Datura L., 1753
Datura is a genus of nine species of vespertine flowering plants belonging to the family Solanaceae. Its precise and natural distribution is uncertain, owing to its extensive cultivation and naturalization throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the globe. Its distribution within the Americas, however, is most likely restricted to the United States and Mexico, where the highest species diversity occurs.
Some South American plants formerly thought of as Daturas are now treated as belonging to the distinct genus Brugmansia (Brugmansia differs from Datura in that it is woody, making shrubs or small trees, and in that it has pendulous flowers, rather than erect ones). Other related genera include Hyoscyamus and Atropa.
Datura are herbaceous, leafy annuals and short-lived perennials which can reach up to 2 meters in height. The leaves are alternate, 10–20 cm long and 5–18 cm broad, with a lobed or toothed margin. The flowers are erect or spreading (not pendulous like those of the closely allied Brugmansia), trumpet-shaped, 5–20 cm long and 4–12 cm broad at the mouth; colors vary from white to yellow, pink, and pale purple. The fruit is a spiny capsule 4–10 cm long and 2–6 cm broad, splitting open when ripe to release the numerous seeds. The seeds disperse freely over pastures, fields and even wasteland locations.
Datura belongs to the classic "witches' weeds," along with deadly nightshade, henbane, and mandrake. Most parts of the plants contain toxic hallucinogens, and datura has a long history of use for causing delirious states and death. It was well known as an essential ingredient of love potions and witches' brews.
The word datura comes from the Hindi dhatūrā ("thorn apple"); record of this name dates back to 1662 (OED). Nathaniel Hawthorne refers to one type in The Scarlet Letter as apple-Peru. In Mexico, its common name toloache.
The larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species, including Hypercompe indecisa, eat some datura species.
Species and cultivars
It is difficult to classify a datura as to its species, and it often happens that descriptions of new species are accepted prematurely. Later it is found that these "new species" are simply varieties that have evolved due to conditions at a specific location. They usually disappear in a few years. Contributing to the confusion are the facts that various species such as D. wrightii and D. inoxia are very similar in appearance, and that the variation within a species can be extreme. For example, Datura have the interesting property of being able to change size of plant, size of leaf, and size of flowers, all depending on location. The same species, when growing in a half-shady damp location can develop into a magnificent flowering bush half as tall as a person, but when growing in a very dry location will only grow into a thin little plant just higher than his ankles, with tiny flowers and a few miniature leaves.
Today, experts classify only nine species of Datura:
* Datura ceratocaula Jacq.
American Brugmansia & Datura Society, Inc. (ABADS), is designated in the 2004 edition of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants as the official International Cultivar Registration Authority for Datura. This role was delegated to ABADS by the International Society for Horticultural Science in 2002.
Datura are usually planted annually from the seed produced in the spiny pods, but with care, plants can be overwintered. Most species are suited to being planted outside or in containers. As a rule, they need warm, sunny places and soil that will keep their roots dry. When grown outdoors in good locations, the plants tend to reseed themselves and may become invasive. In containers, they should have porous, aerated potting soil with adequate drainage. The plants are susceptible to fungi in the root area, so organic enrichers such as compost and manure should be avoided.
All Datura plants contain tropane alkaloids such as scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine, primarily in their seeds and flowers. Because of the presence of these substances, Datura has been used for centuries in some cultures as a poison and hallucinogen. There can be a 5:1 toxin variation across plants, and a given plant's toxicity depends on its age, where it is growing, and the local weather conditions. This variation makes Datura exceptionally hazardous as a drug. In traditional cultures, a great deal of experience with, and detailed knowledge of, Datura was critical in order to minimize harm. Many tragic incidents result from modern recreational users ingesting Datura. For example, in the 1990s and 2000s, the United States media contained stories of adolescents and young adults dying or becoming seriously ill from intentionally ingesting Datura. There are also several reports in the medical literature of deaths from Datura stramonium and Datura ferox intoxication. Children are especially vulnerable to atropine poisoning, and their prognosis is likely to be fatal. In some parts of Europe and India, Datura has been a popular poison for suicide and murder. From 1950–1965, the State Chemical Laboratories in Agra, India investigated 2,778 deaths that were caused by ingesting Datura.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported accidental poisoning resulting in hospitalization for a family of six who inadvertently ingested Datura used as an ingredient in stew.
In some places it is prohibited to buy, sell or cultivate Datura plants.
Effects of ingestion
Due to the potent combination of anticholinergic substances it contains, Datura intoxication typically produces effects similar to that of an anticholinergic delirium (as contrasted to hallucination): a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy; hyperthermia; tachycardia; bizarre, and possibly violent behavior; and severe mydriasis with resultant painful photophobia that can last several days. Pronounced amnesia is another commonly reported effect.
No other psychoactive substance has received as many "train wreck" (i.e., severely negative experience) reports as has Datura. The overwhelming majority of those who describe their use of Datura find their experiences extremely mentally and physically unpleasant and often physically dangerous.
Due to their agitated behavior and confused mental state, victims of Datura poisoning are typically hospitalized. Gastric lavage (stomach pumping) and the administration of activated charcoal can be used to reduce the stomach's absorption of the ingested material. The drug physostigmine is used to reverse the effect of the poisons. Benzodiazepines can be given to curb the patient's agitation, and supportive care with oxygen, hydration, and symptomatic treatment is often provided. Observation of the patient is indicated until the symptoms resolve, usually from 24–36 hours after ingestion of the Datura.
* Datura bernhardii
Source: Wikipedia, Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License