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The Natura of Datura
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Posted: July 29th. 2012
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From the fabulously fragrant to the stench of stinky socks, the genus Datura attracts more than it repels as a curious botanical fetish. Commonest and wild-growing is Jimson Weed, alias Thorn apple, alias Datura Stramonium. Initial contact was made approximately twenty years ago in a very small town east of Torrington, Connecticut. The plants were five feet high, clumped together along a twenty foot stretch, some singly; some six plants deep, growing in front of a stand of maples having a boggy soil and half a day’s shade.
With a reluctant OK from the landholder, two plants were taken home for study. Out came the botanical bible, better known by its author, Maude Grieve, and a thorough examination was made. The flowers were white, about four to five inches long, no fragrance, but the rest of the plants had an off-putting odor. Even the cat was unimpressed. A fresh paper bag from the grocery store was more appealing. If it can’t be eaten or excite the senses, why bother with it? Of course, the same can be said for humans.
A week later, a return visit for more one-on-one botanical eye candy ended in dismay. The emotionally revengeful lord of the manor took pruning shears and hacked each one down to ground level. It was punishment for being more enticed by Datura Stramonium than Home Owner Testosterone. In general, it was a totally inaccurate opinion. In specific, it was a dead ringer for the truth.
A short time later, a pilgrimage was made to a wonderful greenhouse in the northeast corner of Connecticut specializing in unusual, tropical and exotic plants. It was, and still is, a fantastic source of flowering nightshades. A Datura was selected. It had darker leaves compared to the Stramonium plants I studied and the descriptive tag tucked into the pot promised double purple flowers. A few weeks later after repotting, the blooms fulfilled their visual vow of beauty. A love of a lifetime began, human males notwithstanding.
Infrequently, southeastern Pennsylvanians grow Horn of Plenty, a Datura shrub roughly four feet high and wide. The flowers are white and similar to Stramonium, but wider and bell shaped. No fragrance test was done, as the specimens were on private property. Every year, the same plant type appears at the same locations. Scattered seeds from this annual are hardy. Perhaps too hardy. Like dandelions, unwanted plants can be invasive.
Seed pods of Datura may be clipped during formation to avoid the nuisance factor. Wear gloves and use pruning shears. Thorn apple aptly describes the well protected enclosure of future plants. It is a bizarre combination of the toughness of an armadillo shell sporting the appearance of a turned inside out iron maiden. Do not touch with bare hands. Very painful. Masochistic readers, please disregard this advice.
Two years ago, a botanical soul mate provided unusual seeds of a blue Datura. Research found an Oak Leaf Datura, closely matching the summertime display. The seeds were planted in the spring, flowers bloomed and very pale blue blossoms with a narrow red ring around the throat graced a large terra cotta clay pot. Stems and leaves were a very dark green. A barely vague fragrance emitted from the blooms. Seed pods were clipped at maturity and stored.
Curious descendants may betray the original parentage, especially when varieties have been cross-bred to render new plant types. Unique markings and colors, such as stripes or alternate hues at the edges of the flower petals may fade, disappear or blotch unevenly on the children and grandchildren. Varietals will eventually revert to their genetic origins. Serious gardeners will take pictures and keep diaries recording each year of successes and surprises.
Daturas and Brugmansias are both commonly called Angels Trumpets. The two plants could be considered first cousins. Daturas are annuals with flowers pointing upward. Perennial Brugmansias blossom downward, have beautiful, bigger flowers and exude the most intoxicating fragrance. Perfumers and essential oil artists may consider creating an olfactory magical formula. It would be unique in the world of obtainable scents, whether for personal wear, spells and hexes, domicile enhancement or just plain fun. On a clear summer night, there is nothing comparable to the fascination of inhaling the goddess noir of the Nightshades.
Obtaining Datura plants is challenging, but not impossible. Ask a Datura grower if it is OK to cut a few brown seed pods from a mature plant in the fall. Occasionally, garden centers offer seeds of unusual plants. Packets of Datura can be purchased for less than five dollars, approximately the price of one plant sold in a two-inch by two-inch pot by a nursery. Sometimes, major seed catalogs have them as well as online merchants. Many Internet blogs pertaining to Datura and Brugmansia offer swaps and purchases of plants and seeds.
Fortunately, Datura plants are not fussy. They will grow in commercially available potting soil. Keep moist. Fertilizer encourages flowering. As with most plants, growing them in the ground produces the hardiest, healthiest specimens, but pots are OK. Keep in mind the plants will be smaller, but just as productive. Should the potted Datura need more attention in the fall than the gardener has time, bring the plant indoors when the pods look ready to burst. Unwanted seeds can be swept up or vacuumed away and undesirable, random outdoor locations won’t be an unwelcome surprise the following year.
Nightshades have a reputation for conjuring negative dermatological conditions. Ingesting leaves, flowers or seeds is not recommended, as the term “poisonous” covers mild reactions to lethal ones. The primary motivation for most gardeners is to beautify windowsills and outdoor areas, grow fruits and vegetables for basic sustenance and experiment with new varieties of old favorites. Witch, Warlock and Druid earth loving growers have a one up-man-ship need to magically practice a responsible approach to growing unusual botanicals. Cultivate respect and admiration from friends, relatives and neighbors. Achievement is the proof of a successfully executed spell.
Plant the chant!
Location: Hamburg, Pennsylvania
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