As is our family tradition, we went to Rombachs Farms to pick pumpkins last weekend. Many families made the pilgrimage that sunny Saturday, towing wagons, pushing strollers, and taking photos of ruddy-cheeked children among the pumpkins.
We enjoyed walking through the demonstration gardens. The sunflowers were drooping, looking penitent. Most everything had gone to seed–cotton, okra, broom straw–but the bees were still at work among the pumpkins.
In the pumpkin fields we noticed these low-rise plants with purple, squash-like blossoms.
They looked innocent enough, but the seed pods had a menacing appearance.
When we got home, I did some research and learned that, indeed, it is a wicked plant: Datura stramonium, aka Jimson weed, a member of the nightshade family. The name Jimson weed is an elided version of its original moniker: Jamestown weed. Amy Stewart, in Wicked Plants, explains that some of the first settlers of Jamestown Island in Virginia ate this weed and died horrible deaths. Seventy years later, the survivors and their offspring, remembering the effects of ingesting this plant, fed it to unsuspecting British soldiers when the soldiers arrived to deal with Bacon’s Rebellion. According to Stewart, “the British soldiers did not die, but they did go crazy for eleven days, temporarily giving the colonists the upper hand.” The seeds and the leaves can induce hallucinations, fevers and seizures and cause death.
There’s a scary Halloween story for you!