What Is a Datura Plant?

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The flowers of Datura are large and fragrant.
The flowers of Datura are large and fragrant. (Image: datura image by Arraial from Fotolia.com)

Datura is any of several members of the plant genus Datura, including D. wrightii and D. stramonium, commonly known as Jimson weed, thornapple or loco weed. These species are indigenous to the desert areas of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. Datura has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years as a medicinal plant, as well as in religious practices, due to its hallucinogenic properties.

Description

The Datura plant grows to around 4 feet tall, has a spreading nature and is often wider than tall. Multiple long stems hold many pairs of large, deeply ribbed, oval leaves that narrow at the tip and have a characteristic foul odor. The color of the leaves is dark green with a slightly bluish tint above and silvery gray beneath. The flowers of Datura are large, white, trumpet-shaped and fragrant. The fruit forms as an oval capsule covered with thorns, and it contains many small black seeds.

Habitat and Culture

Datura grows in all four deserts of the Southwest, according to the University of New Mexico. The plant is most frequently found in plains, dry riverbeds and sand flat areas. It is commonly seen along roadsides. Extremely drought-resistant, Datura is relatively easy to cultivate and is sometimes used as an ornamental plant in the landscape. Preferring acidic soil with high levels of calcium, Datura will still grow well in various soil conditions. Propagation of the plant is typically by seeds.

Medicinal Uses

While no clinical evidence exists to support using Datura as a medicinal treatment, in traditional medicine the plant is used for a range of maladies, including boils and abscesses, tumors, sprains, strains, aches and swelling, arthritis, hemorrhoids and even rattlesnake bite. In larger doses, Datura acts as a stimulant and painkiller; however, the delirium that accompanies the use of the drug is an adverse side effect.

Religious Uses

Among certain Native American tribes, particularly in Mexico, Datura has a long history of being used in religious rituals, along with other hallucinogens such as the peyote cactus. The leaves of the plant are first dried and smoked, inducing relaxation and hallucinatory experiences. Excessive use of the plant as a hallucinogen was thought to result in insanity. In fact, the Datura is toxic and can result in poisoning in large doses.

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