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A genus of around 1500 species, most of them herbaceous or semi-woody. Leaves simple or compound, sometimes solitary, more usually in cymose clusters arranged in the form of an umbel, raceme or panicle. Corolla star-shaped or rotate, five-lobed. Stamens five, the filaments short, inserted in the mouth of the corolla, the anthers long, leaning inwards and forming a cone. Fruit a many-seeded berry.
Apart from the species treated below, a few others with more or less woody stems are sometimes cultivated. Of the native bittersweet S. dulcamara L. there is a variegated form rather handsomely variegated with clear creamy white. The soft semiwoody shoots grow 6 to 8 ft high, but die back very much in winter, only the base being woody. The red berries are poisonous, so the plant is not desirable where there are children. The flowers are violet blue, and the leaves are frequently unequally lobed at the base. S. laciniatum Ait. f. of Australia (and of New Zealand according to some authorities) bears lanceolate or linear-lanceolate entire or pinnately lobed leaves up to 6 in. or so long, both forms appearing on the same plant. The bluish purple flowers are up to 2 in. wide, the fruits egg-shaped, orange-yellow, with conspicuous stone-cells in the flesh. It is a rather tender, soft-wooded plant attaining 10 ft or so (Bot. Mag., t. 9154). S. aviculare Forst. f. of New Zealand (and probably Australia) is similar but less ornamental; the two are sometimes united under the name S. aviculare.