Plant of the Month August 2017

Angels Trumpets

Brugmansia arborea in the family Solanaceae is a shrub or small tree native to the Andes mountains from southern Columbia to northern Chile. Other relations in the Solanaceae family are the potato, tomato, pepper and deadly nightshade Atropa belladonna.

The dark green leaves are long and ovate but it is the flowers that are so striking. They are white trumpet shaped, strongly fragrant and tend to hang down. They are aptly named ‘Angel’s Trumpets’. They are usually pollinated by moths that are attracted to the white flower. The petal tips become more reflexed in the evening as the fragrance gets even stronger.

Although Linnaeus in 1753 published Datura arborea as his type specimen this has subsequently been found incorrect and even now causes much confusion. They are quite different plants and the flowers of Datura tend to point upwards.

 However, they are not so angelic, as all parts of the plant especially the leaves and seeds are toxic. Scopolamine (hyoscine) is derived from Brugmansia and other related plants. Known in Columbia as burandanga or ‘Devil’s breath’ it can block free will, wipe memory and even cause death. It is used by criminals to assault and rob.

Brugmansia is one of the sources of modern medicines. Hyoscine or scopolamine and their derivatives are used today to treat motion sickness, postoperative nausea and vomiting and before surgery to decrease saliva. Like atropine, scopolamine will paralyse the pupillary light reflex, dilating the pupil.

Italians still grow Brugmansia beside their maize in Tuscany, for in World War II the large leaves were dried and smoked when tobacco was in short supply. This perhaps the safest way to induce hallucinations as the effect is immediate and smoking stops when enough has been taken. A sort of ‘dead man’s handle’ effect! It is reported that the hallucinations are not pleasant.

 In this country the plants are not frost hardy and are best grown in a container, and over-wintered in a frost free greenhouse or conservatory. If the trunk is cut to about 30cm, in the spring new shoots rapidly appear. In the growing season they need copious water and a high nitrogen and potassium feed once a week.

 At Reveley we have several in pots and three plants are to be found in the medicinal bed in the Mulberry garden. In this bed we are trying to grow plants that are the source of todays modern medicines.

 Previous Months

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

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