Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Search Challenge (11/4/15): The story behind a beautiful white flower?

I was out running... 

... in Southern California last July.  As I ran, I found a remarkable white flower growing by the side of the road near the Santa Monica mountains.  It's a large and beautiful flower, maybe 4 inches across, and quite striking.    

Seein it there was a bit as though I'd fallen into a Georgia O'Keefe painting.  It really is a beautiful plant, and it was growing on the roadside, apparently unplanted, and uncared-for by anyone.  

But I've looked up this remarkable plant before, so I know a bit about it.  Can you recreate my search trail? 

Here are a couple of questions to get you going into investigating this plant... 

1.  What's the name of this plant?  (Both common and Latin names.) 
2.  Is there a possible connection between this plant and zombies?  (I know, we should have had this question last week, just before Halloween...)  
3. Why do people think this plant might suggest that travelers from the Americas could have visited Europe well before Columbus?  

Can you figure this out?  What else can you find out about this remarkable (and surprising) plant? 

Let us know HOW you found out!  

Search on! 


  1. Good Morning, Dr. Russell and everyone.


    [D2 Image] with "Search Google for this Image"

    Convolvulus = Convolvulus arvensis, field bindweed, bind weed?
    Sacred Datura flower?

    video of the Sacred Datura includes Hummingbird Moth

    [D1 Image] with "Search Google for this Image" and "Datura flower"]

    [Datura stramonium]

    [Datura stramonium AROUND(3) Columbus]

    Datura mentioned in Chinese early texts.

    [Datura stramonium AROUND(3) zombies]

    ["Datura stramonium" intext:"venus and Mars"]

    High Art: Were Botticelli's Venus And Mars Stoned? How could this element of Mars and Venus have been ignored by scholars for centuries? Bellingham's theory is that most art historians tend to pay close attention to "the more obviously human elements" of paintings while ignoring the "flora and fauna."


    1. What's the name of this plant? (Both common and Latin names.)
    Datura Stramonium L. - Named by Carl Linnaeus as published in Species Plantarum (1753)

    Datura stramonium, known by the common names Jimson weed or Devil's snare

    2. Is there a possible connection between this plant and zombies? (I know, we should have had this question last week, just before Halloween...)
    Wikipedia article mentions: "In his book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Canadian ethnobotanist Wade Davis identified D. stramonium, called "zombi (sic) cucumber" in Haiti, as a central ingredient of the concoction vodou priests use to create zombies."

    3. Why do people think this plant might suggest that travelers from the Americas could have visited Europe well before Columbus?
    ecently, art historian David Bellingham has argued that Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars” depicts the gods in the throes of Datura induced delirium. However not everyone is convinced, since the painting was likely completed before Columbus sailed for the New World and a number of botanists believe that Datura stramonium is native to the Americas. Comments say: "The plant is very well known in the Eurasian continent before Columbus ‘ voyages, The one from the Americas is the brugmansia plant, the one from Asia is the datura stramonium or datura metel. (be aware of the blue or lilac metel variation, sometimes you find it in Berlin near the old railways...."

  2. Replies
    1. Hello Remmij, thanks for the links. I am sure we will find as always new knowledge.

      I was thinking about this flower because remembered seeing it here. And looking for information found that Daturas are Mexican and here Toloache is very well know for many. In this link more information about Toloache, origin, uses and more. Toloache by UNAM

    2. Remmij -- Why... YES... that IS my plant! Good eyes!

  3. Replies
    1. After reading some of Remmij's links and with Dr. Russell's O'Keefe photo, [georgia o'keeffe intext:toloache] results show what you already mentioned, Remmij: Datura Wrighii

  4. Scary plant here in Alberta -

    Origin India, drug use good or bad depends

    1. Coincidence - my spanish class today we read this article "Plantas mágicas y sagradas de la medicina indígena"

      Notice the first image (poor I know) that appears to be the same plant. In the article a plant called Toloache is mentioned and translated means "jimson weed". The article talks about the uses of plants by chamanes (shamans) which seemed to have come to the "new world" by way of Siberia. It mentions "otras leguminosas se usan en ceremonias de brujería parecidas en general al uso del toloache enloquecer enemigos o controlar a otras personas" [ Used in witchcraft ceremonies and in general to drive their enemies mad/insane or to control them]. Rámon I hope you enjoy and perhaps can give us your take.

    2. Hello, RoseMary. Thanks for sharing. I already posted something about [Toloache planta]

      Compilación sobre los usos medicinales del toloache (Datura inoxia P. Mill.) en México

      [Toloache planta UNAM]

      Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana

      Toloache, una planta poco conocida

      Shamans and other people use it and also sometimes to make people fall in love. I don't think plant works for that but some say is very powerful.

  5. I thought morning glory then datura. IMAGES found lots of datura hits but which variety is yours ?

    Georgia O keefe next where her painting you cite is called Jimson Weed (1932) has lots. The plant takes its common name from Jamestown, Virginia, where, in 1676, a group of English soldiers were poisoned after they used the leaves of the plant in a salad. Site also has a great pix.

    Calflora was the next stop. It finds among others datura wrightii. Native. found in your area.

    Then to Calphoto where it sure looks like d. wrightii.

    Then to Jepson where there is more confirmation of this name.

    Confusingly common names are used for several different plants: ie jimson weed, thornapple, toluaca including this one.

    Whole-plant image shows the fruits but just barely

    Your plant has 5 'teeth' or narrow points and so does d. wrightii

    wikipedia has a detailed discussion of d. wrightii. Here and the other places note its use as a hallucinogen

    3) [datura wrightii pre columbian] finds this excellent piece called

    Historical evidence for a pre-Columbian presence of Datura in the Old World and implications for a first millennium transfer from the New World....Datura sp. originated in the Americas.
    " We draw on old Arabic and Indic texts and southern Indian iconographic representations to show that there is conclusive evidence for the pre-Columbian presence of at least one species of Datura in the Old World. Given the systematic evidence for a New World origin of the genus, the most plausible explanation for this presence is a relatively recent but pre-Columbian (probably first millennium CE) transfer of at least one Datura species"

    This was fun. And doable.


  6. I found the same results as above. Rather than do the image search, I worked the Georgia O'Keefe angle and found her painting of Jimson Weed and then once I had that name, I found the Latin name, etc. However, I did find an interesting link for the zombie question: It took about 10-15 minutes.

  7. R. Crumb's Mr. Natural passes Dan's Devil's snare location with Georgia Totto apparition…courtesy of Google street view -

  8. Intently answering without much search and without reading other replies, just to find out how bad this can be (or how lucky to have chosen an effective search path…)

    1. Select "travelers from the Americas could have visited Europe well before Columbus" directly on my email message, right-click and choose Google Search. First result: Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories - Wikipedia ....
    2. CTRL-F [ plant ]. First result: "Claims involving sweet potato".
    3. Followed the link to sweet potato. Image of the flower seems to match.
    4. CTRL+F [ zomb ]. No results.
    5. Googles search [ sweet potato zombies ]. First result: Sweet Potato - Plants vs. Zombies Wiki - Wikia.

    1. Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). Nice! In Portuguese, potato is "batata" and sweet potato is "batata-doce" (literally sweet potato).
    2. "Sweet Potatoes attract zombies from other lanes when they are close by." (I realize this is from a game called "Plants vs Zombies" but I assume it takes from "common knowledge" about zombies — if there's such a thing…
    3. "It has been suggested that it was brought by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, or that South Americans brought it to the Pacific. It is likely that the plant could successfully float across the ocean by natural means. Phylogenetic analysis supports the hypothesis of at least two separate introductions of sweet potatoes from South America into Polynesia, including one before and one after European contact."

  9. And there are lots of sites that tell us things like sweet potato and sugar and datura (natural source of scopolamine) could help induce zombie hallucinations.

    Cheers, jon sipping a glass of wine instead