Datura is a genus of 12-15 species of vespertine flowering plants belonging to the family Solanaceae. Their exact natural distribution is uncertain, due to extensive cultivation and naturalization throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the globe, but is most likely restricted to the Americas, from the United States south through Mexico (where the highest species diversity occurs) to the mid-latitudes of South America. Some species are reported by some authorities to be native to China, but this is not accepted by the Flora of China, where the three species present are treated as introductions from the Americas. (It also grows naturally throughout India and most of Australia). According to the old ayurvedic medicinal system (at least since 2000 BC) in India, this plant has versatile uses in medicinal preparations.
Datura is a woody-stalked, leafy herb growing up to 2 meters. It produces spiney seed pods and large white or purple trumpet-shaped flowers that face upward. Most parts of the plant contain atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. It has a long history of use both in S. America and Europe and is known for causing delerious states and poisonings in uninformed users. Common names include jimson weed, Hell's Bells, Devil's weed, Devil's cucumber, thorn-apple (from the spiny fruit), pricklyburr (similarly), and somewhat paradoxically, both angel's trumpet and devil's trumpet (from their large trumpet-shaped flowers), or as Nathaniel Hawthorne refers to it in the the Scarlet Letter apple-peru. The word Datura comes from Hindi dhatūrā (thorn apple); record of this name dates back only to 1662 (OED). The Hindi derives this word from Sanskrit vedic literature that dates to long before 2000 BC.
They are large, vigorous annual plants or short-lived perennial plants, growing to 1-3 m tall. The leaves are alternate, 10-20 cm long and 5-18 cm broad, with a lobed or toothed margin. The flowers are erect or spreading (not pendulous), trumpet-shaped, 5-20 cm long and 4-12 cm broad at the mouth; color varies from white to yellow, pink, and pale purple. The fruit is a spiny capsule 4-10 cm long and 2-6 cm broad, splitting open when ripe to release the numerous seeds.
- Datura bernhardii
- Datura ceratocaula
- Datura discolor - Desert Thorn-apple
- Datura ferox
- Datura inoxia or Datura innoxia - Angel's Trumpet
- Datura kymatocarpa
- Datura lanosa
- Datura leichhardtii (syn. D. pruinosa) - Leichhardt's Datura
- Datura metel
- Datura quercifolia - Oak-leaf Thorn-apple
- Datura reburra
- Datura suaveolens - Known in Costa Rica as "Reina de la noche" (Night's Queen)
- Datura stramonium (syn. D. inermis) - Jimsonweed, Thorn-apple
- Datura wrightii - Sacred datura, Sacred Thorn-apple
Some species formerly included in Datura are now classified in the separate genus Brugmansia; this genus differs in being woody, making shrubs or small trees, and in having pendulous flowers. Other related genera include Hyoscyamus and Atropa. its also used by sadhus as prayer flower for lord shiva
Cultivation and uses
Datura contains the alkaloids scopolamine and atropine and has long been used as a poison and hallucinogen. The dose-response curve for the combination of alkaloids is very steep, so people who consume datura can easily take a potentially fatal overdose, hence its use as a poison. In the 1990s and 2000s, the United States media contained stories of adolescents and young adults dying or becoming seriously ill from intentionally ingesting datura.
Records of use
Datura stramonium is also called jimsonweed. This name comes from the town of Jamestown, Virginia. Various versions of the story exist, but in the most common version, British soldiers sent to quell Bacon's Rebellion of 1676 were accidentally served this unfamiliar plant as food, causing many to be incapacitated for 11 days. Datura wrightii, also called sacred datura or western jimsonweed, has similar effects.
The effects of Datura can include a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy, blindness that lasts for days, and very bad "trips." Many experience accounts, generally quite negative, can be found at www.erowid.org. Numerous stories of datura-related deaths and critical illnesses can be found HERE.
- Martin Cruz Smith's novel,"Nightwing" gives an excellent, if fictional account of datura usage and Hopi folklore surrounding same.
- Jean M. Auel described use of datura in her Earth's Children series: In The Clan of the Cave Bear, the clan share a retrocognitive vision under influence of datura. In The Plains of Passage Ayla uses datura as an analgesic and sedative.
- In Paul Theroux's 2005 novel Blinding Light, a writer becomes addicted to a rare species of datura. Under its influence he is blind, but inspired, transcendently aware, and megalomaniacal.
- Datura is the plant given to pacify the mentally handicapped brother in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.
- Datura is explained in Wade Davis's The Serpent and the Rainbow to be a critically important hallucinogen in a series of toxins and cultural practices that produce zombies, administered at the time of retrieval from the grave as an antidote to previously administered tetrodotoxin.
- The use of datura as a poison is mentioned in the novel The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian.
- Datura is a key entheogen in The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda
- In the novel The Sundial by Maarten 't Hart, datura is used twice as a poison.
- Cape Cod by Thoreau contains a quote from Beverly's History of Virginia describing the effects of datura usage.
- Also in the autobiographical novel "Jesus Weed" by Gerald Taylor.
- In Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dr. Gonzo refers to a time he got sick from eating a large quantity of Jimson weed (in the section "A Terrible Experience with Extremely Dangerous Drugs").
- Datura as a psychoactive substance is featured in Leena Krohn's novel that has the Finnish name Datura tai harha jonka jokainen näkee; the novel has been translated at least to German, under the name Stechapfel.
- A discarded datura root grows into a tree over the abandoned boiler in Chapter 8 of John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row".
- Datura is the name of the evil woman who kidnaps Odd's friend in the book "Forever Odd" by Dean Koontz. He also refers to the actual tree in the same book, hence the relation between the two.
- Singer/songwriter Tori Amos penned a trance song entitled "Datura" for her 1999 album "To Venus and Back". The song features Amos reading a list of various plants that are growing in her garden over hypnotic piano and rhythms. She consistently mentions datura within the list, as if to indicate it is overgrowing and destroying her garden.
- Emcee MF Doom has a song of looped beats entitled "Datura Stramonium" from Volume 0 of his "Special Herbs' series.
- In the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes, Lakmé dies after eating datura leaves.
- Datura is also the name of an Italian techno/trance group formed 1991 in Bologna by the musicians Ciro Pagano and Stefano Mazzavillani and the DJs Ricci & Cirillo. One of their biggest hit singles Yerba Del Diablo ("Devil's weed") also pays reference to the plant.
- The band Murder By Death mentions datura in their song "Killbot 2000" from their album "Who Will Survive and What Will be Left of Them."
- The psychedelic rock band Bardo Pond named a song "Datura" in his album "Set and Setting". Many other Bardo Pond album and song titles have been derived from the names of esoteric psychedelic substances.
- The guitarist Buckethead named a song "Datura" in his album "Electric Tears".
- Icelandic hard rock/stoner band takes its name from this plant(spelling it in Hindi, though "Dhaturah"), claiming that the plant has influenced its songwriting. In the song "The Devil is a Nice Guy" the singer/actor/keyboardist Kjartan describes his experience when he was strung out on Devil's weed and spent two days in the Icelandic Kárahnjúkar writing songs and chatting with the devil"
- The Australian psychedelic rock band Grey Daturas takes its name from the plant.
- The band Dane and the Death Machine's album Thanatron has a track entitled "Datura".
- Argentine band Babasonicos mentions datura in their song named Esther Narcotica.
- In the movie XXX the darts used to knock out Xander (Vin Diesel) and that he later uses to appear to kill an undercover policeman are referred to as 'Datura knockout darts' by their creator.
- A horror film by director Johnny Terris entitled 'Inside Inoxia' is based upon his personal experiences with Datura.
- Datura is one of the incredients in 'zombie powder' in the movie Serpent and the Rainbow.
- In The X-Files: Resist or Serve, Datura stramonium is used by Agent Dana Scully to, ironically, create a dart that "kills" zombies instantly.
- In Might and Magic VII: Day of the Destroyer, Datura is an ingredient that is used for creating potions.
- In Tsukihime, Kohaku has a garden of Datura flowers that are used to create sedatives and hallucinogens.
Notes and references
- JimsonWeed: History, Perceptions, Traditional Uses, and Potential Therapeutic Benefits of the Genus Datura HerbalGram. 2006;69:40-50 © American Botanical Council by Kofi Busia & Fiona Heckels
- tratamientos Datura - Floripondio
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Datura
- USDA Plant Profile: Datura
- Flora of China: Datura
- Account of accidental minor poisoning by Datura from the British Medical Journal
- Erowid Datura Vault
- Datura and Brugmansia species as Sacred Plants and Medicines
- Clinical Toxicology Review of Datura Poisoning
- Jimsonweed pictures and description at blackturtle.us
- Humorous song and discussion at YouTube: Moonflower
Fischer, Louis Gandhi USA 1954