Geography 316:  Biogeography     In progress  04/26/05

The Biogeography of Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium)
 

by Karissa Anderson, student in Geography 316  Spring 2005

Thank you for visiting our site. This web pages was written by a student in Geography 316: Biogeography and edited by the instructor, Barbara Holzman, PhD.  All photos and maps are posted with specific copyright permission for the express use of education on these web pages. The students have tried to be as accurate as possible with the information provided and sources and references are cited at the end of each page.

Species Name: Datura stramonium

 

Kingdom: Plantae
Phylum:
Magnoliophyta
Class:
Magnoliopsida
Order:
Solanales
Family:
Solanaceae
Genus:
Datura
Species: Datura stramonium

 

Figure 1: Jimson weed blossom and seed pod.

William S. Justice @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

 

Species Description:

Jimson weed is an annual plant, blooming in spring and summer. It thrives in hot, dry climates, but is widely distributed throughout the US. The plant is light green, with flat, elongated leaves (wide at the base and tapered towards the ends). The flowers are long and funnel shaped, and can be white or pale violet. The seed pods are oval shaped and covered with long, sharp spines which serve to keep away any possible predators, although grazing animals will not eat the plant unless under stress (NRCS, 2004). The pods ripen in mid-late summer and open, allowing the seeds to fall out. The seeds are small, round shaped, and flat. The plant has been described as having a “noxious” odor, especially the blossoms. Reproduction for this plant is sexual; pollinators are small insects, predominately moths, which feed on the blossoms at night (FCES, 1991).

 

Figure 2: Datura stramonium seed pods.

Staff CDFA Copyright 2001 CDFA

 

Figure 3: Datura stramonium blossom.

 
 

T. Fuller Copyright 2001 CDFA

 

Natural History:

The genus name Datura comes from the Arabic Dhatura, which was the Arabic name for this plant. Stramonium comes from the Latin struma, which means “swollen” (Russell, 1997).

Jimson weed is not a native species in California, but was introduced, probably from Latin America; Europeans first observed it on the East Coast (Bonde, 1997).  Although the plant is widely distributed in the United States, Canada and Mexico, its original habitat and mode of transport to North America is uncertain. The common assumption is that the plant originated in Asia, although little information is available on how it came to the Western hemisphere (USDA, ARS, 1994).  In California, it can be observed primarily in disrupted landscapes, such as tilled fields and roadsides. It’s presence in agricultural areas has lead to its classification as a weed (NRCS, 2004).  

Figure 4: Jimson weed bush on the roadside.

Staff CDFA Copyright 2001 CDFA

Evolution:
Datura stramonium is part of the Solanaceae family, which includes all the nightshades and agricultural plants such as eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes. Solanaceae has been broken up into about 90 genera and three sub-families (Solanaceae Source, 2004). There are around 3000-4000 different species in all (Bonde, 1997). They are believed to have evolved primarily in tropical areas, specifically in Latin America, allowing the family to develop extensive adaptive variations, even before human exploitation for crops (IPANE, 2004). The Solanaceae family includes coffee, tobacco and peppers (SGN, 2004).
 

 

Figure 5: Solanaceae family tree.

Sol Genomics Network, (SGN) Cornell University. (2004)

Figure 6: Solanaceae cladogram -- shows relationship between Datura and other species.

 

Solanaceae Source. (2004)

  

     

The particular characteristics of Datura stramonium that are most notable are its poisonous nature and noxious smell, probably defenses against herbivores and attractive to some pollinators. The seed pods are also covered with sharp spikes, to prevent animal ingestion of the seeds (NRCS, 2004). A notable comparison can be made to another member of the nightshade family, peppers, which use “spicy” chemicals to ward off predators.

The genus Datura shows the presence of huge genetic diversity. The classification of different species has relied heavily on genetic markers, which have lead to the discovery that this genus and family have immense variation due to mutation (SGN, 2004). This is probably linked to the genus' source in the tropics, where biodiversity is highest, even within species.

 

Distribution::

Datura stramonium is widely present across the United States. It has been reported in every state except Alaska and Wyoming (Figure 7, NRCS, 2004). Although most commonly found in agricultural areas, especially where grazing is present, the plant can thrive in a wide variety of climatic (from humid to arid conditions) and soil controls (USDA, NRCS 2004). In non-agricultural areas it can be located on the side of roads, where the soil has been disturbed (FCES, 1991). In California, the presence of Jimson weed has been expertly confirmed in every county along the coast except Del Norte and Mendocino, and its presence completely encircles the Bay Area (Figure 8, CalFlora, 2001). In Southern California the plant is present in every county along the coast and also inland in San Bernadino and Kern Counties (CalFlora, 2001).

Jimson weed can be observed mostly in disturbed areas, like roadsides, agricultural fields and stream banks (NRCS, 2004). While the plant can survive in numerous moisture regimes, it is most prevalent in a xeric regime (hot, dry summer, wet, cool winter). It requires an abundance of sunlight, and is rarely found in heavily wooded areas. It is not found in mountainous areas above the tree line (IPANE, 2004). Although Datura stramonium has an annual or short perennial life cycle, the seeds can remain viable for long periods of time, perhaps explaining its wide distribution throughout the United States (Bonde, 1997).

Figure 7: Distribution of Datura stramonium in the United States.

NRCS, USDA 2004

Figure 8: Distribution of Datura stramonium by county in California.

 

CalFlora, UC Berekeley, 2001


   

Jimson Weed's More Interesting Properties

 

Human Consumption

 

"I saw what I called 'flat rabbits' all over the ground. Imagine a rabbit, run over by a steam roller like in Mad Magazine, but the heads not smashed. The rabbits were staring at me like their tortured condition was my fault. They couldn't move, they just whistled real loud."  - Anonymous Datura stramonium user, Erowid.com

 

"I went to my car, and got in the passenger side, and as I tried to shut the door, a snapping turtle attacked me. I fought with it, threw it out the door, and as I slammed the door shut it jumped in, and I smashed it with the door. Turtle guts and blood were everywhere."  - Anonymous Datura stramonium user, Erowid.com

 

To say that Jimson weed is a potent hallucinogen would be a serious understatement. The entire plant contains tropanes, most notably atropine and scopolamine, which affect the nervous system. Scopolamine has been used in over-the-counter products for motion sickness (Erowid, 2004). The leaves can be smoked to relieve the symptoms of asthma; this was common in China, where the leaves were used for asthma and nervous disorders (Bonde, 1997). The plant was used in India as a cure for impotence, in Peru as an anesthetic, and by many Native American tribes for religious ceremonial and medicinal uses (Bonde, 1997). In Europe, Datura was eventually credited with giving the consumer a "flying" sensation. It has been speculated that stories of witches flying came from consumption of jimson weed and belladonna (Erowid, 2004).

 

Some common names for this plant are angel’s trumpet, stinkweed, and thorn apple, but the most widely known is jimson weed. The name “jamestown weed” originates from the early English settlement of Jamestown, where English soldiers began to behave oddly after eating leaves of the plant in a salad. They were said to have acted like animals, pawing at the air and speaking incoherently at varying volumes over the course of several days. After the incident, none of the "victims" remembered anything they had done (Bonde, 1997).

 

Recreational use of jimson weed in the United States is not common, but the effects are memorable. Users' accounts of hallucinations have some interesting recurrent themes: insects, cigarettes, people appearing and disappearing, retrograde amnesia, talking to animals, desperate searches (for everything from lost cigarettes to a Windows 95 disc), monsters, demonic cult members and complete inability to urinate (Erowid, 2004). There are accounts of "consciousness expansion" that put the trip in a pleasant light, but the OVERWHELMING majority of personal accounts are unpleasant. Most experience visual changes and severe thirst at first, but this is followed by a rapid disintegration into delirium. The fascinating difference between jimson weed and LSD is that the effects of jimson weed are not distinguishable from reality. The user has no idea that anything they are seeing, talking to, trying to light, or running from isn't actually there; he or she has no idea that he/she is under the influence of a substance (Erowid, 2004).

 

Figure 9: Locations of Datura stramonium poisonings in the US in 1997-1998.

NDIC, 1998

 

 

Poisonings from Datura stramonium have historically been common (Figure 9, NDIC, 1998). Overdoses from using the plant as a hallucinogen are still reported, although use of the plant presently is mainly by teenagers (NDIC, 1998). California, Texas and several eastern states have reported the use of the plant as a hallucinogenic drug (NDIC, 1998). Overdoses are traditionally treated with IV hydration (due to severe dehydration caused by the tropanes), activated charcoal (to get residual out of the user's body), and drugs to treat the many negative effects such as hysteria, delirium and, in extreme cases, severe nervous system problems (Bonde, 1997). In the worst case scenario a user might end up in a coma or dead. Datura stramonium is particularly dangerous because the threshold dosage for a poisoning is lower than with many other hallucinogens or even other members of the same family (like belladonna or deadly nightshade). Large variation in potency makes use of the plant for recreation EXCEEDINGLY DANGEROUS, as one never knows how strong any individual plant may be (NDIC, 1998). Reactions to poisoning vary, but can be as severe as lasting depression for up to a year, blurry vision for weeks to months and loss of short term memory for several weeks (NDIC, 1998).

 

Non-Human Consumption

 

While most animals will not eat or go near jimson weed in normal circumstances, cows have been known to eat it if under stress. The effects on cows are much the same as on humans; they lose motor skills, become dehydrated and take hours to days to recover (IPANE, 2004). Some moths, especially hawk moths, have been observed eating the flowers of the plant at night and then behaving oddly afterwards, and bees have been observed acting similarly when they go into the blossoms. Crazed flight patterns aside, both insects have also been observed returning to the plant for a repeat performance, meaning that moths are not the only species to be gluttons for punishment (Russell, 1997).

 

Not forgetting our furry friends (or nemeses, if you happen to be under the influence of jimson weed), it is necessary to note that cultivating Datura stramonium as an ornamental or for consumption may have some unexpected effects for cat lovers. Although the evidence is anecdotal, many individuals who have grown this plant have seen their cats eat the plant repeatedly, and popular legend is that cats "love" jimson weed. An anonymous woman who had grown the plant indoors as an ornamental (yeah, right), gave this account of what happened after her cat ate some leaves:

 

"My cat has been tripping really hard all day. She will run across the room at full tilt, stop, then fall over...  She has walked into every wall, door, and cabinet near the floor in the house. There is something absolutely amazing on the walls that I can't see." (http://www.erowid.org/experiences/exp.php?ID=10874)


It could be argued that Datura stramonium has some of the most interesting properties out of all the plants in its family, but its ability to turn an average human being (or cat/moth/cow) into a blathering idiot for a period of hours to days trumps them all. Anyone considering use of this plant for recreation should seriously consider the physical and emotional danger of such a venture. Accounts of the physical and mental effects are available for public viewing online, which offer candid and honest experiences for the curious (Erowid.com).

 

 

"This is your house. Have some respect, STOP SPITTING ON THE WALLS!" - Advice given to someone who consumed a handful of Datura stramonium seeds.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Bonde, Kirsten, Southern Illinois University. (Dec. 9th, 1997) The Genus Datura: From Research Subject to Powerful Hallucinogen. [Online]. Available: http://www.siu.edu/~ebl/leaflets/datura.htm (25 April, 2005)

Cal Flora (The Cal Flora Database), University of California at Berekeley. (2001).Distribution in California based on 44 Observations. [Map Online] Available: http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-taxon=Datura%20stramonium&ttime=1110937365&ttime=1111009422&ttime=1113318659 (10 April, 2005)

Erowid. (March 9, 2004) Datura Stramonium.[Online]. Available: http://www.erowid.org/plants/datura/datura_stramonium.shtml (15 March, 2005)

Florida Cooperative Extension Service (FCES), Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.(May 1991). Weeds in Florida[Online]. Available: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FW016. (15 March, 2005)

Fuller,T., USDA, NRCS.The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5.(2001) Datura stramonium photograph[Online] Available: http://plants.usda.gov. (15 March, 2005)

Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE). (2004).Datura stramonium. [Online]. Available: http://webapps.lib.uconn.edu/ipane/browsing.cfm?descriptionid=109 (25 April, 2005)

Justice,William S. USDA, NRCS.The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5.(2001) Datura stramonium photograph [Online] Available: http://plants.usda.gov. (15 March, 2005)

Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture.The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5.(2004) Datura stramonium [Online] Available: http://plants.usda.gov. (15 March, 2005)

Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture.The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5.(2004) Plant Distribution by State [Map Online] Available: http://plants.usda.gov. (15 March, 2005)

NDIC, National Drug Intelligence Center. (1998). Location of Jimsonweed Poisonings, 1997-98 [Map Online] Available: http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs/579/ (10 April, 2005)

Russell, Alice B., Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University. (1997). Poisonous Plants of North Carolina [Online]. Available:http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Daturst.htm. (15 March, 2005)

Sol Genomics Network, (SGN) Cornell University. (2004). About the Solanaceae Family. [Online]. Available: http://www.sgn.cornell.edu/help/about/about_solanaceae.html (25April, 2005)

Sol Genomics Network, (SGN) Cornell University. (2004). Solanaceae Family Tree. [Diagram Online]. Available: http://www.sgn.cornell.edu/help/about/about_solanaceae.html (25April, 2005)

Solanaceae Source. (2004). About the Solanaceae Family. [Online]. Available: http://internt.nhm.ac.uk/jdsml/botany/databases/solanum/about_solanaceae/classification.dsml (25 April, 2005)

Solanaceae Source. (2004). Solanaceae Cladogram. [Diagram Online]. Available: http://internt.nhm.ac.uk/jdsml/botany/databases/solanum/about_solanaceae/classification.dsml (25 April, 2005)

Staff CDFA, USDA, NRCS.The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5.(2001) Datura stramonium photograph[Online] Available: http://plants.usda.gov. (15 March, 2005)

USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program, Germplasm Resources Information Network.(August 23, 1994)Datura stramonium.[Online]. Available: http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?13323 (15 March, 2005)

 

 

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