NIGHTSHADE FAMILY - Solanaceae: Jamestown Weed; Thorn Apple; Stramonium; Jimson Weed; Devil's Trumpet
Flowers--Showy, large, about 4 in. high, solitary, erect, growing from the forks of branches. Calyx tubular, nearly half as long as the corolla, 5-toothed, prismatic; corolla funnel-form, deep-throated, the spreading limb 2 in. across or less, plaited, 5-pointed; stamens 5; 1 pistil. Stem: Stout, branching, smooth, 1 to 5 ft. high. Leaves: Alternate, large, rather thin, petioled, egg-shaped in outline, the edges irregularly wavy-toothed or angled; rank-scented. Fruit: A densely prickly, egg-shaped capsule, the lower prickles smallest. The seeds and stems contain a powerful narcotic poison.
Preferred Habitat--Light soil, fields, waste land near dwellings, rubbish heaps.
Distribution--Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico, westward beyond the Mississippi.
When we consider that there are more than five million Gypsies wandering about the globe, and that the narcotic seeds of the Thorn Apple, which apparently heal, as well as poison, have been a favorite medicine of theirs for ages, we can understand at least one means of the weed reaching these shores from tropical Asia. (Hindoo, dhatura.) Our Indians, who call it "white man's plant," associate it with the Jamestown settlement--a plausible connection, for Raleigh's colonists would have been likely to carry with them to the New World the seeds of an herb yielding an alkaloid more esteemed in the England of their day than the alkaloid of opium known as morphine. Daturina, the narcotic, and another product, known in medicine as stramonium, smoked by asthmatics, are by no means despised by up-to-date practitioners. Were it not for the rank odor of its leaves, the vigorous weed, coarse as it is, would be welcome in men's gardens. Indeed, many of its similar relatives adorn them. The fragrant petunia and tobacco plants of the flower beds, the potato, tomato, and egg-plant in the kitchen garden, call it cousin.