Day 1326

Datura alley

August 17th, 2015

The long white trumpets and spiny seed pods lining this walkway belong to datura plants, which contain notoriously potent, and highly toxic, deliriants. The internet offers no shortage of nightmarish stories from people who've tried using datura as a recreational drug.

One species of datura, Datura stramonium, is often called jimson weed, "jimson" being a contraction of "Jamestown", as in Jamestown, Virginia. There's no consensus on the geographic origin of jimson weed, but the plant had reportedly made its way to Jamestown by 1677, when a number of British troops sent to quell Bacon's Rebellion decided to boil up some foraged jimson leaves for a nice salad. An account of their experiences was published in 1705 in Robert Beverley's The History and Present State of Virginia:

The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the Plant so call'd) is supposed to be one of the greatest Coolers in the World. This being an early Plant, was gather'd very young for a boil'd Salad, by some of the Soldiers sent thither, to pacific the Troubles of Bacon; and some of them eat plentifully of it, the Effect of which was a very pleasant Comedy; for they turn'd natural Fools upon it for several Days: One would blow up a Feather in the Air; another wou'd dart Straws at it with much Fury; and another stark naked was sitting up in a Corner, like a Monkey, grinning and making Mows at them; a Fourth would fondly kiss, and paw his Companions, and snear in their Faces, with a Countenance more antick, than any in a Dutch Droll. In this frantick Condition they were confined, lest they should in their Folly destroy themselves; though it was observed, that all their Actions were full of Innocence and good Nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallow'd in their own Excrements, if they had not been prevented. A Thousand such simple Tricks they play'd, and after Eleven Days, return'd to themselves again, not remembring any thing that had pass'd.
In other news, a jimson weed flower is the subject of what is by far the most expensive painting by a woman ever sold at auction: Georgia O'Keeffe's Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, which was purchased for $44.4 million in November 2014, shattering the previous record of $11.9 million.

One Comment

  1. Sandi says:

    And long, long ago, Gene Autry’s radio theme song revealed that “the cattle feed on the lowly Jimson weed…”

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