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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Datura stramonium, a sacred but poisonous weed

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Many of us in India know Datura plant since our childhood. In my school days I used to like this plant especially its trumpet shaped peculiar flowers with a peculiar smell. We used to play with its flowers and fruits though we knew through our elders that its fruits were poisonous and never dared to eat it. On the occasion of Maha Shiv Ratri, our elders used to collect Datura Leaves, flowers and fruits along with Bel Patra, Bhang, Ber fruits and pieces of Desi sugar cane. Ber and sugar cane pieces were (they still are) consumed as Prasad. In the Lingaraj temple of Bhubaneswar, in Orissa state of India, Bel Patra and parts of Datura plant are used as offering to the Lord Shiva.

Datura is the name of a plant genus derived from DHATURA which is a word known to Hindus through traditions, culture and religion. Datura as known in Hindu traditions, culture and religion is the name of a sacred plant which is beloved to Lord Shiva, the creator of this universe, as per the Hindu mythology. The first word Datura of the botanical name:  Datura stramonium seems as if derived from the same Hindu word. The second word as per the binomial system of botanical nomenclature is originally taken from the Greek “Strychnos” and “Manikos” where Strychnos means night shade and Manikos means mad.The plant was scientifically described and named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, though many herbalists had already described it before him. Nicholas Culpeper and Avicenna, the Persian physician were two such herbalists.

Its common names are Jimson weed, angel’s trumpet, devil’s weed, thorn apple, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, moonflower and malpitte or mad seeds (in South Africa).

Morphological Features
Datura stramonium is an upright or somewhat erect herb which often forms a bush rising up from 1 to 1.5 meter. It belongs to family Solanaceae.

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The plant Datura stramonium has a simple morphology. The glabrous, cylindrical and light green coloured stem of this plant is usually divided into two or three branches that bifurcate and bear leaves that being heavy weighed usually hang down wards, become pale in short time and fall down.

Leaves are inequilaterally- ovate and acuminate with sinuate-dentate margins. These are simple, ex-stipulate, peteolate, cuneate or sometimes rounded, reticulate venation with pubescent surfaces.

 The inflorescence is axillary solitary cyme and sometimes terminal in forked branches. Flowers are usually white- bluish in colour with peculiar trumpet like shape. They appear in the forks of branches and bear short peduncles. These are ebracteates, bracteolate, pedicellate, bisexual, actinomorphic, pentamerous and hypogynous.

Calyx synsepalous, tubular, long, 5-toothed, the lobes ovate-lanceolate, in fruit circumcise above the base, and the upper part is deciduous. Corolla synpetalous, infundibuliform, 5-lobed, the tubes tubular, dilated towards the throat, the mouth wide, the lobes plicate, cuspidate, white.

Androecium polyandrous, stamens 5, epipetalous, near base of corolla tube, the filaments filiform, the anthers dithecous, oblongoid, basified, introrse, dehiscence longitudinal.

Pistil 1, ovary ovoid, longitudinal grooved, covered with emergences, 2-carpelled, syncarpous, 4-loculed by false septation, the placentation axile, the ovules numerous on intruding placentae, the style slender, the stigma 2-lobed. 

The fruits of Datura stramonium when young are green and spiny. They are four valved internally and are termed as capsule by botanists. When fruits are ripe, the capsule opens at the top, throwing back four valve like forms, leaving a long central structure which bears numerous black seeds.

Habit and Habitat of the plant
Datura is found all over the world. It grows in sandy areas, plains and deserts up to 2,500 feet above the sea level and even in disturbed soil. It is native to many countries of the world including United States of America and India. In general it is found in most of the temperate and sub tropical parts of the world. In India it can be seen growing in waste land and along roadsides.

 In Europe Datura plant is found as a weed on wasteland and on garbage dumps. The seeds of this plant have been reported to lie dormant for years and can grow whenever the soil is disturbed.

Key Words
Datura, Dhatur, Lord Shiva, Shivratri, family Solanaceae, Jimson weed, angel’s trumpet, devil’s weed, thorn apple, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, moonflower, malpitte, mad seeds

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