Weed of the Month: Jimson Weed
Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) is a beautiful, witchy plant that begins blooming in late summer and continues through the first frost. A member of the notorious nightshade family, its more famous cousins include tomato, eggplant, pepper, tobacco, and potato. Most members of this plant family are poisonous, and jimson weed is no exception. All parts of the plant are toxic, most particularly the seeds. Potent amounts of alkaloid compounds are present, which potentially cause convulsions, hallucinations, and even death if ingested. And as climate change increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, studies have found that the toxicity of plants like jimson weed only increases.
The genus name Datura comes from the Hindi word for the plant, noteworthy since most botanical names are derived from Latin or Greek. The origins of the plant itself are contestedвЂ”every source I checked listed a different native origin, ranging from Mexico to India, and it now grows all over the world. Not surprisingly, it has found its way into many cultural and medicinal traditions. Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and Native American shamanistic practices all employ jimson weed medicinally or ritualistically. Its seeds and leaves are used as an antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, hypnotic, and narcotic.
Having grown up in Virginia, I was intrigued by one of the common names I saw recurring in my plant booksвЂ”Jamestown weedвЂ”and researched the origins. One story simply connects the first New World observations of the plant to settlers in this early Virginia colony. A more famous tale tells of the plant’s accidental ingestion by some British soldiers sent there to suppress BaconвЂ™s Rebellion in 1676. After eating some in a stew, the soldiers spent 11 days in a hallucinatory stupor, blowing feathers, kissing and pawing their companions, and making faces and grinning вЂњlike monkey[s].вЂќ
Jimson weedвЂ™s white to purple blooms are fragrant at night, attracting moths and other nocturnal pollinators, a common trait in white-bloomed plants. The rest of the plant, however, is stinky! Crush and sniff the oaklike leaves, and youвЂ™ll understand why domesticated and wild animals avoid eating this plantвЂ”it smells a bit like feet. Indeed, accidental poisonings tend be more common among humans than among other animals.
Though the trumpet-shaped flowers are stunning, my favorite part of the plant is the devilish-looking seedpod. The size of a Ping-Pong ball and covered in spikes, the seed capsule splits into four parts like a monsterвЂ™s maw, revealing the dark brown seeds inside. In the winter you might notice its tall, dry stalks bearing the prickly seedpods, which to me look like the scepter for a demon. With all its extraordinary looks and lore, jimson weed is a fascinating plant to contemplate (but maybe not cultivate)!
The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.
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Saara Nafici is the executive director of Added Value/Red Hook Community Farm. She is also the former coordinator of the Garden Apprentice Program at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a longtime activist, feminist, bicyclist, naturalist, and youth educator. Follow her weedy plant adventures on Instagram.
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I bought the plant small, was told it was a trumpet plant….planted it and it grew up, out…but I love the white flowers (even tho they don’t last long). I live in NY state and understand it will wither with the frost-Can I just cut it off at ground level until next year? It is huge-grew to 5’ top and sides! Do I have to dig it up and put it in a pot? I prefer leaving it in the ground.
How do I dispose of this plant? We got it from a load of loam that we bought locally in Rhode Island.
No plant should be wiped from the Earth. They all have purposes, good ones if not misused or over done.
This year I had 3 pop up in my flower garden… and one has to be every bit of 2 to 3 feet tall, and covered in pods. Where do they come from, any ideas?
Oh…thank you Bobbi…do you know if the moonflower is poisonous also?
I noticed that the Moonflower and the Jimson flower look much the same, however, the leaves are different. Are they the same plant or just cousins and is the Moonflower also poisonous? My grandmother, Mother and I have all raised them in our gardens in Oklahoma and in Montana….
The species you are referring to that blooms at night is NOT jimson weed, it’s a moon plant. It is part of the jimson family but not what people will find just growing in their yard in certain areas. Pure jimson weed blooms in the day that’s how you know the difference.
Hello, I just found this beautiful plant in my garden this year and was to excited UNTIL I read your article. How do I dispose of it?
Every year, I deliberately allow this weed to mature in my wildflower garden. The flower is breathtaking, its fragrance is intoxicating (but not hallucinating, lol), and best of all it attracts the biggest, wildest-looking moth you have ever seen. Definitely makes for an enchanting evening.
I wonder why plants, like Jimson weed, are not completely wiped out of the earth surface! Soo many young men have run mad by deliberately ingesting such plant parts.
What is the best and safest way to dispose of this plant? Had a bag of potting soil and this grew out of it.
Appreciate this witchy weed’s beautiful blooms and spiky seedpods, but beware. Its notoriously toxic seeds and leaves can cause convulsions, hallucinations or even death, and climate change is making its poisons even more powerful.