Not a bad looking plant at all, Jimson weed, standing sometimes as much as five feet tall and bearing attractive, trumpet shaped flowers in pleasant shades of white, cream and occasionally violet. These make a pleasing contrast to the large, serrated, soft textured and deep green leaves. Jimson weed can be found almost anywhere in the temperate world, and it's actual original range remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.
But Jimson weed is deceptive, it comes to us from the same family of annuals that also give us Mandrake, Deadly Nightshade and Henbane. It is itself highly toxic and is known by the unsettling nicknames Devils Trumpet, Hell's Bells and Locoweed. The correct scientific name is Datura Stramonium.
All parts of the Datura are toxic, with the most dangerous parts being the seeds and roots. The poisonous agents are alkaloids, including atropine, hyoscomine and scopolomine. As little as a half teaspoon of seeds has been known to cause death by cardiac arrest.
There are many incidents of datura poisoning in the United States, nearly 1000 in 2007 alone and fatalities do occur, since the folks ingesting it are usually doing so to cash in on the alkaloids hallucinogenic properties. These manifest in the form of delirium. When the results are not fatal the aftereffects my linger for 48 hours or more.
In one frequently cited case an entire detachment of British soldiers sent to Virginia to help quell Bacon's rebellion of 1675-76 were inadvertently incapacitated by datura. Knowing no better, these newcomers boiled the leaves as a vegetable dish and remained non compos mentis for 11 days, according to contemporary accounts.
The raw plant, while dangerous, has an unpleasant taste and while livestock may consume it, they will not normally do so if other fodder is plentiful. It is one of the few plants that poisons more humans than livestock. Occasionally it is consumed by accident, mistaken for something else or inadvertently packaged with other, similar appearing items. An outbreak of poisonings from Datura tainted tea occurred not that long ago, in one case felling a family of seven people.
Jimson flowers are attractive and the plant can be grown safely indoors if you know what it is that you have and can keep your pets away from it. Overall, it is probably better to avoid accidents by growing, say, begonias instead.
The A to Z Bloggery Challenge: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/