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Brugmansia arborea (L.) Steud. 1840
pronounced: brug-MANZ-ee-uh ar-BOR-ee-uh
(Solanaceae — the nightshade family)
common name: Angel’s Trumpet Tree
At one time this plant was known as Datura, and some nurseries continue to sell it under that name. The word Datura is derived from Hindu dhatura, which itself is derived from the Sanskrit name d'hustùra given to a related Indian species, while Brugmansia commemorates a professor of natural history at Leiden, Sebald Justin Brugmans (1763-1819). Datura and Brugmansia are very similar genera: members of both contain the poisons scopolamine, hyoscyamine and atropine. The members of the former genus have herbaceous stems and erect flowers that usually last only one day, and a seed pod covered in stout thorns, while those of the latter have woody stems and usually drooping flowers, and a smooth seed pod, when one forms.
The genus originates in the Colombian and Ecuadorian Andes, where it grows at an altitude of around 3000 m. The leaves have a coarse texture, are ovate, and vary in size on the same tree. They are often coarsely dentate when young, and later entire. The stunningly beautiful flowers can be up to about 25 cm long, borne singly, pendant, trumpet-like, 5-lobed at the tip, white in this species, but in others may be yellow, orange or pink. The basal half of the floral tube is enclosed in a green calyx.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, and Brugmansia provides hallucinogens that are among the most potent on earth. A traveller in 19th century Peru gave the following description of the effects of psychoactive Brugmansia drink on an Indian man. He was seen to fall into a heavy stupor, his eyes vacantly fixed on the ground, his mouth convulsively closed and his nostrils dilated. After about a quarter of an hour, his eyes began to roll, foam issued from his mouth, and his whole body was shaken by violent convulsions. When these symptoms had passed, he fell into a profound sleep for several hours. Awaking very weak and exhausted, he related the particulars of a visit to his dead relatives.
Among the pre-Conquest Chibcas of Colombia a concoction of Brugmansia, tobacco and maize beer was given to the slaves and the wives of dead kings, in order to put them into a narcotic state before entombing them with their masters and husbands.
When given space, and aided by some judicious pruning and training when young, this is a most spectacular tree when in full blossom. There is a magnificent specimen growing in the Sydney Botanic Gardens. In temperate climates, it produces flowers continuously throughout the period from spring to autumn, but with by far the heaviest blossoming in the autumn. Here on Magnetic Island, it seems to be a winter bloomer.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2011
Page last updated 13th October 2016