Datura stramonium L.—Jimson-weed; moon-lily; thornapple; Jamestown weed
FAMILY: Solanaceae—the Nightshade Family
The Solanaceae is a large family of plants with simple, alternate leaves. In our taxa, the flowers are: bisexual, 5-merous; calyx: persistent; corolla: rotate, funnelform, or salverform, 5-lobed; stamens: 5, borne on the corolla, one or more often appearing different from the rest; ovarv: superior, mostly 2-celled; ovules: many in each cell; stigma: 2-lobed; fruit: a berry. A distinguishing feature is the corolla, which is plicate in bud.
PHENOLOGY: Datura flowers June through August.
DISTRIBUTION: Jimson-weed occurs over the entire state, usually as an inhabitant of dry soil and waste places, dumps, abandoned fields, and in cultivated crops, especially soybeans and corn.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: This is an annual plant, 1.5 m tall with a pungent, "heavy" scent, often branching in two equal forks; leaves: 2 x 1.5 dm, with a few teeth; calyx: strongly angled in cross section (prismatic) and narrowly 5-winged; petals: fused into a tube, white, opening in cloudy weather or evenings, 7-10 cm long; seed pod: 3-5 cm, ovoid, with prickles, opening by 4 valves.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts are poisonous, especially seeds and leaves. Lethal dosages for cattle may be 10-14 oz (0.06-0.09% of the animal's body weight). It is estimated that 4-5 g of leaf or seeds would be fatal to a child.
SYMPTOMS: In the past several years Datura is one plant reported by the U.S. National Clearinghouse for Poison Control Centers as the cause of death. Overdose can occur from excessive ingestion of the herbal medicine Stramonium U.S.P. by accidental poisonings, or intentional ingestion for illicit drug use. Symptoms vary in time of appearance (a few minutes for decoctions to several hours for ingestion of seeds). They include intense thirst, visual disturbance, flushed skin, and central nervous system hyperirritability. Victims become delirious, incoherent, and perform insensible antics. Heart beat may be rapid with elevated temperature. Subjects may be prone to violence, hallucination, convulsions, coma, and death. Ingestion of small amounts produces symptoms; larger amounts, death. Symptoms in livestock approximate those in humans. Postmortem: gross and histological lesions are nonspecific.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Solanaceous alkaloids (tropane configuration) including atropine, hyosayamine (isomeric with atropine), and hyoscine (scopolamine). Datura alkaloids are useful in medicine. Total content of alkaloids in a plant may be high, varying from 0.25-.0.7%. Concentration varies in different parts of the plant, during various stages of development, and under varied growing conditions. The alkaloids are fewer following a rainy period than during clear, dry weather, and concentration decreases during the day but increases at night.
CONFUSED TAXA: Two other species, equally poisonous, may be encountered in the Commonwealth. One is Datura meteloides DC., with larger flowers (l2-20 cm) that open later in the season (July-October). In this species the calyx tube is circular in cross section. Another taxon is D. metel L., a European species rarely found in the state.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Humans, horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, mules, and chickens are susceptible. Human poisonings are more commonly reported. Animals generally avoid the plant probably because of the intense, pungent smell that is emitted when it is crushed.
TREATMENT: ( 11a)(b); (26); (6); (17).
OF INTEREST: American Indians utilized this plant for medicinal and religious purposes. Carlos Castaneda frequently refers to its use in his series of books on the Yaqui Indians (The Teachings of Don Juan and others). Soldiers sent in 1676 to quell the Bacon rebellion at Jamestown, Virginia experienced mass poisoning due to this plant; hence, the common name Jamestown weed.
Because of the hallucinogenic properties of deadly Datura, Europeans learned to boil and incorporate plant extracts into fats or oils. These extracts were rubbed on the skin or orifice areas (rectum, vagina) to induce hallucinogenic "flights from reality". Witches during the Middle Ages would anoint a staff (e.g. broom) to apply these compounds; thus, the development of the traditional witch/broom/night flight symbol still seen, especially around Halloween.