The Datura Genus (Devil’s Trumpet)

There are nine species within the Datura genus, all of which come under the Solanaceae plant family. 

Most of them hail from North America, coming in either annual or brief perennial forms, and all produce dramatic trumpet blooms. Some blooms even feature double petals.

A Note On Toxicity

Before you put any of these plants onto a must-grow list, there’s something you should know.

Every plant within this genus is incredibly poisonous. You may also know the plant family as the deadly nightshade family, and this is for good reason!

This makes them extremely dangerous, and should not be planted in gardens that have pets or children even as visitors, as this risk is not worth it. 

They contain dangerous alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and scopolamine, causing havoc on animals and humans alike.

If you suspect even for a minute that a pet or child has inhaled or eaten any part of the plant, seek medical help immediately, even if no symptoms occur.

Signs of poisoning include confusion, delirium, hallucinations, seizures, urinary retention, trouble breathing, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, comas, and hyperpyrexia.

As you can imagine from the list of symptoms, it can easily cause death!

The toxicity of each plant depends on the species, the weather where it grows, and how old it is.

The toxicity of datura is featured in many rhymes and stories, to help preserve the knowledge that these plants are incredibly deadly.

Datura At A Glance

While some plants have been accepted as new species within this genus, it’s worth knowing that they are just evolved versions of existing varieties within the datura genus, and usually die out within a few years.

Most datura plants have an upright growth habit to begin with, often growing towards the floor as they get older.

Flowers usually contain a heavy fragrance to attract pollinators such as moths, and can reach between 5 and 20cm long.

These are followed by capsule fruit, and when these ripen, they split open to distribute their seeds.

Some datura varieties are incredibly invasive, and have a negative impact on native plants, so you do need to take care and do your research before introducing them into your garden.

For example, the thorn apple or Datura stramonium is considered a thug in the plant world, and it will wipe out its competition, and escape into wild areas past your garden.

It has naturalized itself in many parts of the world, and more than 100 countries consider it a pest!

Butterflies and moths use datura plants as a host plant to feed their larvae.

Datura Name Origin

The genus name is derived from the Sanskrit word dhatura, translating as thorn apple.

This term describes the look of the seed pods, which look like apples, except they are crowned with thorns to deter predators.

There are a plethora of common names for these plants too, and they include the devil’s trumpet, hell’s bells, moonflower, devil’s weed, and jimsonweeds, referring to the toxicity of the plants.

Datura Flower Symbolism

The flowers in the datura genus represent power, warnings, and caution.

They are also entrenched in cultures across the world, and are synonymous with witchcraft, spell work, and the spirit world.

Datura Uses

Perhaps unsurprisingly, datura plants have been used as a strategic poison, murder weapon, and a method of suicide.

As is the case with many poisonous plants, daturas have more than a few applications in traditional medicine.

In particular, Datura stramonium, or the jimsonweed, has been used to help treat wounds, gout, fevers, asthma, bronchitis, and topical complaints such as bruises, scrapes, bites, and blisters.

Because of its hallucinogenic properties, datura has been employed as a recreational drug, which can be incredibly dangerous.

A tea made from a datura plant will cause hallucinations, and is likely to cause permanent psychosis.

These plants also have applications in religion and rituals, too.

For the Aztecs, datura plants formed part of important sacrifice rituals and initiations. For the latter, someone would return as a “man”, or would not return at all.

Native Americans employed daturas for both medicinal and ritual use. Datura wrightii, also known as the Sacred Datura, was used in a ritual as a rite of passage.

In some groups, these plants were used to treat insomnia, and to communicate with spirits.

During the witch trials, any person caught growing datura as a cultivated plant in Europe was supposedly a witch, and they were tried accordingly.

In India, datura plants were considered sacred hundreds of years ago, and still constitute part of Ayurveda medicine and rituals. It also plays a part in prayers to Shiva, and rituals dedicated to Shiva and Ganesha, too.

Datura Growing Requirements

Datura plants are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 11, but may also be grown as annual plants in colder areas.

In some places, if you take care, you can overwinter perennial forms of datura. 

Flowers come in many colors, including white, purple, pink, and yellow, and are capable of appearing from spring into fall, depending on the weather conditions.

Depending on the species, datura plants can reach up to 7 feet tall, but some will be more compact than this.

All datura plants prefer well-draining soil which is packed with nutrients. The soil should have a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

Datura plants hate having wet feet and are vulnerable to fungi, so make sure to let excess water evaporate from the soil. 

For the same reason, you should also avoid adding manure or organic material to the soil, as this can cause the roots to rot.

These plants will do well in full sunlight, but may also survive in partial shade, too. 

They don’t need a lot of water, and they don’t require a lot of maintenance.

You will need to keep an eye on these plants, however, to make sure they don’t escape your garden, and cause havoc on surrounding areas.

It is recommended that you grow them in containers rather than in the ground, and this will help limit their spread considerably, and ensure that no part of the roots or seeds are able to touch the ground, even if that’s through a crack in paving stones or concrete.

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