Sunday, July 6, 2008

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger

Datura inoxia
Datura metel

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. :)


  1. Jeez, you sure do love your flowers! Even with it's seductive beauty I know I wouldn't want that plant on my property.
    You really should consider creating a botanical garden because it seems that plant variety is the spice of life for you. And you seem to love learning as much as you can about them all.

    Jimson Weed seeds were a popular hallucinagenic for teenagers here in New Mexico about 10-12 years ago. The Weed grew along the roads and in people's front yards.

    Tragically, quite a few deaths happened. And very quickly Jimson Weed was removed from yards and exterminated from roadsides in Albuquerque.
    I haven't seen a Jimson Weed for years until your post.

  2. Did the nursery put out a warning about wearing gloves? Not many repeat customers if they don't.

  3. TV, The only reason I have it at all, is that it lives in pots under my second story deck. It is surrounded by a rock wall, topped by a 5ft. wrought iron fence. Even the chickens can't to it. Only humans can reach the space and my youngest is 9.

    SC, "not many repeat customers"--you, girl, are on a roll! No, the nursery didn't warn about gloves. I found out about it online. The only real work I do on the plant is to pull off the dead trumpets. They just slide off. Gives new meaning to "dead head" doesn't it.

  4. ceecee, I love your sense of humor. And the photos you take are pretty good too. ;-) I've always loved this plant from afar, but never had a good place to plant one. Your situation sounds ideal. Too bad you can't send Will Robinson's robot to deadhead for you though. Save on gloves. :)