A widespread weed in South Africa, Datura, grows mainly in places where the soil has been disturbed, such as along roadsides, seasonal river courses, as well as in cultivated lands. We grew up knowing it by the Afrikaans name of Stinkblaar (Stinking Leaves) although I later discovered its English common name is Thorn Apple – at least two varieties commonly occur here: the Large Thorn Apple (Datura ferox) – also known as the Fierce Thorn Apple – and the Common Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium). I find it interesting that the Afrikaans name focuses on the leaves (which produce an unpleasant smell when crushed), while the English name points to the fruit. The genus name Datura comes from the Bengali name ‘dhatura’ for the plant, while the species name ferox means ‘strongly fortified’ and refers to the long spines on seed pods. The seeds of both are poisonous, so it was a plant we were warned from early on to avoid.

The spiny fruit houses the highly toxic kidney-shaped seeds. The photograph below shows the green fruit. This later hardens and dries to a dark brown before splitting open to reveal the black seeds. The Common Thorn Apple is also known colloquially in this country as malpitte (crazy seeds). All parts of Datura plants are poisonous and may prove fatal if ingested by humans as well as livestock and pets as they affect the central nervous system.

The white to creamy-coloured flowers are trumpet-shaped. The petals sometimes show a violet tinge.

This annual belongs to the Solanaceae – or deadly nightshade – family. Although these plants have become naturalised over most tropical and warm temperate regions, they are thought to have originated from the tropical regions of Central and South America. Datura stramonium is one of the world’s most widespread poisonous weeds and it competes aggressively with crops in the field and pasture. It is listed as a noxious weed in South Africa.


17 thoughts on “DATURA

  1. The name Datura sounded so familiar to me that I wondered if I had mentioned one of its species on my blog before, and I find that a few years ago I did. But it was not the common type that grows along roadsides in California, rather the Sacred Datura that a friend was growing as a novelty, and I didn’t even take a picture of that one.

    I was interested to read that the species is thought to have originated in Mexico. I will hope to consult my Weeds of the West book to find out which Datura was common to my own childhood.


    • Baie dankie Una. Dit groei orals en die meeste van ons (ek ook) weet net dat dit giftig is en niks meer nie. Dit was interessant om ‘n bietjie meer van hierdie plante uit te vind.


  2. It seems that the one I am most familiar with, which I think grows in dry orchards even my my area of northern California, is the Datura stramonium, known most commonly in the Western U.S. at least, as Jimsonweed, or locoweed. My friend’s Sacred Datura is also a common weed of the West, Datura innoxia.

    Another plant I can picture in my mind, but which I never learned the name of, is possibly not be a Datura, but in another branch of the Solanaceae family. I might try to find out what it is, too 🙂 It is a more beautiful species that brightens up desert-like roadsides in the foothills I have passed through, spreading its green leaves low to the ground over a 5-6′ radius, and bearing its white trumpet flowers under the blazing sun.


    • Thank you for coming back with this information. I note that Jimsonweed is also a fairly widely used common name for the Datura stramonium in agricultural circles here. According to my book of common weeds, the Sacred Datura – also toxic – is sometimes grown here as an ornamental plant and also goes by the name of Angel’s Trumpet. For some reason these particular plants have not become a common weed in South Africa.


      • I’m pretty sure the one I was trying to describe is Datura wrightii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datura_wrightii –which is also called (Soutwestern) Jimson Weed or Sacred Datura 🙂 ; Devil’s OR Angel’s Trumpet. I wonder if the last choice between opposite common names depends on whether it was found as a weed or grown as an ornamental! Now I also question which species my friend showed me — probably this one that seems a bit less rangy; it is planted as an ornamental sometimes. Maybe a few of those I’ve seen had been cultivated. Thanks for the prompt and the interest, Anne!


  3. Pingback: DATURA — Something Over Tea – Truth Troubles

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