Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Datura meteloides: the Sacred Datura, A great plant for night gardens

I like them big (this gets ~4' x 4'), I like them fragrant, I like them flashy, so you know I love this plant. 6" intensely fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers open in the evening, stay open all night and close as the sun rises in the morning. I know Georgia O'Keefe would have, actually did love this plant; it was a favorite subject of hers. Native in her adoptive home of Taos, NM, it is a handsome plant. Could be considered coarse? Certainly not by me or any reasonable person. It isn't delicate, though I actually saw someone refer to it as delicate in a chat group.Maybe they meant the fragrance which is delicate compared to, say a Gardenia.

Native to the near-desert areas of the Southwest, it tolerates considerable heat and dryness and doesn't seem to have that aversion to humidity that sometimes comes with those SW plants. The seedpods are interesting and dangerous, the size of small hens eggs and covered with short sharp prickles. If you see a plant in the garden of a friend or acquaintance, or someone who's not looking (Did I say that? Ignore that.) and it has a ripe seed pod you will be doing them a service by removinf it and planting the seeds in a sunny dry part of your own garden. It is pollinated by moths as so many night-blooming flowers are, and it is claimed that the Hawk Moths become intoxicated with the pollen. Could be; Datura is in the Nightshade Family, Solanaceae, which is chock full of potent chemistry. Many are seriously poisonous, like Deadly Nightshade and Jimsonweed; the latter contains among other good chemicals belladonna and scopolamine which were compounds historically utilized by a variety of pagan religious groups.

Like the other moth-pollinated flower we were discussing a few days back, Yucca rostrata, this is a situation that seems slanted in favor of the pollinator. In both cases, the moths feed on the pollen, inadvertently pollinate the flowers, lay their eggs on the plant and their progeny devour great quantities of the host plant. But do not fear, enough seed survives to carry the Datura (actually an herbaceous perennial in warm place) to the next generation and enough of the Yucca seed survives to produce members of a younger, genetically invigorated, generation, Aint love grand!

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