The huge lavender blossoms of the jimson weed are showy and fragrant.
Jimsonweed is a rank, foul smelling annual with large purplish trumpet-shaped flowers and spiny, egg-shaped fruits. The plant gets about 3 or 4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall with a similar spread. It often falls over from its own weight. The stem is purplish and glabrous (smooth) and the leaves are ovate, irregularly lobed, to 8 in (20.3 cm) long, and have a foul odor. The flowers, however, are fragrant and sweet-smelling. They open for only one evening, but new ones continue to open throughout the summer and autumn. The flowers are white or pale lavender, shaped like a five-sided funnel, 2-4 in (5.1-10.2 cm) long. The green calyx covers about half the length of the corolla. The fruit is about 2 in (5.1 cm) long, egg-shaped and covered with spiny prickles. It starts out green and ripens to brown. It is full of black seeds.
Jimsonweed is a common weed in pastures, barn yards, roadsides and waste places throughout the US, southern Canada, and most of the world. Some authorities believe it may have come originally from Asia. Today it occurs almost everywhere but Antarctica and the Arctic.
Culture Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Average soil moisture. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Propagation: By seed. Jimsonweed germinates readily and self sows under most conditions.
Jimson weed is typically found growing on the disturbed earth of barnyards and construction sites like this one along Interstate 75 in Tennessee.
Jimsonweed is occasionally grown as an ornamental. I allow a few volunteer plants in my yard and vegetable garden each year. They attract bees, butterflies and moths. The thorny fruit capsules are used in dried arrangements. Jimsonweed is grown commercially in Europe for the alkaloidal drug, hyoscyamine. It also contains the powerful alkaloids atropine and scopolamine. Jimsonweed and its derivatives have several medicinal uses. At low doses it is used to treat asthma, muscle spasms and symptoms of Parkinson's disease. At higher doses it causes hallucinations.
Jimson is a corruption of Jamestown, where early colonists noted jimsonweed growing in abundance. (Did they bring it to the New World themselves?). The related Datura inoxia of the North American southwest is said to be the most universally used hallucinogenic and medicinal plant known to man. It was used by many if not most native American tribes to induce hallucinations in religious ceremonies and for various medical conditions.
All parts of jimsonweed are very poisonous. Cattle and sheep have died from eating it, and children have been poisoned by sucking nectar from the flowers. Symptoms include dilated pupils, thirst, fever, loss of coordination, confusion, rapid pulse, labored respiration, hallucinations, convulsions, and eventual coma. Death is rare however, and, if stomach contents are removed immediately, recovery usually follows in several days. Amnesia of the poisoning event is common. Even inhaling the sweet fragrance of the flowers can cause headaches and dizziness! The sap can cause a skin rash. Some states and municipalities ban the cultivation of jimsonweed and other species of Datura.