Jimsonweed, belonging to the nightshade-family, is an annual herbaceous plant with a disagreeable odor. Growing several feet tall, it is characterized by irregularly toothed leaves and funnel-shaped and purplish or white flowers. They produce prickly fruits about 2 inches long with small kidney-shaped seeds, brownish or black in color.
The toxic properties of Jimsonweed have been well recognized from the early days. The entire plant is poisonous— especially the leaves—and more so, the seeds. This plant contains a narcotic poison, called stramonium. Stramonium is not only a potent hallucinogen but also a toxic poison.
Common symptoms include rapid pulse and breathing, dilated pupils, restlessness, nervousness, muscular twitching, diarrhea, depression, anorexia and weight loss. In fatal cases, the pulse remains rapid but weak, breathing becomes slow and irregular, body temperature becomes subnormal, urine may be retained and convulsions or coma precede death.
Jimsonweed is poisonous to animals, but because of its strong odor and unpleasant taste, animals rarely eat enough of the green plant to be fatally poisoned. In cattle, early signs of poisoning include excitability, tremors, nervousness, bloat and anorexia. Occasionally, death is reported. In other animals like goat and sheep, jimsonweed causes tremors, drowsiness, inability to stand, altered motion and reduced drinking.
Hungry animals should not be left to graze in fields having this weed. Most cases of livestock poisoning occur after the animals have consumed hay containing dried parts of jimsonweed. Hence, it is imperative to completely remove this weed from pastures or meadows, especially before making hay.
Proper sanitation and prevention are ideal ways to control this weed. Hand pulling, hoeing and other mechanical control strategies work well if the infestation is isolated. Chemical control is warranted for instances of high weed pressure or widespread infestations. Chemical control is most effective during spring months when the weed is actively growing.
Author: Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist
Last Reviewed: May 2017
Barclay, A. S. 1959. Studies in the genus Datura (Solanaceae): Taxonomy of subgenus Datura . Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University, 1959.
El Dirdiri N.I., Wasfi I.A., Adam S.E.I. 1981. Toxicity of Datura stramonium to sheep and goats. Vet. Hum. Toxicol. 23 (4), 242-246
Nelson P.D, Mercer H.D., Essig W., Minyard J.P. 1982 Jimsonweed seed toxicity in cattle . Vet. Hum. Toxicol. 24: 321-325