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spiky seed pod weed

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Flowers and seedpods short-stalked, borne singly in the angles between 2 or more stems and a leaf. The calyx is tubular or urn-shaped. The corolla is white or light purple, very long, tubular or trumpet-shaped, 7-10cm long with the flared end having 5 points. The seedpod is at first green and fleshy with sharp, soft spines, becoming a large (2-5cm across), dry, hard seedpod covered with very sharp, harsh spines and containing numerous black, flat, round seeds. Flowers from July to autumn.

All parts of the plant are poisonous.

Habitat

Jimsonweed occurs in the warmer parts of southern Ontario in cultivated fields and around farmyards.

Cotyledons (seed leaves) are narrow and about 2-4cm long, shriveling but persisting on the developing seedling. The first true leaves are ovate with pointed tips and few or no lobes. Later leaves distinctly alternate (1 per node), usually somewhat coarsely and sharply toothed or lobed, 10-20cm long and long-stalked.

It is distinguished by its tall, stout, branched stem (like small trees), large leaves, large, white or purplish trumpet-shaped flowers, large spiny seedpod and sour repulsive odour.

Having grown up in Virginia, I was intrigued by one of the common names I saw recurring in my plant books—Jamestown weed—and researched the origins. One story simply connects the first New World observations of the plant to settlers in this early Virginia colony. A more famous tale tells of the plant’s accidental ingestion by some British soldiers sent there to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. After eating some in a stew, the soldiers spent 11 days in a hallucinatory stupor, blowing feathers, kissing and pawing their companions, and making faces and grinning “like monkey[s].”

The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.

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Though the trumpet-shaped flowers are stunning, my favorite part of the plant is the devilish-looking seedpod. The size of a Ping-Pong ball and covered in spikes, the seed capsule splits into four parts like a monster’s maw, revealing the dark brown seeds inside. In the winter you might notice its tall, dry stalks bearing the prickly seedpods, which to me look like the scepter for a demon. With all its extraordinary looks and lore, jimson weed is a fascinating plant to contemplate (but maybe not cultivate)!

Jimson weed’s white to purple blooms are fragrant at night, attracting moths and other nocturnal pollinators, a common trait in white-bloomed plants. The rest of the plant, however, is stinky! Crush and sniff the oaklike leaves, and you’ll understand why domesticated and wild animals avoid eating this plant—it smells a bit like feet. Indeed, accidental poisonings tend be more common among humans than among other animals.

The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.