Jimsonweed: Sticky and Stinky
Though you might expect to learn about plants in in a science class, there are a few weeds that may have come up in your history class, too.
In 1676, a potion prepared from a weed that was used to pacify distressed soldiers of the Bacon Rebellion at Jamestown, Virginia brought on unexpected delusions and abnormal behavior. This infamous weed was Jamestown weed, or what we now know as Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium). It was introduced to Jamestown, where it was grown to make healing salves to treat burns, from England. Mention of its poisonous and therapeutic attributes are present in ancient literature of many civilizations.
Jimsonweed is a weed of concern for both humans and livestock, owing its poisonous nature to certain alkaloids present in all plant parts, especially in the seeds. It belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and possesses a disagreeable odor. It is a herbaceous summer annual plant that can grow 3 to 5 feet tall and is characterized by thick purple stems and large, white to purple flowers. Black seeds with a hard seed coat are borne in a spiny pod that splits open along four sutures. Seeds can remain dormant in the soil for more than 40 years. Poisons are present both in fresh and dried plant parts, such as hay or silage.
Jimsonweed thrives in cultivated fields, overgrazed pastures and waste lots. Animals typically stay away from this distasteful weed while foraging; however, accidental poisoning has occurred when desirable plants or water are in short supply during the hot, summer months. Children that are attracted by its large, showy flowers have occasionally been poisoned by accidental consumption of the nectar or petals.
Instances of jimsonweed poisoning have been reported more frequently in humans than in animals and can be fatal. Medical attention is often needed immediately after use. Common symptoms include rapid pulse and breathing, dilated pupils, restlessness, nervousness, muscular twitching, diarrhea, depression and weight loss. In fatal cases, the pulse remains rapid, yet weak, breathing becomes slow and irregular, body temperature becomes subnormal, urine may be retained and convulsions or coma precede death.
Jimsonweed has a shallow root system that readily succumbs to cultivation or hand-weeding, especially during early stages of plant growth. Contact with plant parts will not trigger any allergic reactions, such as rashes. Selective broadleaf herbicides such as 2,4-D (several formulations) or tank-mixtures containing both 2,4-D and dicamba (Weed Master) or 2,4-D and triclopyr (Crossbow) will provide good control of this weed.
Author: Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist
Last Reviewed: June 2018
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