The potato plant (Solanum tuberosum
) is an erect, multi-branches, herbaceous perennial that is cultivated for production of potatoes.
Potato plants are native to South and Central America, however were introduced to other countries as a food source and is considered a weed in many countries such as the United States, Australia, South Africa, Turkey, India, Indonesia and Micronesia. The potato plant is a member of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family, which includes tomatoes (S. lycopersicum L.
), sweet peppers (Capsicum annuum L.
), eggplants (S. melongena L. var. esculentum
) as well as highly toxic species such as belladonna (Atropa belladonna
), Black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger
), and many others.
All parts of the tomato plant, including the tomatoes, contain varying amounts of antinutritional and potentially toxic compounds, including inhibitors of digestive enzymes, hemagglutinins, and glycoalkaloids (chaconine and solanine). These toxic chemicals occur naturally in any part of the plant, including the leaves, fruit, and tubers. The skin, sprouts, berries, and uncooked potato tubers contain the highest amount of toxins. At high levels, these chemicals can inhibit cholinesterase, induce teratogenicity, and disrupt cell membranes within the bird's intestinal epithelial barrier.
Research conducted on mice and humans show that this disruption of the intestinal epithelial barrier can initiate the onset of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As a result, it permits luminal antigens unfettered access to the mucosal immune system and leads to an uncontrolled inflammatory response in the bird.
Exposure to light, physical damage, and age increase glycoalkaloid content. Cooking at high temperatures (over 170 °C (340 °F)) partly destroys these toxins.
Many animals, including chickens, ducks, and other poultry have died as a result of consuming toxic quantities of glycoalkaloids present in potato plants. Care should be taken to ensure any potato peelings and sprouts that are thrown in compost heaps are not accessible to poultry.