How to grow datura?

Growing angel trumpet from seed: Learn how to sow and grow this gorgeous plant

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Angel trumpets are prone to stopping people in their tracks. I grow one in a big patio pot, and more visitors to my garden ask about it than anything else I grow. The big, trumpet-like blooms of this plant are show-stoppers, and their fragrance… well, let’s just say it makes an evening on the patio about as sensational as you can get. But, purchasing a large angel trumpet plant can be pricey. If you want to save some dough and stretch your green thumb, try growing angel trumpet from seed. You may be surprised at how easy it is.

Angel trumpet is the common name for one of two distinct plant species, Brugmansia (shown here) and Datura.

What is an angel trumpet plant?

Angel trumpet is the common name for two distinct, but closely related, species of plants: Brugmansia and Datura. Both are members of a plant family known as the nightshade family (Solanaceae.) These two beautiful flowering plants share the same plant family as familiar edibles such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, and peppers. But, the Solanaceae family is also home to many poisonous and toxic plants, including nightshade, tobacco, and mandrake. Unfortunately, all plant parts of both species of angel trumpet are toxic, too, but neither of these species produce fruits that look even remotely edible and many gardeners enjoy growing them despite their poisonous nature. Still, heed fair warning about the toxicity of angel trumpets and never ever ingest any part of the plant, lest you want to take a very dramatic trip to the hospital (or worse!). You may even want to wear gloves when working with angel trumpet plants, just to avoid as much exposure as possible.

Toxicity aside, both types of angel trumpets are among my most favorite tropical plants, and I really enjoy growing angel trumpet from seed. It’s very rewarding to see a plant that grows from a tiny seed into a tall and dramatic plant in just a few months.

The difference between Brugmansia and Datura

While both species of angel trumpet have large, trumpet-shaped flowers, there are several easy-to-spy differences between the two. Here are some defining traits of each species:

Brugmansia have gorgeous, pendulous flowers in many different pastel shades.

• Can grow 10 or more feet tall
• Produces large, pendulous flowers that face downward
• Has seed pods that are elongated and smooth
• Typically does not self-sow

• Grows 3-4 feet tall
• Has flowers that face upwards, toward the sun
• Produces seed pods that are round and covered with spines
• Self-sows easily and can even become weedy

Datura have upward facing flowers that are most often white or purple.

There are many gorgeous cultivars of both Brugmansia and Datura that produce a wide range of flower colors. Brugmansia blooms can be yellow, apricot, white, orange, lavender, or pink. Some of my favorite cultivars include ‘Day Dreams’, ‘Pink‘, and ‘Jean Pasko‘. The blooms of Datura are most typically white, but there are cultivars that produce lavender and purple flowers, too. As an added bonus, cultivars exist in both groups that bear double flowers. Among my favorite double Brugmansias are the double pinks.

Growing angel trumpet from seed

When growing angel trumpet from seed, it’s important to start with a reliable seed source. Seeds of both Brugmansia and Datura remain viable for many years, as long as they’re stored properly. Aside from the seeds themselves, when growing angel trumpet from seed you’ll also need a bag of high-quality seed-starting potting soil, some 3″ plastic pots, a tabletop set up of grow lights (or fluorescent shop lights), an inexpensive heat mat like this one, and a piece of clear plastic large enough to cover all the pots.

Here’s the step-by-step plan I use when growing angel trumpet from seed:

Step 1: Presoak the seeds. Brugmansia seeds have a thick, pithy seed coat around them that can make germination a bit difficult. Datura seeds do not have the same seed coat, but soaking the seeds prior to planting does improve the speed of germination for both species. Soak the seeds in a cup of slightly warm water for 24 hours prior to planting. After soaking, if you want, you can peel the pithy seed coat from Brugmansia seeds, but this isn’t necessary.

Datura seeds should be soaked in water for 24 hours prior to planting.

Step 2: Plant the seeds. The most critical step in growing angel trumpet from seed is to plant the seeds correctly. Angel trumpet seeds require light to germinate. If you bury them too deeply, your germination rates will be greatly reduced. After filling the pots with potting soil, simply press the pre-soaked angel trumpet seeds firmly against the soil, but don’t cover them. Water the pots immediately after planting and then cover them with a piece of clear plastic to keep the humidity high around the seeds.

Step 3: Give them heat. Angel trumpets are tropical plants, native to South and Central America. Warm soil temperatures improve germination rates and speed. I use a seedling heat mat to warm the soil 10-20 degrees above room temperature, just enough heat to make growing angel trumpet from seed a successful endeavor. Leave the heat mat under the seed pots until the seedlings germinate, then remove it. It will take 3 to 4 weeks for angel trumpet seeds to germinate, so don’t lose patience!

Step 4: Turn on the lights. Because both types of angel trumpet seeds need light to germinate, put the pots under grow lights or fluorescent shop lights immediately after sowing. Position the lights so they’re just 2-3 inches above the plant tops, raising them as the plants grow. Leave the lights on for 18-20 hours per day (use a timer like this one, if you want to automate the lights). It is possible to grow angel trumpet seeds in a sunny windowsill, but the seedlings are often leggy and pale. I highly recommend using lights, if at all possible.

Brugmansia are tropical plants whose seeds can take between three and four weeks to germinate.

Step 5: Water as necessary. One of the most important aspects of growing angel trumpets from seed is to make sure the seeds don’t dry out prior to germination. Because they aren’t buried in the potting soil, newly planted Brugmansia and Datura seeds can become desiccated before they even germinate. Make sure the pots stay well-watered, but don’t allow them to become water-logged either or the seeds could rot. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the piece of plastic and the heat mat, and continue to water as necessary.

Step 6: Fertilize every two weeks. As your angel trumpet seedlings grow, fertilize them every other week with a half-strength solution of a liquid organic fertilizer. Don’t over-fertilize when growing angel trumpet from seed or you could burn the tips of the plant’s leaves.

Step 7: Harden plants off before moving them outdoors. Both types of angel trumpets are extremely sensitive to frost. Do not move them outdoors until the danger of frost as passed. The biggest disappointment when growing angel trumpets from seed is moving them outdoors too quickly and watching them wither and die (ask me, I know; it’s a very sad thing to experience!). To harden off angel trumpet plants, as soon as the danger of frost is gone, move the pots outdoors for a few hours every day and put them in a shady spot. Over the course of 10-14 days, gradually increase the amount of sunlight they receive and the amount of time they spend outdoors until they’re out in full exposure both day and night. Only then are your angel trumpet plants ready to stay outdoors for the season.

Wait until the distinctive spiny seed pod of the Datura plant is fully dry before harvesting the pods from the plant to collect the seeds.

What to do with angel trumpet plants at the end of the growing season

If you grow Brugmansia and live where frosts occur, at the end of the gardening season, you’ll have to move your plant into a sheltered spot for the winter. I move my potted Brugmansia plant into my garage, usually in September, when frost is looming on the horizon. My garage is not heated, but it stays just above freezing all winter long. The plant drops all of its leaves when it’s moved into the garage, and shifts into dormancy automatically. Don’t worry when this happens; the plant will not mind this rest period. Simply water your Brugmansia once or twice throughout the entire winter and let it “sleep” until spring’s arrival when you can gradually move it back outdoors and increase irrigation.

You can also overwinter Brugmansia plants in your house, but make sure it’s in a cool-ish room with lots of light. When overwintering plants this way, they will not shift into dormancy and will continue to grow (and maybe flower) all winter long. Be careful with pets, however, as this plant is highly toxic to them, too.

If your angel trumpet was planted in the garden instead of in a pot, dig it up, plant it in a pot, and move the potted plant into a garage or cold cellar for the winter. Come spring, you can always plant your Brugmansia back out into the garden.

Datura does not have to be overwintered indoors, as the plants readily self-sow in the garden.

How to overwinter Datura:

For Datura, there’s no need to overwinter the plant at all. As long as the seed pods cracked open and dropped seed at the end of the growing season, you’ll automatically have new plants pop up in your garden when spring arrives. In fact, Datura self-sows quite prolifically, so you may want to trim off all but one or two of the seed pods before they mature, just to make sure the plant doesn’t become weedy.

Growing angel trumpet means you’re helping nighttime pollinators, too

Angel trumpet and pollinators

One final word about angel trumpets and their value to wildlife. Unless you’re a night owl or a vampire, you won’t always be privy to the pollinators that feast on the nectar from both types of angel trumpets. The fragrance of both Brugmansia and Datura isn’t emitted until evening’s arrival, when it beckons in a very specific group of pollinators: moths. If you’re willing to sit in your garden after the sun sets and let your eyes adjust to the darkness, you’ll find some pretty fabulous moths sipping nectar from your angel trumpet blooms. It will be a sight not easily forgotten. You should be aware, though, that double-flowered versions of Brugmansia and Datura tend to be less welcoming to pollinators as the insects may have difficulty accessing the nectaries through all those layers of flower petals. Plant single-flowered versions for maximum pollinator power.

Related posts on growing plants from seed:
Grow ground cherries in your garden
How to grow tomatillos from seed
How to plant cucumber seeds

As you can see, growing angel trumpet plants is exciting and rewarding. Do you already grow this plant? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

How to Grow Thorn Apple

Datura Germination Information

Datura is the botanical name for Thorn Apple
How to Sow Datura:

  • For best results, sow indoors 2-3 months before planting outdoors and cover the seeds with four times their thickness in soil
  • Alternate the temperature between 68° F nights and 86° F days
  • Seed germinates in 15-30 days
  • Sow outdoors, after danger of frost is past covering the seeds
  • When sowing seed outdoors, we recommend a maximum planting depth of 4X the width of the seed

How to Grow Datura:
Spacing: Pot up or space 18 inches apart in the sunny garden
Soil: Grow in well-drained soil, and keep soil somewhat dry
Additional Care: Water plants lightly and feed monthly with a balanced fertilizer. Keep plant in light
Appearance and Use:

Large trumpet-shaped blooms are borne on plants ideal for beds, containers, or greenhouse growth

Metel (Hindu Datura): An annual 2-5 feet tall, with strongly scented erect, trumpet-like blooms of white, yellow, or purple. Shiny round fruits
Stramonium (Jimson Weed): An annual, 5 feet tall, with oak-like leaves and trumpetshaped blooms of white and violet
About Datura:
Pronunciation: då-tu’-rå
Lifecycle: Annual
Origination: Solanaceae; native to tropical America, Mexico, and Europe
Common Name:Thorn Apple

Datura Angel Trumpets Mixed

Angels TrumpetsCommon name

A mixture of all we list including the very rare sanguinea, albeit the smallest constituent. A really gorgeous mixture.

How to Grow Datura from Seed

Datura is a tropical plant, although not as difficult as some to grow, and makes a wonderful greenhouse or conservatory specimen, but a word of caution: All species of Datura are toxic. All parts of the plants are toxic with the seeds typically containing the highest concentrations of toxins. Care must be taken when handling these plants and there may be risks to children and pets. Always wash your hands immediately after handling any Datura or Brugmansia

Although closely related and similar in appearance, Datura are all annuals or short-lived perennials with no woody growth and upward facing blooms. Brugmansia grow into woody perennial shrubs, or even trees in tropical climates and their blooms dangle downwards. An novel way of remembering the difference between the Datura and Brugmansia is – Devil’s Trumpet looks up to Heaven, while Angel’s Trumpet looks down towards Hell!

Datura do best in full or close to full sun, they do not take kindly to colder temperatures and a draughty position will likely result in leaf drop. Frost will kill the plant. Grow outdoors Datura does best in full sun in frost-free area in moist but well-drained soil. Regular watering is necessary during the growing season, keep the soil moist without over wetting. During the winter reduce watering but never let the soil completely dry out.

Datura are fast-growing plants and need to be re-potted into larger containers every spring. Full-grown plants will reach a maximum height of 5 to 8 feet making them difficult to pot-on, instead scrape off the top several inches of soil and replace it with fresh potting compost adding a controlled-release fertilizer at the same time.

Sow seeds in a moist, well drained compost, lightly covered with vermiculite. Do not exclude light as the seeds need this to germinate. Cover pots or tray with a plastic lid or seal inside a plastic bag

Seeds may take anything from 7 to 40 days to germinate. Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle and transplant into individual 3 inch pots. Datura will grow fast, don’t let them get root-bound, keep transplanting them up to larger pots.

Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to15 days before planting out if required.

Datura is a variable group of plants.

Datura are herbaceous annuals and short-lived perennials in the tomato family (Solanaceae) with a confused taxonomy and disputed origin because of their extensive naturalization through temperate and tropical regions world-wide. Of the eight or nine species in the genus Datura, many naturally exhibit extreme variability in foliar and floral characteristics and many are very similar in appearance. Depending on the conditions a plant is growing under, the size of the plant, leaves and flowers can range from very large to very small – which has led to many “new species” being described that are later found to be simply variations that developed in different locations due to the conditions.

The flowers of most Brugmansia are pendant trumpets.

Even one of its common names, angels’s trumpet, is confusing as that is also used for the closely related genus Brugmansia, a South American group differs that from the genus Datura by having woody stems, pendant flowers and seed pods that need to be broken open. Other common names for the genus include devil’s trumpets, moonflowers, and thorn-apple, with the name jimsonweed referring to D. stramonium (a common weed in pastures, roadsides and waste places throughout much of the world including the US and southern Canada) and horn-of-plenty applied to D. metel.

Datura growing wild in Southern California.

The greatest diversity of species occurs in Central America and Mexico, suggesting this as the origin of the genus, but there is ample evidence that these plants were used culturally both in the New World and in Asia as sacred plants for many millennia (at least 3,000 years) for their power to induce visionary dreams. All Datura plants contain a number of alkaloids, especially in the seeds and flowers, that are toxic, narcotic and hallucinogenic. The toxicity depends on the age of the plant and growing conditions, making the use of the plants as recreational drugs (and even for medicinal or religious use in traditional cultures) very hazardous, with serious illness or death a possibility from accidental or intentional ingestion. They are also poisonous to cattle, horses and sheep. The cultivation of Datura is banned in some states and municipalities.

An ornamental cultivar of D. metel.

Of the nine species of Datura, only two of these herbaceous annuals/tender perennials are commonly used as ornamentals. D. inoxia, native to Central America, Mexico and the southwestern US, is the most common, along with D. metel, native to southeast Asia. The weedier D. stramonium, native to North America with smaller flowers and tooth-edged leaves, is occasionally offered as an ornamental. Even the tender perennials are fast-growing so are easily grown as seasonal annuals from seed in the Midwest.

These shrubby, sprawling warm season plants tend to grow fairly large in a single growing season. D. metel has a mounded habit and can grow 2-3 feet tall and at least as wide, if not up to twice as wide under ideal conditions and a long growing season. D. stramonium generally gets 3-4 feet tall and wide, but often flops under its own weight. D. inoxia has a more upright habit with a regular branching pattern and can get up to 5 feet tall. The gray-green to dark green alternate leaves up to 10 inches long and 4 inches wide have a lobed or toothed margin. Their surfaces are either smooth (D. metel in most cases and D. stramonium) or downy (D. inoxia). The coarse-textured foliage is foul smelling when handled and the sap can cause a skin rash in sensitive individuals.

Datura plants are shrubby and spreading (L) with leaves that vary in color from medium green to gray-green and with entire to lobed or toothed margins (C and R).

The large, erect, trumpet-shaped flowers range in color from pure white to pinkish purple, but some species have flowers that are bright golden yellow or red-purple, and some have double or triple blooms. The petals are fused to form a funnel with 5 or 10 lobes. The furled, cigar-shaped flower buds unwind after dusk (vespertine) and the flowers remain open until about noon of the following day when the petals begin to decline. The flowers exude a pleasant honeysuckle-like scent, especially at night, which attracts night-flying sphinx moths which are their primary pollinators. The flowers may also be visited by honey bees and other insects. Plants bloom continuously from summer until frost.

Flowers are followed by rounded fruits that are walnut-sized capsules that are knobby (D. metel) or covered with sharp and spiky spines at maturity (D. inoxia and D. stramonium). The capsules split open when ripe to release the numerous flattened tan or brown seeds that are similar in appearance to stout tomato seeds. Unless the seed capsules are removed before maturity, the plants tend to self-seed and can become invasive. Seeds remain viable for years.

Fruits are rounded capsules (L and LC) that split open when ripe (C) to release the numerous seeds (RC and R).

The large, coarse foliage of datura contrasts well with many other plants with fine or medium texture.

Daturas tend to be large, sprawling plants with a coarse texture, so they are best suited as specimen or background plants in mixed or annual plantings. If possible, place them where the fragrance of the dramatic flowers may be enjoyed. Those with white flowers are a natural choice for the moon garden as they are most fragrant in the evening. The bold foliage contrasts well with short ornamental grasses (such as shorter annual or perennial Pennisetums or ruby grass) and annuals with fine or medium foliage and lots of flowers, such as Profusion series zinnias or petunias.

The large white flowers are ideal for moon gardens.

Grow datura in full sun and well-drained soil (it will grow in partial shade, but will be leggier and have fewer flowers). It is drought tolerant once established and thrives in almost any type of soil, but the plants are most impressive when grown in humus-rich loam with regular moisture.

Datura grows quickly and needs plenty of room.

They need plenty of room and will quickly grow to fill an area of several feet once the weather gets hot so place them accordingly. They may be grow from seed sown outdoors after the last frost or started indoors 6-8 weeks before the average date of last frost and planted outdoors after all threat of frost has passed (and after acclimating the young plants to outdoor conditions).

Datura grows quickly from seed, often in dense groups when self-sown (L), producing narrow cotyledons (LC) and then rounded leaves (RC and R).

Although they can be grown in large containers, they are generally best grown in the ground because of their size. They rarely need pruning, although stems can be cut back to shape the plants. Staking may be necessary for some plants. They have almost no pest problems, but may be infested with whiteflies, mealybugs and spider mites.

There are several cultivars and hybrids of datura (but often the species is not included when offered for sale or the same variety is listed under different names, including species names that are not scientifically accepted) including:

  • ‘Purple Ballerina’

    D. inoxia ‘Missouri Marble’ has variegated foliage (tinted pink with white margins), purple stems, and white and violet-purple mottled flowers that may be single or double.

  • D. metel ‘Aurea’ has yellow flowers.
  • D. metel Ballerina Series has swirled flowers in shades of purple, yellow and white on more compact plants.
  • ‘Black Currant Swirl’ (and other names including ‘Double Purple’ and ‘Purple Hindu’) is a double or triple hybrid or variety of D. metel with flowers that are dark purple on the outside and white inside that remain open during the day but are not very fragrant.
  • D. metel ‘Flore Pleno’ has double white flowers.
  • Golden Queen’ is a hybrid with double, lemon-yellow frilled flowers.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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Datura – Jimson Weed

The Sacred Datura – Invitation to Disaster

by Jay W. Sharp

All parts of all datura plants are poisonous and can be fatal if ingested.

The white and lavender-tinted, trumpet-shaped bloom of the sacred datura promises a fairyland of delicate beauty, moths, butterflies, long-tongued bees, hummingbirds and magical moonlit nights. It gives rise to some of the plant’s other names, for instance, angel’s trumpet, moon lily, moon flower or belladonna (beautiful lady).

The sacred datura blossom has long captivated artists and poets. It appears in paintings by the famed artist Georgia O’Keefe. It may have been the plant she had in mind when she said, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.”

It inspired an unknown poet to say on the Filling the Sky Internet site:

Full moon

Tonight my datura bush blooms
with thirty-three trumpets.

The moon glides past a tree
Spreading its silver glow on open flowers.
Suddenly sacred trumpets fluoresce
and seem brighter than the moon itself…

By contrast, the bristly fruit and stale-smelling leaves of the sacred datura speak to another, more sinister side of the plant, to a dark and fearsome netherworld of poison and potential emotional collapse, physical sickness and even death. It suggests visions of the brooding and frightening forests of the Brothers Grimm. These parts of the plant have given rise to alternative names such as devil’s trumpet, deadly nightshade, thorn apple, mad apple, Hairy jimson weed, stink weed, green dragon and locoweed.

It is as though the exquisite blossom of the sacred datura issues an irresistible invitation to a party of the spirits of darkness.

The Trumpets Will Have Withered

Our species of sacred datura grows in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran and Mojave deserts at elevations ranging from 1000 to 6500 feet. You will often find it in sandy disturbed areas, alongside roadways and in washes.

The plant is regarded as a perennial, deciduous herb by scientists. That means that it lives for at least three years. It loses its leaves in the winter. Its stems are not woody like those, for instance, of the various mesquite trees, the desert willows or the creosote bushes.

Its bloom, exceptionally large for a desert plant, measures some six inches in length and three or four inches in width. Its walnut-sized, heavily spined fruit, once ripe, bursts open to scatter numerous kidney-shaped seeds. Its coarse, oval leaves, also exceptionally large for a desert plant, measure as much as six to eight inches in length. Its stems may stand several feet in height and span several feet in width. Its heavy fleshy roots serve as a storehouse for water and nutrients. Its foliage dies with the onset of winter and re-grows rapidly with the warming days of spring, drawing from its roots for energy. Like the vampires of dark fantasies, the sacred datura blooms at night, from spring well into fall. The flowers open in the early evening. They shrivel with the coming of daylight.

Our poet from Filling the Sky said,

By mid-day tomorrow
the trumpets will have withered
But their scent will linger in my mind.

While the plant provides nectar to several creatures in the desert food chain, it has formed a partnership called “mutualism” with the hawk moth, an insect nearly as large as your palm. The sacred datura furnishes the moth with nectar as a food source and shelter for its eggs. Unselfishly, it serves leafy meals to the moth’s hungry larvae, so much, in fact, that it must draw down on the store of energy in its roots if it is to re-grow its leaves and survive the foraging.

What does the plant get in return for this arrangement of mutualism? Pollination. Its male pollen is transferred by the moth to female flower parts, enabling fertilization to take place. The sacred datura can then produce fruit and seeds and new generations.

Invitation to Disaster

The sacred datura, through its night-blooming flowers, evokes a feeling of mystery, and it has long been used as a portal to the spirit world, visions, hallucinations and witchcraft — dangerously so. With all of its tissues containing chemical compounds known as “alkaloids,” the plant is extremely poisonous, with the concentration of toxic levels varying from plant to plant. Having served as a food source for the hawk moth, it even invests that insect with poisons to discourage would-be predators.

Despite the grave risks, sacred datura has been used since ancient times by spiritualists, holy men, medicine men, witches and even modern recreational drug users. It may, said one source, spawn “deep inner visionary states,” but it may also leave a person “feeling like an alien” or “feeling as if your being is dissolving.” It may cause a “fear of losing control or of insanity.” It makes you dream, even when awake. It makes you imagine that you’re seeing three dimensional objects that, in reality, don’t exist.

Various sacred datura species have for eons been used in the East Indies, Greece, the Arabian countries, Asian countries, China, India and the Americas by mystics and sorcerers in a reach for otherworldly hallucinations.

In the beliefs of the Huichol people of Mexico, for example, sacred datura exists in the form of a deity, or god, called “Kieri Person,” Peter J. Furst said in his book Hallucinogens and Culture. “With the enchanting music of his violin,” say the Huichols, “he lures the unwary and bids them taste of his leaves, his flowers, his roots, and his seeds. But whoever obeys his wiles suffers insanity or death: people bewitched by Kieri will believe themselves to be birds, for example, able to fly from the highest rocks…”

Sacred datura has played an important role as a medicine among the Indians of the desert, according to Furst. For instance, it was made into a paste or ointment by the Zunis for use as a “pain killer in setting broken or dislocated bones, alleviating localized pain, and even relieving toothache.” The plant could also, however, lead to problems such as mental disorientation, physical disabilities and heart attack.

A historian, Robert Beverly, quoted by Larry W. Mitich in the Intriguing World of Weeds Internet site, said that after eating a species that grows in Virginia, English colonial soldiers “turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions…

“…A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after 11 days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.”

Sacred datura has a similar effect on animals. “In the Orient,” said Mitich, “goats were observed to act strangely after eating the plant; they would try to walk on their hind feet like humans.”

In a letter to a friend, who had sent him a sample of the sacred datura for the Monticello gardens, Thomas Jefferson said, “…I have so many grandchildren and others who might be endangered by the poison plant, that I think the risk overbalances the curiosity of trying it.” One man, a Frenchman who had eaten the plant, said Jefferson, “…was found lifeless on his bed a few minutes after his landlady had left him there, and even the slipper which she had observed half suspended on his foot was not shaken off.”

The effects of eating sacred datura may occur within minutes or within several hours. “Victims,” said Mitich, “become delirious, incoherent, and perform insensible motions, commonly picking at imaginary objects on themselves or in the air.”

“Symptoms of poisoning,” according to a book called Livestock-Poisoning Plants of Arizona, “are similar among humans and livestock. They include intense thirst, distorted vision, uncoordinated movement, high temperature, a rapid and weakened heart beat, convulsions, coma, and death.”

The sacred datura is a grim fairy tale.


This stout, branched, sprawling perennial has long, gray-green, ovate leaves up to 6 inches long, which are covered by tiny smooth hairs. It may grow up to 2 feet high.

Thorny, globose, walnut-sized fruit (1-1/2 inches in diameter) has many small, slender spines. The fruit hangs down in all species except jimson weed.

Datura is a member of the potato (Solanaceae) family, also called the deadly nightshade family. There are several species of the datura genus, including D. wrightii, commonly referred to as the southwestern thorn aApple. D. stramonium is usually called jimson weed; D. metaloides is colloquially named sacred datura; and D. inoxia is usually referred to as toloache. The smaller annual, D. discolor, is often called moon flower. It grows only 18 inches high and has a purple throat not found in other species.


All four deserts of the American Southwest from Baja and Southern California, east to Texas and Mexico and north through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada.


Desert sandy flats, arroyos and plains from sea level to an elevation up to 2,500 feet. Often seen along Southwestern roadsides.


Large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom March through November. Corollas are up to 6 inches long, have 5 teeth and are often tinged with purple or lavender around the margins. This flower opens after dusk and closes by mid-morning of the following day.

All species of datura have long been used by native peoples of the Southwest in puberty and other ceremonies because of the plant’s hallucinogenic alkaloids. People trying to imitate Native American ways have often poisoned themselves, sometimes fatally.

Related article:

Desert Animals
Desert Plants

Photo tips: Most digital point-and-shoot cameras have a macro function – usually symbolized by the icon of a little flower. When you turn on that function, you allow your camera to get closer to the subject, looking into a flower for example. Or getting up close and personal with a bug. More on desert photography.

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What’s Blooming Now – Check the Wildflower Reports

The Datura plant is a native to South, Central and North American regions. A large plant typically characterized by pale, grayish-green leaves and white, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom in the night.

The Datura finds itself commonly associated with plant names and similar species such as Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet) or the Devils Trumpet, but with a marked difference.

While the Brugmansia or Angel Trumpet plant have downward-facing trumpets, the Datura flowers point upwards, facing the sky.

Plant experts define the plant as having remarkable flowers shaped like a large trumpet 6-8 inches in diameter, tinged with either a snowy white or with dark, royal purple. The surrounding bluish-grey foliage makes it unique from other plant species of its group.

The lush, heavy bloom of the Datura is quite unmatched and a magnificent sight to see; its exceptional beauty makes it popular among garden enthusiasts and landscapers alike.

Several species of Datura interest plant lovers. The Jimson weed or the Datura stramonium grows alongside roads and pastures all over North America. It goes by various names such as the Devil’s Trumpet plant, Thorn Apple, Stinkweed, Devil Weed, Hell Bell, and the Datura Moonflower. Classified as an annual the Jimson weed produces purple or snowy white blooms.

There’s also Datura discolor, or the Desert Datura growing in northern Mexico and Arizona’s Sonoran Desert regions. The feathery white flower features a complementary purple throat. The Sacred Datura found anywhere from Mexico through California and on to Oklahoma; its white blooms sport a slight tinge of pink on the inside and an equally slight bluish tint on the outside. The Asian Datura (the Datura metel or purple datura) with many color varieties – purple, white, yellow, white and purple and sometimes even twin flowers.

Other species include: datura inoxia

The following round off more known Datura names:

  • Horn of Plenty
  • Downy Thorn Apple
  • Indian Apple
  • The Floripondio

Caring For The Datura Plant

Almost all members of the genus Datura are hardy perennial plants which can usually grow as an annual plant. The United States Department of Agriculture lists the Datura in hardiness zone 5 to 7 as an annual, and hardiness zone 8 to 10 as a perennial. Planting Datura requires full sun coupled with moist, rich, well-drained soil. As a tropical species, they thrive in the warmer months and don’t take kindly to frost and winter months. If left by themselves in winter, the every datura leaf will drop and the plant most likely dies.

Datura plants will benefit from extra water during the growing season; the soil should stay moist. In the winter months, drastically reduce watering but not to the point the soil completely dries out. Come winter season the Datura may go deciduous. Pot them in a light well-drained soil. A weak liquid plant food could encourage blooming.

Frost and cold pose the only “growing” weakness of this otherwise easy to grow plant. The Datura can tolerate poor soil conditions and survive even a little drought. In partial shade, it may become leggy and not produce many flowers. They resist the majority of pests.

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Datura Flower Propagation

Propagate with Datura seed pods or side shoot cuttings (like Brugmansia). However, most gardener’s normally buy the Datura as a plant and transfer them into their own garden.

The Datura grows aggressively, repot each spring season into a larger pot with similar soil types. A full-grown Datura can reach heights of 8′ feet tall, making it difficult to manage repotting. Scrape off the top inch or two of soil and replace with fresh soil. You may also add time-release fertilizer at this point.

Starting From Seeds:

After collecting the datura seedlings from brown seed pods, scarify them by carefully scraping the seeds with a knife. This will help the germination process. Afterward, soak the seeds in thermos with warm water for 24 hours.

Place the datura seeds in a tray with a thin vermiculite or compost layer. Give them enough light and heat while keeping them moist but not soggy. Check the seeds daily for three to eight weeks and see if they have germinated.

Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep indoors around mid-March. Transplant seedlings to the garden about May 10, four feet apart. Remember the juice from the plant is poisonous. More below.

Datura Plants A Toxic Beauty

Datura owners will certainly appreciate the full, fantastic blooms on the flowering plants sitting in their garden, but beware as its beauty comes at a price. Datura plants as a whole are very toxic when consumed. Both man and animal alike will find the leaves, seeds, and attractive blooms all poisonous.

Stories about Datura poisoning in areas where they thrive are a bit saddening but true. You’ll have to put up a protective fence to keep your children or beloved pets away once you decide that the advantages far outweigh the Datura plants lethal disadvantages.

Datura species contain tropane alkaloids atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. Alkaloids, a diverse group plant metabolites with compounds including hallucinogenic substances such as opiates.

Rumors of the Datura plant’s toxicity is part of what makes it a potent hallucinogenic, used as a drug. This misinformation plays a large part in people wanting to try and smoke the Datura for its supposed effect.

All levels of consumption with no known “safe level” for humans or animals exist when eating the Datura. There are not more digestible forms and no known method of extracting the hallucinogenic properties of this plant.

In growing Datura plants, everyone in the household needs to know of its toxic properties. Datura plant owners should make it clear that all parts are poisonous and can prove to be fatal when eaten. In other words, do not even attempt to consume! The one who tends it should also be mindful in wearing gloves all the time.

Principal Datura Species

DATURA (dah-teu’-rah) – A genus of annual or perennial herbs, shrubs or trees, belonging to the Nightshade Family. They are mostly coarse, strong-smelling plants, but a few are grown for the sake of their large white trumpet flowers. They are of easy cultivation, some being treated as tender annuals. The woody Datura species are propagated by cuttings.

Datura arborea is treelike to 15 ft., with soft-hairy leaves to 8 in. long, and white green-veined flowers to 9 in. long.

cornigera grows to 4 ft., and almost entirely covered with soft down. The leaves are chiefly at the ends of the branches, and the white or creamy flowers are very fragrant at night. The floral lobes are terminated by a long spreading or recurved point.

Datura metel (known to many gardeners as Datura cornucopia) is an annual to 5 ft., with large often double flowers, whitish inside and violet outside, with a purple calyx.

Datura Metel Illustration from L’Illustration Horticole 1895

stramonium (Thorn-apple, Jimsonweed) is a tropical annual to 5 ft., naturalized in parts of this country. It has erect white or violet flowers and a very prickly fruit.

suaveolens, tree-like to 15 ft., is often grown in pots under cover, and frequently confused with Datura arborea. However, it has larger and smoother leaves and distinguishing sweet-scented flowers to a foot long, with an inflated calyx.

inoxia – native to central and south America

Datura wrightii or sacred datura classified as a deliriant and an anticholinergic.

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