Massive moonflower puts on a big show

This huge datura, commonly called moon flower, covers itself in white blooms. Photo courtesy of Judy Emberton

Judy Emberton  told me she had a huge moon flower in her yard.

Evidently, Judy is a master of understatement.  As this photo shows, it’s actually gigantic.

Judy says this is the third year the plant has come back in her Carthage, Texas, yard.

“It came up from the seeds of another moon flower in a nearby bed,” she said. “It is on the northeast side of my house, but gets long hours of afternoon sun. Actually, it gets sun almost all day. The plant gets very little water. I just leave it alone and let nature take care of the rest. I do trim a good bit of it from time to time for mowing purposes. This is by far the biggest it has made it.”

While the proper name of this plant is datura, it goes by several common names, including moon flower, thorn apple, devil’s trumpet, devil’s horn and angel’s trumpet, which is also a common name for brugmansia. How do you tell the difference? Brugmansia flowers hang down like bells. Datura flowers face up.

“It’s a Western weed, but we grow it as an ornamental,” said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins. “It is less root hardy than brugmansia but can survive a mild winter. If you want to keep it, collect the thorny seed capsules in the fall and replant in the spring. Also roots easily as a cutting, but then you have to protect it over winter and the seedlings usually grow so fast they catch up with the cuttings anyway. It naturalizes in the West but not here.”

And if you’re wondering why something so pretty is so often called “devil’s something,” maybe it’s because the plant is poisonous to both people and animals.

“It’s a lovely plant, but one of the reasons we teach children not to taste garden plants,” Denyse said.

Some creatures find their flower nectar irresistible, though.

“There are always many, many hummingbird moths all through the evening, and the plant is covered in honey bees during the morning hours,” Judy said. “It is especially fun to watch the moths go deep into the throat of the flower and emerge to go to the next. There are, however, enough flowers to go around for all who come.”