Deadly Nightshades

By Glenn I. Teves, County Extension Agent, UH College of Tropical Agriculture

The recent deaths of horses, mules and cattle on the island believed to be caused by consuming poisonous plants mixed in hay brings attention to the many poisonous plants we have on the island. The most obvious suspect is one of the deadly nightshades, Jimson Weed or Datura stramonium, seen throughout Ho`olehua. It is known by many names, including Stink Weed, Devil’s Apple, Thorn Apple, and Moonflower. This plant resembles the Apple of Peru, Nycandra physalodes, a common weed in Ho`olehua, and one in which animals eat without any negative effects. It has a similar flower and leaf shape, which could cause animals to eat Jimson Weed by mistake.

A member of the tomato family, or Solanaceae, the poisonous nightshades caused edible members of this family, especially tomatoes, to be viewed for generations with apprehension because people thought they were poisonous. Jimson weed or Jamestown Weed has a reputation that goes back centuries. Its scientific name, stramonium, means ‘mad nightshade’ due to its reputation for making people delirious or mad.

Its common name originated from Jamestown, Virginia where, in 1676, the British were sent to crush a rebellion, called the Bacon’s Rebellion. The British made a boiled salad from the Jimson Weed leaves, and were delirious for 11 days. When they came to their senses, they couldn’t remember a thing.