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Thorn-apple

Datura stramonium

  • Name also: Thornapple, Thorn Apple, Jimsonweed, Jimson Weed, Devil’s Trumpet, Devil’s Weed, Devil’s Snare, Tolguacha, Jamestown Weed, Stinkweed, Locoweed, Pricklyburr, Devil’s Cucumber, Hell’s Bells, Moonflower
  • Family: Nightshade Family – Solanaceae
  • Growing form: Annual herb.
  • Height: 20–120 cm (8–50 in.). Stem blunt-edged.
  • Flower: Regular (actinomorphic). Corolla white or purple, fused, funnel-shaped, long-tubed, shallowly 5-lobed, 5–10 cm (2–4 in.) long, side crinkled. Calyx fused, cylindrical, bristly, 5-lobed, lobes different sizes. Stamens 5, anthers attached to calyx-tube. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Flowers solitary in axils.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked. Blade widely ovate, large-toothed, thin.
  • Fruit: Erect, egg-shaped, spiny, 3.5–7 cm (1.4–2.8 in.) long capsule, which opens into 4 lobes. Calyx base as a ring under capsule.
  • Habitat: Harbours, loading areas, wasteland, dumps, gardens. Also an ornamental.
  • Flowering time: July–October.

The Solanaceae family is known for the large number of highly poisonous alkaloids that they contain. Many of these have very tangible physical effects, so it’s easy to understand that many of the family were used in days gone by as medicinal and magical plants. Most members of genus Datura are American tropical or sub-tropical plants, but it also includes a certain cosmopolitan weed which grows casually in Finland right up to the Arctic Circle. With a bit of luck it can be found in harbours, dumps, waste ground or even in old medicinal gardens.

Thorn-apple’s poisonous properties have led to it being given less than cheery names around the world: In the USA Jimson weed’s jimson is a reference to Jamestown, the first English look-out post in North America that was burned in 1676 in a rebellion in which the kitchen slaves added jimson weed shoots to the English soldiers’ soup, knowing what the consequences would be.

Thorn-apple is packed with tropane alkaloids, which are common to many Solanaceae family plants. The whole plant is poisonous, especially the leaves and seeds. Over the years a number of beneficial and more dubious uses have been found for the plant. Medicinally, the alkaloids can be used to treat e.g. asthma, muscle cramps and Parkinson’s disease. According to tradition, the plant is also a source of a poison that stays in the body for a long time and only kills the victim a long time later. Thorn-apple’s tincture has also been claimed to give courage and enhance potency, but it would be a foolish thing indeed to start experimenting to see if this is true.

Other species from the same family
Trees and bushes from the same family

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