An Unwelcome Summer Visitor.

In the hot summer of 1976 I was working in a Daventry office which had a patio with flower beds. One August morning, someone discovered a new and unusual looking plant which had appeared in the flower bed almost overnight. It had something of a sinister appearance and fortunately, as it turned out, none of us touched it or lingered near it. At that time we had periodic visits from a qualified landscape architect and he immediately identified it as Datura Stramonium, commonly known as Thorn Apple. He explained that the seed could lie dormant in the soil for many years until suitably hot conditions occurred so as to replicate its South American origin. He also described its toxic and hallucinogenic properties, forbade us to go near it and promptly disposed of it.

When just such a plant appeared a few days ago in our garden at Dippers Cottage in Little Street my mind went back to that amazing summer 42 years ago and the alien plant. I took photographs and eventually found comparable ones on the Royal Horticultural Society website, which contained the following information:

Datura Stramonium, also known as Devil’s Apple, Trumpet or Snare has large, pale, trumpet shaped flowers and spiny pods. Its leaves give off a pungent nauseating odour and the flowers smell sweet, but both are narcotic and can induce hallucinations or stupor if breathed in for too long. The plant, which could grow to 12ft high, is said to create an inability to differentiate fantasy from reality, causing amnesia, hypothermia and even violent behaviour. A member of the Deadly Nightshade family, its poison causes dry mouth, blurred vision, heart irregularities, hallucinations, and eventually coma and death in severe cases. It is traditionally used by South American Indians to poison their hunting spears, arrows and fishing hooks. In sacred Hindu ceremonies it is revered by monks for its hallucinogenic properties. A spokesman for the Royal Horticultural Society, said: “These plants are not native to Britain and we think it arrives in bird seed sold to feed wild birds and is generally grown in hot countries where datura is a very common weed indeed. “They belong to the same family as Deadly Nightshade and are highly poisonous if eaten, but they should pose no threat if treated carefully and unwanted plants can be consigned to the compost bin or green waste collection.”

As recommended by the RHS, we promptly and carefully disposed of the plant before it could seed, after taking a number of photos. We tend to buy packs of seeds in Banbury or Brackley on a weekly basis to feed our garden birds and this seems to be the most likely source of this strange and alien plant. I suggest that villagers who do the same thing should examine the neglected corners of their gardens closely before the invader reaches its full height of 12 feet!

Note: Do not bother to report any such occurrence to the local authorities. I tried environmental health departments hoping to get advice from someone. I simply got a recorded message asking me to leave details of my inquiry and my telephone number. I sent photos by email. Needless to say, no-one has responded!

Colin Wootton




3 Responses to “An Unwelcome Summer Visitor.”

  1. Judith says:

    Thanks Colin.

  2. Interesting to hear of The Thorn Apple. I had it growing in a field of potatoes in the early nineties. We had a lot of seagulls following the plough and it was almost certain they had brought the the seed from the a large landfill sight. Gulls are great scavengers. We were able to spray them out and a few returned in the following crop.

  3. Pat Thomas says:

    We have got a Thorn Apple too… did wonder what it was. will get rid of it now. Thanks for the info

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