Datura, commonly known as angel's trumpet or devil's trumpet, is the perfect plant for a greenhouse or conservatory. All told, there are fewer than a dozen species of Datura, although this is somewhat in flux. Datura is closely related to the genus Brugmansia, and indeed, it's easy for many people to confuse the two.
The most common true Datura feature large, pendant, trumpet-shaped flowers in purple or white. When in heavy bloom, few plants can approach the Datura for sheer beauty, which helps explain why the plant has been in cultivation so long despite the fact that every part of the plant—the flowers, seeds, and leaves—are toxic.
In places where Datura are viable outdoors, it's common to read news stories about people dying from Datura poisoning after ingesting parts of the plant. Provided you have a protected area where no children or pets will have access to the plants, there are few more lovely tropical plants.
- Light: Datura does best in full or close to full sun. The more light, the better in general. Datura is a truly tropical species that does not take kindly to colder temperatures; cold drafts are likely to result in leaf drop, and frost will kill it.
- Water: Regular watering during the growing season to keep the soil moist at all times, but not soaking. During the winter, reduce watering somewhat, but never let the soil completely dry out. They are occasionally deciduous in the winter.
- Fertilizer: Feed weekly with a weak liquid fertilizer that encourages blooming.
- Soil: A light, fast-draining potting soil is perfect. You can use fortified soils.
Datura is propagated by seed. The genus is distinguished from Brugmansia by its fruits, which are covered in spiny projections. Typically, people buy Datura as transplants, however, and forgo the step of propagating the seeds.
Datura is fast-growing and should be repotted every spring into a slightly larger pot. Full-grown plants will reach a maximum height of 5 to 8 feet, so will be difficult to repot successfully. For larger plants, scrape off the top several inches of soil and replace it with fresh potting soil. Add controlled-release fertilizer at the same time.
Surprisingly little is known about the origin of the species; because of their exceptional beauty, Datura has been in cultivation for centuries and has spread throughout the tropical world.
Note that many of the popular species have alternative names in the Brugmansia genus, including the D. affinis (B. aurea) and D. arborea (B. arborea). Choose your cultivar based on the color of its flowers and structure. Single- and double-blooms are available.
Datura is tropical but not as difficult as many beautiful tropical plants. Although they do have a low tolerance for cold weather, they are very tolerant of poor quality soil and drought. Similarly, although they prefer full sun, they are adaptable to shadier conditions. Plants that are grown under less-than-ideal conditions will frequently become leggy and will have smaller and fewer flowers.
Their reputation for toxicity is compounded by rumors that the plants are somehow hallucinogenic or can be treated as a drug. This is not true, and often results in tragic news stories every year. There is no safe level of ingestion for Datura and no way to process parts of the plant to create an illicit drug. If you worry that someone will have access to the plant who might be interested in ingesting it, avoid growing them. Datura are not especially susceptible to pests, but will occasionally suffer from mealybugs and aphids.