Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sacred Datura: Night-Blooming Wonder of the Desert

Last night when I came home, the Sacred Datura plant in my front yard was in full bloom with 20 or 30 gorgeous white trumpet-shaped flowers glowing in the moonlight. What a marvelous, mysterious and powerful plant.

Sacred Datura tea is a hallucinogen and has been used by some Native American tribes in rituals. According to Wikipedia, it is a very powerful deliriant. The effects of ingesting Sacred Datura tea--which include seizures and death--are downright scary! It's in the deadly nightshade family and is said to be more powerful than peyote, psyllicibin or LSD.

Some agricultural websites ignore the plant's beauty and ritualistic and pharmaceutical uses, and call it a noxious weed. For example, this link says that the plant is toxic to livestock. (Ok, maybe this is God's way of saying that Sacred Datura belongs in the desert and cows don't?)

My plant has been plagued by large (3"+) caterpillars. Initially, my thought was to leave them alone because they would become butterflies or moths. Also, I thought they couldn't survive eating the Sacred Datura--not so. I came home from work one day, and they had done considerable damage to my gorgeous plant. No more Ms. Nice Guy, I thought. I moved 7 or 8 very large caterpillars to some Buffel Grass (a nasty pest plant) growing in the neighbor's curb lawn. Later that day, the caterpillars were gone. I don't know if they found a better home or if the birds found them. Today (Sunday), after the glorious blooms of Friday night, the plant again looked damaged. I hunted around under the leaves, and sure enough, the catapillars were back!!! I moved another 10 today to the weeds across the street. The above photo is one of the smaller caterpillars. You can see the stem he is on has no leaves.

Another species that seems to enjoy eating Sacred Datura is harvester ants. I have been fighting them ever since I moved to this house. I let them chomp away at it thinking that maybe Sacred Datura would kill them or at least keep them away from more vulnerable plants in my yard.

Anyway, I grow Sacred Datura for its beauty and desert hardiness. It just goes to show ya: one person's weed is another person's decorative flower or drug store. One animal's poison is another's food supply. Nature's funny that way.


taza said...

hands down, my absolutely favorite flower! their scent is intoxicating. i see them in the riverbed during the dog walks. brought one home a couple of years ago, but it didn't survive the transplant.

thanks for the heads-up about the SustainableTucson Film Fest. i went yesterday and stayed for the 1st 2. unfortunately, it was poorly attended--sad because they were good films!

c. said...

Datura is my favorite as well. Do you have any idea where I could purchase plants?

Pamela Jai Powers said...

I don't know about buying plants. Seeds are pretty easy to find in areas where the plants grow wild.

c. said...

Thanks for the info. I did some searching and it appears that Tohono Chul park may sell plants. Going to check that out!