Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Jimsonweed thorn apple

with 18 comments

Jimsonweed fruit; click for greater detail.

For the past three days you’ve seen stages in the development of the toxic plant known colloquially as jimsonweed and scientifically as Datura wrightii:

an end-on view of a bud beginning to unroll;

a fully open, trumpet-shaped flower;

the plant’s strange fruit as it begins to form.

And now you get to see what the plant’s forbidding fruit looks like when it matures. Some have called this a thorn apple, and that seems appropriate for such a prickly globe. I don’t know if this one has split open of its own accord or if something external has broken into it in spite of its formidable defenses, but the hole conveniently lets you see what the seeds inside look like. Note that the mature thorn apple has turned downward, which is the opposite orientation from that of the fruit in its early stage that you saw last time.

For more information about Datura wrightii, including a state-clickable map showing the many places in the United States where this plant grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 28, 2011 at 5:25 AM

18 Responses

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  1. I really like the way you show all stages of growth. I had Datura in my landscape at one time. It did well. This was the first time I ever saw what I called a Hummingbird Moth. At first I thought it was a Hummingbird out very late in the evening. What a treat!!!

    Agnes Plutino

    October 28, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    • Thanks, Agnes. I try to strike a balance between detail (showing multiple phases) and variety (switching from one thing to aother).

      Those hummingbird moths are fun, aren’t they? I typically see one only once a year or so, but I don’t recall seeing any in 2011. Too bad.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2011 at 8:46 AM

  2. Very alien and evil looking…

    Galen Leeds Photography

    October 28, 2011 at 8:06 AM

  3. wow, this looks so surreal! loving your series on jimson weed 🙂


    October 28, 2011 at 3:04 PM

    • The surreality of the picture might be appropriate for the state of mind of someone who ingests jimsonweed, don’t you think?

      Readers of this column should be interested in the article in “Berlin Plants” about the similar species Datura stramonium, which, though apparently native to North America, has spread overseas:


      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2011 at 3:47 PM

      • Ah! I thought there was something familiar about this plant, but it only clicked when you described it as thorn apple, because the German name is “Stechapfel”, a precise translation for thorn apple.

        I’ll see, if I can find a plant around here next year.


        October 30, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      • I hope you can find some of these imported plants in your area. I don’t know how close to Berlin you are, or how far through Germany the species has spread.

        As for the Stech- in Stechapfel, I see the relationship to the English verb to stick; in colloquial English we call thorns stickers, and I remember from when I was a kid that we talked about sticker bushes as something to avoid.

        Steve Schwartzman

        October 30, 2011 at 11:42 AM

  4. The turning-downward is interesting. Despite growing up in Iowa, I’d never noticed something that was pointed out to me during my recent trip. Corn that is ready to harvest hangs down on the stalk. Still-maturing ears point up.

    This fruit reminds me of the balls from the sweet gum tree, which protects its seeds in the same way. You wouldn’t think such a toxic plant would need all that extra, spiny protection. Redundancy at its finest!


    October 28, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    • Presumably the seed case turns downward to make it easier for the seeds to fall out. Thanks for letting us know that corn behaves the same way. You also make a good point about redundant protection. I wonder if the seeds, though poisonous to us, might not be to certain animals that, without the prickles, would eat the fruit.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2011 at 10:16 PM

  5. Catching up: This was a beautiful series! I only wonder what would be so brave as to nibble on it! But then, the damage looks aged, so perhaps the prickles were softer when first formed? ~ Lynda


    October 31, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the series, Lynda. The damage is puzzling, but it could have been caused by an animal not susceptible to the chemicals in jimsonweed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2011 at 1:21 PM

  6. Here’s is the Jimsonweed I was reading about last night. In the Wikipedia article it says it’s ‘Datura stramonium’ but I see now Datura wrightii is another Datura which is native to North America. Although the Wiki article says that Datura stramonium is native to North America, I went to check the USDA map and it says it’s introduced. Other articles say ’stramonium’ is actually from Asia. Both these Daturas are called ‘Jimsonweed’.


    February 14, 2018 at 8:17 AM

    • Footnote 2 in the Wikipedia article links to a source that says Datura stramonium is native to Mexico, which qualifies it as coming from North America. As I understand the USDA maps, they mark what’s native or non-native in the United States and Canada but exclude Mexico from consideration. That said, there are cases where botanists just don’t know where a species originated.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 14, 2018 at 8:34 AM

      • This is good to know. I’ve also noticed some plants that are native to Florida are also found in other parts of the US (Texas in particular), would this warrant a revision for the USDA? Maybe they prefer to leave it as how it was first recorded when originally found.


        February 14, 2018 at 8:50 AM

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