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Tenerife herbs: Datura or Thornapple is a poisonous plant

Updated on February 20, 2016

The beautiful but deadly Thorn-apple

Thorn-apple or Devil's Weed (Datura stramonium) has a very beautiful funnel-shaped flower but the plant really is a femme fatale because it is actually very poisonous. It is commonly found growing as an invasive weed on Tenerife and the other Canary Islands as well as many other parts of the world.

The closely related Datura metel is also found in similar locations on the islands. The plants tend to grow on roadsides, on waste ground and anywhere where the soil has recently been turned up such as a building site or in a farm or garden.

The Datura species all have medicinal properties but are far too dangerous to be used without medical supervision and in the correct dosages.

Thorn-apple photo

Thorn-apple and a dead rabbit
Thorn-apple and a dead rabbit

Datura flower

Datura Metel in flower
Datura Metel in flower

Carlos Castenada and Hunter S. Thompson

The best-selling authors Carlos Castenada and Hunter S. Thompson made mention of Datura as a mind-altering drug in their books The Teachings of Don Juan and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas respectively. This brought this herb to the attention of recreational drug users and also people interested in shamanism and exploration of the human mind but because of the very real dangers resulting from consumption of Datura a warning needs to be made clear that these herbs are poisonous and can result in insanity and death.

In Castaneda's book, which is centred around the teachings of a Yaqui medicine man or sage, Datura is called by its alternative name of Jimsonweed and is referred to as a "power plant" because of its magical properties.

Thompson's work of fiction involves a lot of descriptions of drug abuse by the main characters and Datura is one of the substances named.

Although Datura does bring about extreme delerium and hallucinatory states it can also cause very real heart problems, unconsciousness, damage to the eyesight and death.  The plant is related to Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Mandrake (Mandragora officinalis) and Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), which are all in the Solanaceae family of plants and which contain the toxic tropane alkaloids atropine, scopolamine and hyoscine in various amounts.

Bard of Ely talks about Datura

Datura or Thorn-apple described

Thorn-apple is a fast-growing half-hardy annual plant that in ideal settings with plenty of moisture in the ground can reach as much as two metres in height but is usually a lot shorter, and can flower when just a foot or so high. It has triangular lobed leaves and white or purplish tinged funnel-shaped flowers that develop into curious looking spiky green seed pods that are similar in many ways those of the Horse Chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) being green and covered in spines. The whole plant has a noxious smell.

It self-seeds itself very easily and often grows in large numbers on freshly turned soil. It is one of the food plants of the massive and spectacular caterpillar of the Death's Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos).

Datura is sacred to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva, who is aptly associated with death and destruction. The herb is mentioned in the Vedas, the Holy Books of the Hindu religion.

Medicinally it has been used to treat asthma and for combating Parkinson's Disease but, as already pointed out it is too dangerous for domestic usage or consumption.

The plant got the name Jimson Weed as a corruption of Jamestown, and the story goes that in 1676, soldiers who were meant to stop the Jamestown rebellions in North American history were unable to do so because they all became extremely intoxicated after mistakenly cooking and eating this plants leaves instead of edible wild greens. The same thing reportedly once happened in 38 B.C. to Mark Anthony's legion.

In Spanish it is aptly known as Hierba del Diablo, which translates as "Herb of the Devil."

A Datura flower opens


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    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Tenerife

      Thank you, Eiddwen!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Very useful and I am sure many will benefit from this hub.

      I now look forward to reading many more of your hubs.

      take care


    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Tenerife

      Yes, the bright colours are known as "warning colours". But it is only when there are more than one in a bold contrast such as black spots on a ladybird. The datura plant is poisonous to humans but its nectar is fine for hawk moths and humming birds and its leaves feed the caterpillar of the Death's Head hawk.

    • The Mad Aunt profile image

      The Mad Aunt 

      7 years ago from Wales

      It always strikes me as weird how so many beautiful things can be poisonous. I've heard it said that any plants or insects with bright colours must be dangerous, it's their way of alerting other creatures. I think my mother told me that when I was a kid. We always lived in the country and went berry picking.


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