I love brugmansias and daturas, but they’ve been a disappointment to me. Especially the brugmansias.
Brugmansias (they used to be called tree daturas) just barely make it in my climate (USDA zone 8). My common experience with them is, just about the time they form a bud, frost hits. And that’s the end of the brugmansia for that year. Next year it will rise again, but not until later than you think possible: usually in the middle to end of May, when things start really warming up. Brugmansias (and their herby sisters daturas) love heat, and shrink away from the cold.
So that’s why I was shocked to come home from a holiday trip to find that my little struggling brugmansia, all of fourteen inches high (about 36 cm), had spouted a bloom.
In order to have a hope of seeing flowers before frost next year, this fall I laboriously made it a place indoors – a place where I didn’t think it would thrive, but trusted it would at least not die to the ground (making more work for itself to get to blooming point next season). I had no anticipation that it would bloom, especially not when I went away, leaving the house cold.
What made this happen? Well, I did treat all my houseplants with an organic fertilizer called Voodoo Brew. Voodoo Brew inoculates the soil with some of the microorganisms that make soil nutrients more available to plants. You’re not supposed to use it on houseplants, but it makes my outdoor plants so happy, and my houseplants were looking crummy, and I’m not much of one for rules until I’ve tried them myself. And you’re supposed to use it in the growing season, not the dormant one, but (see above).
Another contributor to this miracle may have been the variety of brugmansia, ‘Cypress Gardens’. This plant was bred (or selected, I’m not sure which) for containers, and it’s also meant to flower younger than other brugmansias.
Whatever the cause, I’ve got one, just one, beautiful flower trumpet breathing fragrance into the room of a night,
and showing off that particular sheen I’ve only found on the somewhat-stiff brugmansia trumpets.
An anthropology professor of mine once told me that brugmansias made her think of love; she and her husband had met in South America, and slept under the downbreathing trumpets of a brugmansia.
Actually, she said datura, because at that time the genus hadn’t been broken in two. Now it’s generally accepted that the shrubby plants with downward hanging flowers are in the genus Brugmansia, while the herbaceous (non-woody) plants with upward facing trumpets are in the Datura genus (these are the ones that are called Angel’s Trumpets in many catalogues).
The reason my professor and I were discussing daturas is that I was doing a paper on them; even then I loved them. The chemical constituents of the different types of daturas and brugmansias are very closely related, although there are individual variations; in that paper I wrote I reported on a custom of some Amazonian shamans, of having several datura trees in their yards. Each variety had a special trait; each variety was used for a different type of divination. Finding a lost item might mean using one tree; helping an adolescent through the spiritual transformation into adulthood meant using another. The shaman knew which to use, how much to use, and how to guide someone through the experience safely.
No such shamans exist in my own culture (although many believe that European witches used daturas as their “flying” ointment, and had some skill in judging the dose and using the experience for spiritual gain). The datura/brugmansia reputation as a hallucinogen naturally attracted me as a teenager, although fortunately I didn’t find any to experiment with at that reckless age. Later, I did try smoking the leaves, since they were long listed in the U.S. pharmacopoeia as a remedy for respiratory problems, to arrest coughing.
They did arrest my cough somewhat, but by that time I knew that too much datura could also arrest breathing, so I was pretty cautious in my experiment (it tasted very bitter, even in smoke, which made me inclined to limit the experience even further). I have seen at least one young woman permanently altered for the worse from eating datura; I would never ingest it.
But I can admire its power through my nose and my eyes and those other senses all of us plant lovers use when we commune with green friends. I can feel brugmansia’s power of death and resurrection spreading invisible fragrance through my house. That means a lot, this time of year.