October 05, 2022

During our walks I have noticed piles of brush and limbs placed near the curb at several houses along our route.  These were left for a period and then mysteriously disappeared.  I asked a neighbor, and he told me brush removal was a function of our street department.  Yard waste is collected once a month if it met certain criteria.  It could be no longer than 8 feet (2 ½ m) long and no more than 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter.  Yard waste should be stacked, and bundles cannot exceed 24 inches (60 cm) in diameter.  Everything should be placed at the curb or no more than 10 feet (3 m) from the street.  Melissa had always placed our limbs and trimmings in the tree line at the back of the property and I had continued this course.  One pile that caught my attention was a pile of rose clippings as I had recently trimmed the rose bush in our front yard.  When we came by this morning the owner had added a freshly cut stack of vines containing spiny seed pods about 2 inches (3cm) in diameter on the pile.  When I showed this to Melissa, she said it looked like jimson weed.

When I looked online, I found jimson weed (Datura stramonium), known by the common names thorn apple, devil’s snare, or devil’s trumpet, is a poisonous flowering plant of the nightshade family Solanaceae.  Its likely origin was Central America, and it has been introduced in many warm regions of the world.  Jimson is an erect, annual, freely branching herb that forms a bush up to 2 to 5 feet (60 to 150 cm) tall.  The root is long, thick, fibrous, and white.  The stem is stout, erect, leafy, smooth, and pale yellow-green to reddish purple in color.  The stem forks off repeatedly and each fork forms a leaf and a single, erect flower.  The leaves are about 3 to 8 inches (8 to 20 cm) long, smooth, toothed, soft, and irregularly undulated.  The fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers have a pleasing odor, are white to creamy or violet, and 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches (6 to 9 cm) long.  The flowers open at night, emitting a pleasant fragrance, and are fed upon by nocturnal moths.  The egg-shaped seed capsule is 1 to 3 inches (3 to 8 cm) in diameter and covered with spines.  At maturity, it splits into four chambers, each with dozens of small, black seeds.  It is an invasive weed regarded as dangerous.

Like all Datura species, every part of the jimson plant contains deadly toxins (tropane alkaloids) that can kill animals (including humans) that ingest it.  All species of Datura are poisonous and potentially psychoactive, especially their seeds and flowers.  The leaves have a bitter and nauseating taste, which is imparted to extracts of the herb, and remains even after the leaves have been dried.  Ingestion can cause respiratory depression, arrhythmias, fever, delirium, hallucinations, and even death.  Due to their effect, Datura have been historically used as poisons, and as hallucinogens, by various groups.  Traditionally, psychoactive administration of Datura was often associated with witchcraft and sorcery, including the Western world.  Datura species have also been used ritualistically to enhance spiritual development by some Native American groups.

THOUGHTS:  Jimson weed grows naturally in West Virginia and has been used as a home remedy since colonial times.  Due to its easy availability and strong reaction with the nervous system, teens in some areas of the state are using jimson weed as a drug, either brewed, chewed, or eaten.  Side effects include rapid heart rate, dry mouth, dilated pupils, blurred vision, hallucinations, confusion, and combative behavior.  Severe toxicity has been associated with coma and seizures, although death is rare.  The Brooklyn Botanic Garden site named this the “weed of the month” for its lovely flowers.  “With all its extraordinary looks and lore, jimson weed is a fascinating plant to contemplate (but maybe not cultivate)!”  I wondered why this had been cultivated (and thrown onto the street) in our neighborhood.  Hopefully it will not be eaten.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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