Even on a misty, early-Autumn day, the Orangery is a bright, light-filled space. Growing happily in one corner is a species of Brugmansia, its orange “Angel’s Trumpets” and large foliage bright against the whitewashed walls. And then there’s the fragrance – released at night to attract moths and lingering throughout the day…
Brugmansia is a tropical plant from South America but can be grown successfully here provided it gets plenty of heat. As a member of the Solanaceae family, it is related to plants like tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. It is an evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub and will grow well in a container in a conservatory or greenhouse. The plants can be put outdoors in a warm spot during the frost free summer months.
There are seven basic types of Brugmansia and an ever-growing number of hybrids. These seven basic species are divided into two natural, genetically isolated groups – warm and cold. It is considered extinct in its natural habitat but has been successfully naturalised in many warm continents such as Australia and North America. The plant is easy to propagate from seeds or cuttings. Brugmansia has two main growing stages. Initially the young seedlings will grow straight up on a single stalk. At around 2/3 feet, it will produce a fork or a Y. It won’t flower until it reaches this stage and the flowers will only appear on the new growth above the fork.
The best time to prune large plants is in Autumn. But you should always leave around 6 to 10 nodes on the branches above the Y, as this is where next years flowers will grow. They are thirsty plants but need good root drainage.
Brugmansia is sometimes referred to as Datura, the old botanical name given to it by Carl Linneaus. Linneaus (the subject of a wonderful documentary last Saturday on Mooney Goes Wild, RTE Radio), made this classification in 1753 and in 1805, Persoon, the Dutch botanist transferred the classification to Brugmansia (based on the name of Dutch naturalist Sebald Brugmans). In 1973, T.E.Lockwood divided the two genera, Datura and Brugmansia and they have been considered separate ever since. Datura’s flowers are more upright and upward facing than those of the Brugmansia, which are more pendulous. Datura, which is a shorter-lived, smaller plant, has spines on its fruit while the skin of the Brugmansia fruit is smooth.
More informally, when it comes to names, it’s said that Brugmansia is called “Angel’s Trumpet” because the flowers point downward towards the devil and Datura is called “Devil’s Trumpet” as these flowers are pointing upward to Heaven.
Much is made of Brugmansia’s toxicity and hallucinatory potential and all parts of the plant are considered poisonous. In South America, indigenous tribes have used it for medicinal purposes. Tribal shamans have used it in rituals. In the US, the plant was banned in the city of Maitland, Florida when it became popular among teenagers, culminating in 1994 in the admittance of 112 people to hospital, suffering severe side-effects from drinking tea made from the plant. The medical journal Pathology describes the effects as “terrifying rather than pleasurable”.
If nature is a form of art, then like an art gallery we make the usual recommendation – “Look but don’t touch”. The sight and fragrance of these pale orange trumpets is intoxicating and pleasing enough in itself.
With thanks to Frameyard volunteer Edwina for her botanical expertise and advice.
All photography copyright Fotaframeyardblog