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Of interest this week at Beal...

Angels Trumpets
Datura inoxia

W. J. Beal

Botanical Garden

Family: the Tomato family, Solanaceae.


Also called Devils Trumpet, Thorn-apple, Indian apple,
Purple Datura, Garden Datura, Horn-of-Plenty, Chaico Blanco,
Yerba Diablo, Davids Bush, Concombre zombi.
This rather bushy appearing tomato relative displays its striking white flowers
throughout the hottest months in Michigan, but it is native to southerly and
southwestern U.S. states and Mexico, south at least to Nicaragua. Some authors
have claimed that the original range also included the Caribbean, and China,
although centuries of use in many cultures has obscured is true biogeography. It is
now considered a pan-tropical weed. This genus, Datura, has a long history in plant
toxicology, and this species is part of that history. It has a place in the ethnobotany
of the American Southwest. Some of these observations were published in the wellknown, if controversial, series of books in which Carlos Castaneda writes of his
journey, as a participant, into Yaqui shamanism. In his narrative, this plant is exploited
for spiritual/psychoactive purposes. However, its properties as a drug, and the
accounts of those who have made the mistake of thinking that this plant is a possible
recreational, make plain how stark and even brain damaging this plant can become.
In the Mexico/Central American portion of its range, criminals have occasionally
administered it to victims who can be left deranged or killed by its effects.

Angel Trumpets are grey-tinted semi-woody bushes of waste places, weed patches, and
semi-desert communities. Although perennial, they often die back to ground level after
a particularly dry season, and are grown as annuals in colder, more northerly temperate
parts of the U.S. They can reach heights of 6 feet (2 meters), and in the last half of
the summer produce abundant bright white (sometimes slightly yellow or purple),
solitary flowers exceeding 7 inches (18 cm) in diameter. The large leaves are covered
with short fuzz that yield a rather blue/gray appearance. Before the flowers open, they
are twirled into a spiral, as seen from the far end. The flowers develop into a slightly
elongated, very spiky seedpod (often called Thornapple) about 2 (5 cm) in diameter.

Many poisonings have been reported from accidental or recreational


consumption of the seeds from the spiney pods (below).

The two most prominent toxins associated with Datura inoxia are atropine and
scopalomine. The inventory of defensive chemistry also includes hyoscyamine,
hyoscine, norscopalomine, and meteloidine. While these are the source of its
hallucinatory reputation, they are also a source of dementia, psychosis, heart distress
with tachycardia and increase of systolic blood pressure. The main use of angel
trumpets in the present day is as an accent plant for the garden or landscape.
Angels trumpets can be kept in almost any location, in the lower 48 states, provided
it receives full sun for the summer months. It is not recommended for use around
childrens play areas because the sweet smelling flowers attract attention and
experimentation from small children. A minuscule piece of leaf or flower, eaten by a
very young child is a clinical dose. This large and imposing plant has a rather rank,
almost stale-popcorn aroma that is irritating to some people.