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Sacred Datura (Jimson Weed)

Natural History

The Sacred Datura is a member of the nightshade family (which also includes tobacco, and food crops such as potatoes, tomatoes and chile peppers). Datura is a perennial herb which grows from a tuberous root to 2 - 5 feet in height and 3 - 6 feet in width. It has dark green leaves which grow to 6 inches long and are oval or heart shaped.

The Sacred Datura contains numerous toxic alkaloids. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.

Datura grows in washes and roadsides at elevations from 1000 to 6000 feet. It can bloom from April to November (though flowers are most common in late summer). The flower is large (2 inches in diameter and 6 inches in length), white and trumpet shaped. They open around dusk which is why they are also sometimes referred to as Night Blooming Datura. Flowers are followed by a prickly seed pod to 2 inches in diameter. Sacred Datura is pollinated by Hawkmoths which also lay eggs on the plant. The caterpillars eat the leaves and incorporate the plant's toxins into their own tissues, becoming toxic to their would be predators. Native Americans used the plant for medicinal purposes and to induce visions, though I suspect many of them also died in the process.

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