Datura, also called “devil’s trumpet” for its magnificent inflorescence, is a very interesting and ornamental shrub.
Datura facts, a short list
Name – Datura species
Family – Solanaceae or nightshade
Type – shrub
Height – 6 ½ to 16 feet (2 to 5 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – rich enough
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – May to September
It is vulnerable to freezing and loves sun to bear, all summer long, very beautiful flowers.
It is best to plant your datura in spring in a blend of earth, soil mix and soil conditioner.
Find a place in your garden that is protected from wind, but gets a lot of sun.
- Refer to our guidelines for planting shrubs.
It’s possible to sow in a sheltered place starting in March and put in place in May.
If you live in an area where winter freezing is very cold (lower than 23°F or -5°C), consider growing your datura in a lean-in or transfer them during the coldest months to a spot where it doesn’t freeze.
It is really simple to propagate datura through cuttings, it’s the easiest and fastest technique.
- Summer, from May to July, is when to prepare datura cuttings.
- Select cuttings about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long.
- Remove lower leaves, keeping only the topmost 1 or 2 pairs at the tip.
- It is possible to dip the cuttings in powdered rooting agents.
- Plant your cuttings in nursery pots filled with cutting soil mix.
- Ensure the soil stays reasonably moist, place it in a warm place with light but not direct sun.
Make sure the air stays moist around your cuttings. Either wrap a clear sac around the nursery pots to lock the moisture in (like a greenhouse) or increase ambient air moisture.
Pruning and caring for datura
Since it is easy to care for, the only bit of attention it needs regards watering: it must be watered often.
How to trim datura
- Pruning datura is best at the beginning of spring.
- Datura can bear pruning well, so it can be quite drastic.
How to water datura
Water regularly, but not too much, in times of high temperature. Spread mulch out at the foot of shrub over winter.
For potted datura, water must be provided as soon as the surface soil is dry.
Take note to protect your hands when pruning this shrub, because its leaves and stems contain high levels of alkaloids that are very poisonous.
Datura in Winter
Overwintering Datura outdoors
In areas where it freezes, there’s no chance of your Datura surviving outdoors. It might take a night or two of very light frost, but cold temperatures for days on end will kill it.
- When the temperature drops, you can try to wrap your datura up in hay and bubble plastic or burlap.
- This will help you gain a few degree’s worth of survival.
If it gets any colder than 40°F (5°C), however, your best chance is to prune your datura short (under a foot or 30 cm) and dig it out to a pail or temporary pot.
- Store the plant in a place where there’s not too much light and where temperatures hover around the 50s or 60s °F (10-15°C).
- Water only once a month, abundantly but make sure it drains well.
- Leaves will die off, but in Spring it will grow back after you plant it in the ground again.
Potted Datura in winter
If your datura is already in a pot, simply prune it to reduce its size and bring it indoors. Do this at the end of Fall, but before it freezes.
The ideal storage for it is a garage or room that only gets a little light and where temperatures stay around 55°C (12-13°C).
- Keep the plant in its normal pot, unless you plan on repotting it. You can repot every two or three years to replenish soil nutrients.
- Water monthly, making sure any excess water drains out well from the bottom.
When Spring is there, wait for any risk of frost to have subsided. Then only can you bring your datura out.
Diseases and pests that infect Datura
Datura avoids problems with large herbivores thanks to its poisonous leaves, but insects and diseases still attack it.
- Fungal diseases such as Septoria will spot the leaves. All datura species are among the septoria fungus host plants.
- Leaf spots that show rings inside them are most certainly due to Alternaria tenuissima, another leaf spot fungus.
- A few other fungus are responsible for root rot in this plant, such as Pythium (see a case where Pythium results in diseased Sunpatiens), Thielaviopsis and Phytoptora.
Viral diseases (sometimes spread by insects) may also contaminate Datura :
- mosaic viruses and others may result in leaves folding up and wilting.
Insects may also be to blame for spots and disease:
- Aphids are quite recognizable and can be seen with the naked eye. In addition to the damage they inflict, they also spread viral plant diseases.
- Whitefly requires a magnifying glass but can also be dealt with easily. They don’t usually spread diseases.
- Other insects that typically attack plants of the nightshade family: the tomato hornworm and Sphinx moth caterpillars. You can control these caterpillars naturally.
Toxicity of Datura
Is Datura toxic?
There are high amounts of alkaloid compounds in all parts of the plant. These powerful substances are very poisonous, even though they are also used as an ingredient for some drugs.
Ingesting Datura can induce severe hallucinating and may even lead to death. It is a drug, and selling it as such is crime liable to severe penalties.
The three most important compounds that the pharmaceutical industry uses are atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine (also known as daturine, incidentally). These all have anticholinergic properties. These molecules directly affect the way messages sent through the nervous system are interpreted by various organs. This is why they impact the senses like sight and hearing, and also affect dizziness and equilibrium.
Use gloves when you handle any portion of this plant.
Also, teach toddlers to avoid ingesting plants (maybe teach them to check with you first whether anything is edible or not, every single time).
Datura and pets (and horses)
As a consequence, make sure to keep pets away.
David, a Nature & Garden reader, noted in a comment below that horses are particularly vulnerable to datura. Indeed, if they’re curious or don’t have much else to feed on, they’ll sample the plant and start showing symptoms of intoxication… to a point that can explain why “death trumpet” is another name for this plant!
Learn more about Datura
This magnificent shrub with remarkable blooming produces abundant and fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers.
It originated in the warm climates of South America and tends to have trouble adapting to places where it freezes often.
Quite often, Datura is confused with Brugmansia
Smart tip about datura
Add small quantities of organic fertilizer often during the blooming to enhance it.