It is quite fascinating to observe and witness the different seasons, or perhaps stages in Southern California. Our year is roughly divided only into a dry and a wet season, but with many nuances. And what season one might perceive depends on location and altitude too of course. In San Diego County, we have an incredible diversity, from eroded coastal sandstone bluffs through foothills with chaparral and sagebrush, up to the highest elevations of the back country with forested mountain slopes – and ultimately dropping down into the dry and dusty desert.
In such a rich and diverse place (California as a whole is a biodiversity hot-spot), multiple plants naturally occupy the same spot, they come and go and one replaces another as the year progresses – where wildflowers blossomed in early spring, Vinegarweed takes that place in summer. Taller counterparts like the countless Goldenrods and -bushes or Telegraph Weed take over when the Penstemons and Centauries fade. One plant though is a steady sight, through all our eco-regions and climates, and almost throughout the year it seems: Datura wrightii, commonly called Western Jimsonweed, Angel Trumpet, Sacred Datura, Thorn Apple, Moon Lily, but also Locoweed, Hierba del Diablo, Devil’s Trumpet, …
I made photos of them in February at Lake Hodges. I saw perfectly white Datura in July near the coast. It made an appearance in my photo of the month for August, from a trail just 10 minutes away from our house. And most recently, we found it in bloom at the higher elevations of San Diego County, where nights are pretty cold already, in the middle of November. It’s about time to give it the attention it deserves – despite the “weed” in some of its common names.
These common names, as well as the whole thing about the medicinal, narcotic and hallucinogenic properties in traditional and ceremonial uses of Datura seem to span over a couple of Datura species actually – depending on where you look you may find both Datura wrightii and Datura stramonium associated with the “Sacred Datura” name, and these properties. Datura stramonium has been observed only a handful of times in San Diego County though, whereas Datura wrightii grows here in abundance. The two can be most easily kept apart by the differences of the leaves: D. stramonium has shiny, vibrant green leaves, D. wrightii more hairy and grey-green leaves.
They’re all in the nightshade (Solanacaea) family by the way, together with potatoes and tomatoes – but all parts of Datura are poisonous and potentially lethal when ingested. The bugs don’t seem to mind though – the beautiful flowers and leaves usually don’t stay in pristine condition very long as insects take a bite or two, and bees seem to feast on the nectar that accumulates at the bottom of the funnel-shaped flower.
And the flower itself is the real star of the plant of course: in its different stages it is fascinating to observe – from the long and thin bud the blossom emerges, rolled up in a most intricate manner at first. To think how it grows folded like that makes you realize what a miracle nature really is. The flower looks almost leathery at that point, with a yellow-gray color, to turn white with soft purple fringes as it unfurls into its trumpet shape with the prominent set of triple-ribs that separate the five segments. At higher elevations in November, perhaps due to the night time temperatures, I observed purple hues spreading over the entire papery flower, revealing patterns that otherwise remain hidden in the pure white. No wonder it is a much revered plant…
But enough with the words – here are the photos.