folkloric quality exploited by J K Rowling in the second Harry Potter book, The Chamber of Secrets. In this book, Professor Sprout, teacher of herbology, requires her students to wear protective ear muffs when re-potting mandrakes.

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