Jimsonweed is a coarse poisonous plant, growing to 5 feet high on widely forking stems that are stout, hollow, smooth (although slight hairy when young), pale green to purplish.
The leaves are alternate, with stout stalks, forming a pointed oval in outline but with the margins irregularly cut and toothed. The upper side is dark green, the underside paler. The surface is smooth with very noticeable veins. Length can be 2 to 10 inches long with pointed tips. Leaves have an unpleasant odor when crushed. Young leaves are poisonous to cattle, who will normally avoid the plant, but if mixed with other forage they may eat it. The leaf, fresh or dry is poisonous to humans.
The inflorescence is a solitary flower rising on a short stalk from a stem branch axil or from a leaf axil. Multiple flowers can occur on large plants.
The individual flowers are trumpet shaped, up to 4 inches long, with a long dusky-green calyx that is smooth but narrowly ridged or winged and has 5 pointed lobes, enclosing the flower tube for half of its length. The flowers can have a white or a light purple corolla of 5 lobes which are fused together and which flare out forming the trumpet mouth, with a small fold between each lobe and each lobes center point having a slender tooth. There are five stamens rising from the middle of the tube. Filaments and anthers are white in white flowers, purplish in purple flowers. Flowers have a spicy or lemony fragrance but are very poisonous. Flowers open in the afternoon and into the evening as they are pollinated by night flying moths.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce an inflated capsule, ovoid in shape, covered in prickles, the upper prickles longer; the entire capsule about 2 inches long, usually with four cells, which contain many dark brown wrinkled seeds. Seeds are highly poisonous and do not lose their toxicity even when dried or boiled. Both capsule and seeds are light enough to be carried away by water. The capsule splits open when mature to release the seeds, but frequently it overwinters on the plant and opens in Spring.
Toxicity and medicinal use - see text below the photos.
Habitat: Jimsonweed is an annual, reproducing from seeds. It is usually found in disturbed areas, pastures, fields and old gardens where it may have been grown for medicinal use. The root is long, thick and whitish.
Names: The genus Datura is usually listed as derived from the Hindoo Dhatura and that in turn, from an older Sanskrit, word D'hustúra, which applied to the species fastuosa found in east Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The origin of the species name - stramonium - is not settled, some writers attributing it to a Greek word for a plant known as madapple. The author name for the plant classification 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. Two older scientific names, now synonyms, are D. inermis and D. tatula.
The common name of Jimsonweed is believed to be a corruption of the older name of 'Jamestown Weed', which was so-named due to the poisoning of some soldiers at Jamestown in 1676 after they ate leaves of the plant.
Comparison: There are 2 species of Datura in North America that resemble D. stramonium. D. inoxia has a corolla twice as long, the calyx does not have angles, and capsules are nodding. D. wrightii has a corolla 3 times as long, the calyx does not have angles and the pods are nodding.
Above: The inflorescence is a solitary stalked flower rising from a branch or leaf axil. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions.
Below: The flower corolla forms a trumpet shape from 5 fused lobes that have a fold at the throat and a slim finger-like fringe in the middle of the lobe.
Below: 1st photo - the seed pod is usually of 4 chambers, inflated, about 2 inches long, with prickles. 2nd photo - Each pod chamber contains dark brown wrinkled seeds.
Below: With branching stems, the plant is usually wider than it is tall. Leaves are alternate, dark green on top with very coarse serrate edges.
Notes: Jimsonweed was introduced to the Wildflower Garden by Eloise Butler on October 10, 1916 when she planted seeds, using the old name of Datura tatula. She did not list her source for the seed. More seeds were planted in 1925 and in 1927 when she used the current name of D. stramonium. The plants produced seed, as she noted flowers in bloom in 1930. Martha Crone did not list it on her 1951 Garden census.
Jimsonweed is found in all of the Unites States except Wyoming and in all the lower Canadian Provinces; heaviest concentration is in the Southwest. It is considered a plant of warm and warm-temperate regions. It is one of 15 species of Datura is found throughout the world, and indeed, this species is such a widespread weed in the world, that botanists cannot agree if it was originally a North American species or a mid-eastern/Asian species. We know it was in the Jamestown colony in 1676 but it is not clear if it was growing wild or if the colonists brought it with them. In Minnesota the DNR surveys have found populations 4 counties: Goodhue, Hennepin, Ramsey and Houston. D. wrightii has been found only in St. Louis and Winona counties. The U of M Herbarium states that these may all be escaped plants from cultivation (especially considering the separation of some of these counties).
Toxicity: Jimsonweed contains potentially fatal tropane alkaloids, particularly in the leaves, flower nectar and seeds with the seeds the most concentrated. This is the same alkaloid as found in Belladonna, the Deadly Nightshade. The initial effect is hallucinogenic, with dimming of sight followed by delirium, rapid and weak heartbeat and convulsions.
Medicinal use: The leaves have been used for centuries for treating bruises and wounds. When used for extracts or decoctions, the leaves and seeds have been used for numerous ailments and used as antispasmodics, anodynes, and narcotics. Atropine, which is widely used in ophthalmology, can be derived from the plant. (see Kinghorn, Ref. #15) The leaves and seeds are and were officially listed in many pharmacopoeias including the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. Mrs. Grieve (Ref. #7) has an extensive text on the plant.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"