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Mr. Smarty Plants - Jimsonweed and its toxic nature

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Tuesday - June 21, 2011

From: Seguin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: Jimsonweed and its toxic nature
Answered by: Brigid & Larry Larson

QUESTION:

I purchased a Jimson weed plant at a local plant sale at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center this spring and was quite surprised at how quickly & large it grew. After the first round of flowers faded (a second round is working now), my son noticed the seed pods & asked about them, so I went online to do some research. I was shocked to find out that it is considered toxic and wonder why no one at the plant sale told me this. I live in Central TX and have already read your answer on the invasiveness of the plant, but how toxic is it truely? Will it only make people sick if they eat it or can touching it also produce a reaction? Is it fatal?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants is sorry you got a hold of a Datura wrightii (Sacred thorn-apple) without learning of its nature; I can only expect that in the hustle & bustle of the plant sale – the topic didn’t come up.  There are a number of plants in Texas that are considered toxic.  This website from Texas A&M gives a list, and on the front page quotes the count of common ones as 106.

Jimsonweed [Datura spp.] is one of the more famous of those though.  A description of its epidemiology in Erowid notes that "The plant has been described throughout history as a toxin famous for its mind-altering properties. There are references to it in Homer's Odyssey, and Shakespeare's plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Anthony and Cleopatra.  ( Ellenhorn MJ: Medical Toxicology, Elsevier Science, NY, 1988)

Similarly, The Wikipedia entry for Datura stramonium notes use as a hallucinogen: “ Datura stramonium was used as a mystical sacrament in both possible places of origin, North America and South Asia. In Hinduism, Lord Shiva was known to smoke Datura. People still provide the small green fruit of Datura during festivals and special days as offerings in Shiva temples.”……”  Aboriginal Americans in North America, such as the Algonquin and Luiseño have used this plant in sacred ceremonies”

Of course, you asked “how toxic is it truly?”   This is a very difficult question and neither Mr Smarty Plants nor the Wildflower Center are in any way qualified to address that question.  You must see a knowledgeable physician and/or the Texas Poison Network for expert information.

As a little bit of direction: it can be fatal.  This reference from MedLinePlus describes the symptoms of  Jimson weed poisoning, and this reference from the CDC describes Poisoning From a Homemade stew, happily all in the later reference survived this event.  The Erowid references gives the toxins in Jimson Weed as tropane belladonna alkaloids which possess strong anticholinergic properties. They include: hyoscyamine (leaves, roots, seeds), hyoscine (roots); atropine (d,l-hyoscyamine) and scopolamine (l-hyoscine).  The same article discusses toxicology.  It noted the highest concentration occurred in the seeds and that near-toxic levels of these may be found in an amount on the order of 50-100 seeds.  This seems more in agreement with the statement from the North Carolina Poisonous Plants Database which says for Datura stramonium that it is "Toxic only if large quantities are eaten." 

Similarly, you ask about touching versus eating.   Almost all the references were about ingested material.  Still, the wording in Erowid is “These toxins are easily absorbed from mucous membranes and the GI tract”.  The implication is that if plant material touches a mucous membrane (or a cut) – some of the toxins could be absorbed.

Mr Smarty Plants had two other questions in the database about Jimsonweed.   This question discusses its invasiveness and that this can be controlled by deadheading [Likely the one you read, but deadheading is sounding very much like a good practice!] and this question has similar information towards side effects and dangers of Datura spp.

 

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