Veronica Lorson Fowler, the Iowa Gardener
This time of year, while most plants in my garden are starting to look tired and ragged, one is a stand out: angel’s trumpet. It’s big, sprawling and lush without a trace of disease or wilt. It produces beautiful, 5-inch, pure white flowers shaped like the end of, well, a trumpet.
The botanical name is datura (da-tur-uh), but I’m not sure what type I have. There is Datura metel and Datura inoxia, both of which are known for their heavy, intoxicating fragrance. I planted mine next to our back porch to take advantage of the promised heavenly scent. Whatever I got is definitely datura and definitely bodaciously beautiful but has absolutely no fragrance. I have to confess, though, that it’s so lovely and fresh and vigorous at a time when the rest of the garden is going downhill, I don’t much mind.
Daturas of all sorts go by a number of common names, including angel’s trumpet, devil’s trumpet, horn of plenty and thorn apple (probably because the seed pods it forms in early fall are about the size of walnuts and are covered with prickles). Datura flowers also are available in yellow, lilac and dark purple. Flowers last just 24 hours, but it produces so many that it is always covered.
Another thing I appreciate about this flower is that it reseeds freely in places where there is overturned soil. In my garden that tends to be my vegetable garden. So each spring, when I spot some of the reseeders, I plant a few in the space where I want them to thrive and the rest I hoe out. This spring, my datura reseeded so heavily it bordered on the invasive, but it was not a problem in established beds and border or in my lawn or paths.
I don’t give my datura any water or fertilizer, yet it easily gets anywhere from 4 feet to 7 feet tall, depending on how much rainfall we get. It tends to sprawl outward, about 4 feet or 5 feet. I’ve purposely placed mine in a corner to contain the sprawl, but I still end up staking it around June to prevent it from flopping too much. I also trim back a few of the side branches to contain its horizontal growth.
Everything I read about datura online says that datura needs full sun, that is, six or more hours a day of full, direct sun. But mine gets some very light shade, and it seems to thrive though the flowers are probably more sparse than what I would have in absolute full sun.
In the southern United States, datura is a perennial. Here in Iowa, our cold winters kill it, so we grow it like an annual.
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Datura of any sort is highly toxic if ingested, so keep that in mind if you have a dog or cat (or child) that loves to chew on garden plants.
If you’re interested in growing datura in your garden, I suggest reading the plant description carefully and choose one that promises fragrance. There also are a number of named cultivars recommended by the University of Wisconsin Horticulture Extension:
• Datura inoxia, Missouri Marble, has variegated foliage (tinted pink with white margins), purple stems and white and violet-purple mottled flowers that may be single or double.
• Datura metel, Aurea, has yellow flowers.
• Datura metel Ballerina Series has swirled flowers in shades of purple, yellow and white on more compact plants.
• Black Currant Swirl (and other names, including Double Purple and Purple Hindu) is a double or triple hybrid or variety of Datura mete with flowers that are dark purple on the outside and white inside that remain open during the day but are not very fragrant.
• Datura metel Flore Pleno has double white flowers.
• Golden Queen is a hybrid with double, lemon-yellow, frilled flowers.
In my experience, though, the more refined and hybridized a plant is, the less likely it is to reseed. That may be an advantage for you, but in my case, it would be a disadvantage.
If you do buy a datura, I suggest that you keep your receipt, so that if you’re heartbroken that it doesn’t have fragrance, you can ask for a refund or replacement.
That sounds like entirely too much work for me. I’ve already got a plant that enlivens my early fall garden, comes back for free each year, and delights me with its gorgeous flowers. If I spot another datura at the garden center, maybe I’ll experiment. But right now, sitting on my back porch and watching the golden afternoon sun filter through my current datura’s flawless green leaves, it’s hard to complain.
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Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.