Datura wrightii

Jimsonweed - Datura wrightii
East fork of Ready Pay Gulch, North of NM-152
East of Hillsboro, NM 

Datura wrightii, Jimsonweed (a.k.a. Sacred Datura, Sacred Thorn Apple), is found in many areas of the Black Range.  It is an exceptionally striking and beautiful plant, especially when in flower.  Because it grows well in situations where nutrients and water are limited it is often used in xeriscape gardening.  We found this specimen north of NM-152, east of Hillsboro, New Mexico, USA.  The native range of this species is limited to northern Mexico and the states of the American Southwest, as far north as southern Utah.

This species contains chemical compounds (tropane alkaloids) which are hallucinogenic.  In particular they are deliriant, a class of hallucinogen which cause delirium (as opposed to those which are psychedelics or dissociatives).  The indigenous peoples who lived in the range of Datura wrightii used the plant (especially the seeds and roots, where the alkaloids are concentrated) for medicinal and religious purposes.  It has also been used as a recreational drug.  Use of this plant as a drug is especially dangerous because the concentrations of alkaloids vary with individual plants and the hallucinogenic state is slow to present, making a safe dosage difficult to determine.  In addition, the effects are long lasting, include diminished sensory capability (including temporary blindness), and create panic - a rather dangerous combination.  During ritual rites of passage practiced by some indigenous tribes, boys were given drinks made from the plant, they sometimes died during the ritual.  That should be more than an ample warning for those who want to give it a try - in a knowledgeable environment with active support systems people die when using mixtures created from this plant.

Datura wrightii was originally described by Eduard August von Regel a German botanist who described more than 3,000 plant species.  He was not a collector, most of the botanist who first described species during the 1700’s and 1800’s did not “discover” species, but rather were the first to describe and place them within a scientific structure.  In von Regel’s case he ended his career as the Director of the Russian Imperial Botanical Garden of St. Petersburg, a position which gave him access to many undescribed specimens.  The scientific name honors Charles (Carlos) Wright (1811-1885).  Wright was an American plant collector who worked extensively in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, including time as the surveyor and botanist on the Mexican Boundary Survey of 1851-1853.  He is honored in the names of many plant species.

One of the treats of summer is to sit by Datura at dusk and watch the Hawk Moths dive into the flowers.

San Lorenzo, NM

© Robert Barnes 2018-2023