Warm-season, summer annual
Stolon/rhizome/roots No stolon or rhizome; stem stout, branched and green to purple in color; thick, shallow and extensively branched taproot system
Other common names: Jamison-weed, jamestown-weed, jamestown lily, thorn-apple, stinkwort, stinkweed, mad-apple, trumpet plant, loco weed, angel’s trumpet, devil’s, fireweed, dewtry, apple of Peru
Crop and Soil Environmental News, April 2004
Jimsonweed – (Datura stramonium L., Synonyms:Datura tatula L.)
Seed capsule covered with stiff prickles
South Dakota weeds. 1975. Agric. Ext. Serv. South Dakota State University. Pub. p. 154. South Dakota State Weed Control Commission.
Inflorecence Flowers are large and trumpet or funnel-shaped (tubular), white to pinkish, borne singly on short stalks in the axils of branches, are attractive and fragrant; fruit are a spiny egg-shaped capsule covered with short, sharp spines; when the fruit is ripe the pods burst open splitting into 4 segments and scatter numerous poisonous black, kidney-shaped seeds.
Jimson weed’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 you’ll understand why domesticated and wild animals avoid eating this plant—it smells a bit like feet. Indeed, accidental poisonings tend be more common among humans than among other animals.
The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.
Browse the Weed of the Month archives >
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.
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 monster’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 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 contested—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.