The first picture is of a common roadside weed, often called Jimson or Loco Weed. I never knew what it was and could only glimpse it going 60 miles an hour. One day on a walk, a few years ago, I came across a most beautiful plant. It was covered in beautiful white flowers and had the most amazing seed pods I'd ever seen. They were round and covered in the most evil-looking spines. Very alien. Many looked like they had exploded and the seeds were everywhere. Like any good gardener, I scraped up some seeds and brought them home. I was fascinated by the fact that the seeds looked exactly like tomato seeds.
Thank goodness (again!) for Google, or I'd still be searching for this plant's name. I typed in 'trumpet flowers and tomato seeds'. Up pops Datura, aka Jimson weed. Much to my delight, they were in fact, related to tomatoes---both from the nightshade family. I thought it was cool that I was sort of on the right track, all by myself. To my great dismay they are a part of the nightshade family that wants very badly not to be eaten. In other words, they are terribly poisonous. They can be deadly. Because I had pets and small children, I had no hope of planting the seeds in my pockets. I put them in the trash and pouted.
I would go visit the plant every year and collect seeds. I would wander around my house and property, determined to find a place where I could grow them without endangering anyone. Each year the seeds went in the trash. Over time, I forgot about the beautiful plant. I quit visiting it. What a shame, too, because they are highly deer resistant (you think?).
This spring, while perusing my favorite plant nursery, I found myself following the most heavenly scent. I came upon the purple flowers you see in the second picture. I knew immediately what I was seeing, only more beautiful and more seductively scented than the Jimson Weed. The bad news is, it's just as toxic as its wild cousin. The good news is, I have the perfect place to plant it now and my children are old enough to be convinced to leave it alone. Hurray!! I bought four.
Over dinner that night I explained that, "That plant out there will kill you, so leave it alone." Needless to say, I wasn't very popular for buying it. Why would I buy a plant that could kill someone? "Because, it's pretty and I've always wanted one?" was my meek response. I kept them anyway. The moths love them and they fill the night air with perfume.
How did our ancestors differentiate between the plants/foods that belong to the nightshade family? Potatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatillo, Peppers and Eggplant are all foods we eat heavily at my house. Well, not eggplant unless it's covered in tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Who got brave and thought, that plant over there will kill me, but this plant might not? Who was the first person to take an amazing bite of a tomato, even though folks had declared it toxic? I guess it doesn't matter, I'm just so thankful that person didn't die. Summer wouldn't be the same without tomatoes. I digress.
Let me leave you with a mnemonic sentence that describes the effects of nightshade poisoning, in case you ever run across someone that thinks it might be cool to smoke one of the flowers. "Blind as a Bat, Mad as a Hatter, Red as a Beet, Hot as a Hare, Dry as a Bone, the Bowel and Bladder lose their tone, and the heart runs alone." Coma and respiratory arrest soon follow. Oh, and you might have a tactile response that you are covered by crawling insects. Doesn't really sound like much fun, but the flowers sure are pretty.
PS..I forgot to add, all parts of this plant are toxic. I must handle them with gloves on or I risk a poisoning. Kind of like owning a rattlesnake, only it doesn't move. :)