I am dedicating this post to fellow blogger James Missier of Garden Chronicles, for he has just recently enlightened me to a startling matter. I have learned that in some parts of the world, people actually pay money for that ubiquitous Southern tree decoration, Spanish moss. They grow it in their gardens intentionally. I am shocked to say the least! Now I have heard many Southern writers wax eloquent on the subject of Spanish moss hanging from our beloved Southern Live Oaks. It reminds them of the land of their birth and all. It's graceful too, or something like that. Personally, I don't get it. Never have. That stuff chokes our trees down here. Yes, I know that it is not a parasite and does not feed off any living organism.
“You planted WHAT???!!!” I can just hear my mother exclaiming those words…if she only knew. But so far I have kept it secret. I do have just a tinge of guilt for having planted this monster. Why do they keep selling these beauties at the nurseries, tempting me year after year?
I grew up here in Central Florida, raised by a mother who was obsessed with informing the world of this plant’s evils. We children were warned of it every time we passed such a plant, and we even witnessed our mother stopping to warn the “naïve” owner of such plant and “highly suggest” that they remove it. It was a very serious matter to her. A crusade, really. When I was in 4th grade, my mother was actually one of my teachers. I remember a lesson one afternoon in which she passed out flyers listing Florida’s poisonous plants. It had full-color photos and everything! She gave a cursory mention of the other ten or so plants on the list, but she finished the hour haranguing the evils of the Angel’s Trumpet. It was the first time any of us had ever heard the word hallucinogenic. I have to admit she captivated the class with real-life horror stories involving this plant. She took a show of hands to see if anyone had this growing in their yard. I’m sure she hunted down their parents later. Anyway, we were all so frightened by the end of the lesson that I wonder if any of my former 4th grade classmates have ever planted the dread trumpet in their adulthood.
That afternoon, her stories included her own, very personal experience with this plant, one I had heard many times before and since. I will retell it in my own words, hoping I remember all the details right. When I was just a wee babe, my mother was standing in our neighbor’s yard shootin’ the breeze. I rested on her hip, but my 2½-year-old sister was running around all over the place. Suddenly, my sister started screaming hysterically. Utter nonsense came out of her mouth…there were giant trains coming straight at her…big spiders...and a witch. She was sweating profusely, and her eyes were glazed. She was rushed to the hospital, where her hysterics continued in the ER. Unable to restrain her and clueless as to her condition, the doctors ordered that she be placed in a caged crib. This is when a nurse noticed that she had something in her clenched fists. They pried her hands open and found the remnants of several angel’s trumpet flowers. The doctors then recognized the symptoms. It was assumed that she somehow got juices from the blooms into her mouth. She spent a horrible night at the hospital and, fortunately, had a complete recovery. It is easy to see how this would strike fear in the heart of a young mom. And it could have been much worse, considering the potential danger of this plant. By the way, the neighbor's plant was removed.
So, to alleviate my guilt, I am passing on my mother’s warning to all:
Isn't it amazing that something so beautiful can be so evil? The one pictured in this post, that I actually planted, is usually referred to as the Devil's Trumpet (Datura metel). I do badly want an Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia) as well, but they are pricy. It is much larger and would be impossible to hide. The difference between the two is that Datura's trumpets point upward as though they are being played from the ground, while the Angel's trumpets droop downward as though angels are playing them. Regardless, the two are closely related, and both are sometimes referred to as Angel's Trumpets. All parts of both of these plants are highly toxic.