Bad plants have names too, and this one is called Datura stramonium



Color me mildly annoyed that a syndicated story about kids eating jimson weed that ran in our local rag this week totally failed to mention the botanical name of the plant. Paragraph after paragraph went by in which I learned such tidbits as the following:

The jimson plant is located throughout the United States — including Western New York — and parts of Canada.

The potentially deadly symptoms include abnormal heart rhythm, respiratory arrest, high fever, hallucination, seizures and coma.

The uncomfortable symptoms include hot, dry skin. That could explain why some patients come in nude to emergency rooms, said Lisa Oller, senior poison specialist with the University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center in Kansas City, Kan.

The weed goes by many names, including gypsum weed, stinkweed, loco weed and thorn apple. Some people call it moonflower. But Queen, the Derby police lieutenant, said moonflower is a different plant — a cousin of jimson weed — that gets used for the same hallucinogenic effect.

But nowhere in all this did the actual name of the plant appear. Of course, knowing the botanical name would not have stopped the kids from eating it, but this is an article that is supposed to be giving parents important facts. One of those facts would certainly be the correct name of the plant. Sigh.

Those crazy kids. Some of my less-desirable friends used to toy with that stuff too, back in the day. They knew it was dangerous, and they said enough about it to make me think twice.

And that’s why I’m here today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I have e-mailed complaints about missing scientific names now and then. I think it’s important.

    Have you committed Garden Rant to using botanical names whenever possible? I welcome that, and would salute you for adding it to your “We are” box. (Was there a discussion about this recently that I missed? If so, sorry.)

    And why not animals? A discussion several weeks ago about “gray squirrels” left me cold. Which gray squirrel? Many of the garden bloggers I most respect and admire use scientific names for birds and insects. It’s an ethic I strive for too.

  2. Well, Chuck, I do not insist that everyone use scientific names at all times, and I’ve certainly been guilty of not using them–you called me on it!

    In this case, I felt the reporter ought to have included it–in this particular, rather serious context. As I said, “this is an article that is supposed to be giving parents important facts. ”

  3. 20 years ago I got my hands a a great little book written by the AMA ( American Medical Association. )
    In this handy dandy little hand book is a list of many of the most common landscape and house plants that cause all kinds of allergic responses ranging from dermatitis to death.
    It lists the botanical names, common names and the correct medical response to adequately handle the over indulgence.

    I mention this because you just would not believe how many common plants are poisonous in one degree or another.
    If it is not Datura sp. then it might as well be Lobelia,Euonymus, Daphne, Yew, (taxus) , Rhododendron, Cornus , Nicotinana amongst a whole huge host of common plants.

    Mainly I purchased this plant to calm the nerves of some of my clients who have young kids who did not want to have any poisonous plants in their garden.
    Once I handed them the list they realized how large the poisonous plant population actually is and calmed down a bit. .. or decided not to plant a garden at all.

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