How They Got Their Names" and brought it home for my perusal. Garden
writer, Diana Wells, has selected a number of our favorite flowers
and explains how we came to know and love them. She recalls myth and
legend, sex and botanical history -- the kind of stuff that should
interest every garden fanatic.
I became intrigued by Wells' claim that Thomas Jefferson was
afraid to plant Angel's Trumpet (Datura or Brugmansia) in Monticello.
An avid gardener, the former president was astonished by the plant's
fascinating tubular flowers. However, "he avoided Angel's Trumpet and
other poisons plants," because his curiosity of growing it was
outweighed by its potential risk to his many grandchildren.
Angel's trumpets are New World and Indian plants that possess
beautiful, variously colored trumpet-shaped flowers. The plant is
ornamental, and although the leaves and seeds of certain species
yield alkaloids with medical and narcotic properties, it should be
Wells states that "Indian thugs once used Angel's Trumpet to
poison their victims, and it was officially used to execute criminals
She adds that 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 weakened."
"The herbalist John Parkinson called daturas Thorne-Apples,"
according to Wells and he admonished visitors that "the East Indian
lascivious women perform strange acts with the seed ... giving it to
their husbands to drink." Wells notes that Parkinson "didn't
elaborate on the acts."
The Angel's Trumpet of our local gardens is closely related to
"Jamestown weed" or its better-known western alteration of
jimsonweed. Wells recounts "soldiers sent to Jamestown to quell
Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 ate datura leaves, thinking they were salad
greens." They became intoxicated for eleven 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