So somewhat cautiously I bought a Datura plant (Datura wrightii) and put it in the Butterfly Garden section of my backyard. Cautiously, mainly because it is very toxic, and also it is considered a weed to some folks. To me, the term “weed” usually means it has a spreading habit. Having a small yard, I, unfortunately, don’t have a lot of room for plants with wanderlust. However I was won over at the thought of hosting Sphinx Moth (AKA Hawk Moth for some) caterpillars and the big showy night blooms of the plant. Having a moth pollinator plant seemed like a logical addition to the butterfly garden. Also, I have a friend who is crazy about these plants, she keeps buying more of them for her yard. So heaped with a good dose of peer pressure, I thought, “sure, I’ll give it a go”.
Datura, also known as Jimson Weed. (There is a great story about this I’ll tell later) has greenish grey foliage and will form a mounding shape. If its in an area where it doesn’t die back in the winter, it can get up to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide. So if you live somewhere with warm winters make sure you give it room. The flowers are trumpet shaped and open up in a bloom about the size of an adult’s hand. They bloom overnight and in the morning, but by afternoon the bloom is gone. What grows after the bloom is a thorny seed pod, sometimes called a “devil’s apple” or “thorn apple”. I let these stay on for awhile, because they look pretty cool, but ultimately I remove them because I don’t want Datura seeds all over my small garden!
The nickname for Datura is Jimson Weed, which is a truncation of the original nickname “James Town Weed”. The story goes, that in 1676 some British soldiers who had been sent to James Town to stop Bacon’s Rebellion, had harvested some young Datura leaves and made a salad of it for one of their meals. They spent the next 11 days in delerium, effected by the toxicity of the plant. Below is a description of their behaviour from a book written by Robert Beverly Jr. about the History of Virgina.
“The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call’d) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they 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 [grimaces] at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll. “
—Robert Beverley, Jr., The History and Present State of Virginia, Book II: Of the Natural Product and Conveniencies in Its Unimprov’d State, Before the English Went Thither, 1705
Here in zone 8, this plant is a perrenial. The native species for the Texas Hill Country region is Datura Wrightii. Like most weeds, its not to particular about soil. It does take more water than most native Texas Hill Country plants. It would do best in a boggy area or a place that gets regular water.
Here’s some more information on Datura: