Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Plant profile: Brugmansia

Brugmansia is a genus of seven species of flowering plants in the family Solanaceae (the potato family). Their common name, Angel’s Trumpet, is also given to the Datura – a related but different genus. How can you tell them apart? In general, Brugmansia flowers dangle down, whereas Datura flowers point upwards.

Latin name: Brugmansia (pronounced broog-MAN-see-ah)
Common name: Angel’s Trumpet, Datura (incorrect)
Originally from: Subtropical regions of South America, along the Andes from Colombia to northern Chile, and also in southeastern Brazil.
Blooms: Big, trumpet-shaped white, yellow, red or pink flowers dangle down, flowering almost constantly, and often richly scented depending on the species.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought tolerant once established but not xeric.
Height x width: 8'x10'
Zones: 7b-11
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed, in front of the cherry plum trees.

The name Brugmansia comes from Sebald Justin Brugmans (1763-1819), a Dutch professor of natural history.

These long-lived, woody trees or bushes produce masses of usually super-exotic flowers, and are fast-growers and heavy feeders, needing to be fertilized regularly during the growing season. Our “Brug” is a double-flowered white version of unknown name. It was bought as a 1 gallon plant in March ’09 and it’s now an 8’ tall monster, about 10’ wide. My plan is to remove the lower branches to make it into a short tree, and allow other plants to grow underneath it.

All parts of the Brugmansia are very toxic, so it’s located a bit further back in the bed. Don’t eat it! A traveller in nineteenth century Peru gave the following description of the effects of psychoactive Brugmansia drink on an Indian man:

"He was seen to be falling into a heavy stupor, his eyes vacantly fixed on the ground, his mouth convulsively closed and his nostrils dilated.

In the course of a quarter of an hour, his eyes began to roll, foam issued from his mouth, and his whole body was agitated by frightful convulsions.

After these violent symptoms had passed, a profound sleep followed for several hours duration and when the subject had recovered, he related the particulars of his visit with his dead ancestors. He appeared very weak and exhausted. "

Among the pre-Conquest Chibcas of Colombia a concoction of Brugmansia, tobacco and maize beer was given to slaves and wives of dead kings in order to put them in a deep narcotic state so that they could be buried alive with their masters and husbands.

That certainly puts a damper on the visions of sugarplum fairies conjured by the plant’s flowers!

UPDATE: Our bruggie started looking sad in midsummer, wishing for a moister spot. I decided to cut it down and did so in August 2012. A few months later, it sprouted up again! Now in April 2013 it looks great again, but time will tell if it can survive repeated coppicing, or whether we just need to move it to the middle back bed where things are damper.

UPDATE December 2015:
After 6 years in the ground and 4 years of drought, this plant suffered from dryness, was coppiced and returned to form: it's currently covered in leaves after a few rainfalls this winter. Surprisingly resilient plant!

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