Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) is well known for its toxicity to humans. The common name "Jimsonweed" is reportedly due to mass poisoning experienced by British troops who were sent to the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1676 to suppress Bacon's Rebellion (Beverley 1705). Jimsonweed may be picked and consumed accidentally by individuals mistaking the leaves for those of another plant. More commonly, various parts (including seeds from the spiny pod, leaves, and twigs) may be consumed intentionally in order to experience their psychoactive effects (although these effects are often described even by enthusiasts of psychotropic drugs as extremely violent and unpleasant, as are accompanying symptoms). Consuming Jimsonweed is considered a dangerous practice that can even result in death. Both this and other Datura species, however, have been used in traditional spiritual practices by various New World indigenous peoples. According to Schultes (1976), Jimsonweed is believed to have been the main ingredient in wysoccan, which was used by the Algonquin Indians of eastern North America as part of the ritual of initiation into manhood.
As in other members of the genus Datura, the main active agents in Jimsonweed are the anticholinergic tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and atropine, although many other physiologically active alkaloids may also be present. Alkaloid composition and concentration may vary among plant parts as well as among individual plants. Krenzelok (2010) reviewed medical aspects of Jimsonweed poisoning and its treatment. According to Krenzelok, treatment is mainly supportive, with the careful use of the cholinesterase inhibitor physostigmine in more severe cases of poisoning.
Jimsonweed may be native to North America, probably Mexico, but it is now widespread in vacant lots, along roadsides, and in other "waste places" in temperate and warm regions around the world. Jimsonweed can be a serious agricultural weed in maize and other crops. The large white to purplish trumpet-shaped flowers open in the early evening (for up to 24 hours) and are pollinated by evening-flying moths. Despite the apparent floral adaptations for moth pollination, Jimsonweed has a very high rate of self fertilization, often greater than 95% (although it may be as low as 80% for some individual plants). The factor that has been identified as most strongly contributing to this variation in outcrossing rate is the position of the stigma, i.e., whether it overlaps or protrudes above the anthers.
(Schultes 1976; Motten and Stone 2000 and references therein; Mabberley 2008; Krenzelok 2010)
- Beverley, Robert. 1705. p. 24 in: Book II: Of the Natural Product and Conveniencies in Its Unimprov'd State, Before the English Went Thither. The History and Present State of Virginia, In Four Parts. (Electronic version, 2006, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)
- Krenzelok, E.P. 2010. Aspects of Datura poisoning and treatment. Clinical Toxicology 48: 104-110.
- Mabberley, D.J. Mabberley's Plant-Book, 3rd edition. 2008. Cambridge University Press, New York.
- Motten, A.F. and J.L. Stone. 2000. Heritability of Stigma Position and the Effect of Stigma-Anther Separation on Outcrossingin a Predominantly Self-Fertilizing Weed, Datura stramonium (Solanaceae). American Journal of Botany 87(3): 339-347.
- Schultes, R.E. 1976. Hallucinogenic Plants. Western Publishing Company, Racine, Wisconsin.