(Datura stramonium) Potato family

Flowers - Showy, large, about 4 in. high, solitary, erect,

growing from the forks of branches. Calyx tubular, nearly half as

long as the corolla, 5-toothed, prismatic; corolla funnel-form,

deep-throated, the spreading limb 2 in. across or less, plaited,

5-pointed; stamens 5; 1 pistil. Stem: Stout, branching, smooth, 1

to 5 ft. high. Leaves: Alternate, large, rather thin, petioled,

egg-shaped in outline, the edges irregularly wavy-toothed or

angled, rank-scented. Fruit: A densely prickly, egg-shaped

capsule, the lower prickles smallest. The seeds and stems contain

a powerful narcotic poison.

Preferred Habitat - Light soil, fields, waste land near

dwellings, rubbish heaps.

Flowering Season - June-September.

Distribution - Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico, westward beyond

the Mississippi.

When we consider that there are over five million Gypsies

wandering about the globe, and that the narcotic seeds of the

thorn apple, which apparently heal, as well as poison, have been

a favorite medicine of theirs for ages, we can understand at

least one means of the weed reaching these shores from tropical

Asia. (Hindoo, dhatura). Our Indians, who call it "white man's

plant," associate it with the Jamestown settlement - a plausible

connection, for Raleigh's colonists would have been likely to

carry with them to the New World the seeds of an herb yielding an

alkaloid more esteemed in the England of their day than the

alkaloid of opium known as morphine. Daturina, the narcotic, and

another product, known in medicine as stramonium, smoked by

asthmatics, are by no means despised by up-to-date practitioners.

Were it not for the rank odor of its leaves, the vigorous weed,

coarse as it is, would be welcome in men's gardens. Indeed, many

of its similar relatives adorn them. The fragrant petunia and

tobacco plants of the flower beds, the potato, tomato, and

egg-plant in the kitchen garden, call it cousin.

Late in the afternoon the plaited corolla of this long

trumpet-shaped flower expands to welcome the sphinx moths. So

deep a tube implies their tongues; not that these are the

benefactors to which the blossom originally adapted itself - they

were doubtless left behind in Asia - but apparently our moths

make excellent substitutes, for there is no abatement of the

weed's vigor here, as there surely would be did it habitually

fertilize itself. Any time after four o'clock in the afternoon,

according to the light, the sphinx moth, a creature of the

gloaming, begins its rounds, to be mistaken for a hummingbird

seven times out of ten. Hovering about its chosen white or yellow

flowers, that open for it at the approach of twilight, it remains

poised above one a second, as if motionless - although the faint

hum of its wings, while sucking, indicates that no magic suspends

it - then darts swift as thought to another deep tube to feast

again, of course transferring pollen as it goes. But what if the

Jamestown weed miscalculate the hour of her lover's call and open

too soon? Mischievous bees, quick to seize so golden an

opportunity, squeeze into the flower when it begins to unfold

(flies and beetles following them), to steal pollen, which will

sometimes be entirely removed before the moth's arrival.

The THORN-APPLE [now PURPLE THORN-APPLE, considered a variant of

JIMSONWEED]; PURPLE STRAMONIUM (D. tatula), a similar species,

usually with darker leaves, and pale lavender or violet flowers,

or with its long, slender tube white, has become at home in so

many fields and waste lands east of Minnesota and Texas that no

one thinks of it as belonging to tropical America.

Only sphinx moths can reach its deep well of nectar, from which

bees are literally barred out by an inward turn of the stamens

toward the center of the tube. Caterpillars of our commonest

member of the sphinx tribe conceal themselves on the tomato vine

by a mimicry of its color so faultless that a bright eye only may

detect their presence. In the South the caterpillar of another of

these moths (Sphinx Carolina) does fearful havoc under its

appropriate alias of "tobacco worm."

TRAILING BUSH CLOVER TRUMPETFLOWER TRUMPETCREEPER facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail