Angel’s Trumpet pretty but poisonous


Angel’s trumpets are New World and East Asian plants that possess beautiful, variously colored, trumpet-shaped flowers. The plant is ornamental, and although the leaves and seeds of certain species contain alkaloids with medical and narcotic properties, all should be considered poisonous.

It is reputed that Indian thugs once used angel’s trumpet to poison their victims, and it was officially used to execute criminals in India. The Swedish botanist Linnaeus did not wish to use the “barbaric” Indian name of dhat for the plant, so he modified it to the Latin root of dare (to give), because datura was administered to those whose sexual powers were diminished.

The herbalist John Parkinson called daturas thorne-apples, and he admonished visitors that “the east Indian lascivious women perform strange acts with the seed ... giving it to their husbands to drink.” It should be noted that Parkinson discreetly didn’t elaborate.

The angel’s trumpet of our local gardens is closely related to Jamestown weed or better-known locally as jimsonweed. History recounts that soldiers sent to Jamestown to quell Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 consumed datura leaves, thinking they were an edible green. They became intoxicated for 11 days and nearly died, according to local legend. Datura does contain the chemical compound scopolamine, an active ingredient in combating motion sickness.

Angel’s trumpets are fashionable in Laguna, where they can become dominating shrubs. Fast and rank growing, the flowers are available in white, pink and yellow (the white flowers are very showy in moonlight, and all colors are fragrant at night). The blossoms appear in mid-spring and will bloom as late as December in sheltered gardens.

Although angel’s trumpet will grow in full sun or partial shade, it appreciates shelter from the wind. It is a heavy user of water and food (use a balanced fertilizer) during the spring and summer. Watch out for white fly and spider mites during humid, warm periods. As a reminder, the flowers and seeds may be poisonous if eaten.

Laguna is a subtropical paradise of July flowers. From my window, jacaranda, bougainvillea, agapanthus and, of course, angel’s trumpet are in a full reunion of summertime bloom. Speaking of reunions, the Laguna Beach High School class of 1969 is celebrating its 40th reunion on July 25.

Call Gordon Brown at (562) 254-4498 for more information.

See you next time.

 STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to award winning writer Catharine Cooper. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to