November 14th, 2010
Datura, a Mystery


Thanks to rains through July this year, a lot of self sown Datura inoxia (I think) sprouted. Most of these were seedlings from plants passed along from Diana at Sharing Nature’s Garden. One of the plants she gave me survived two winters in the ground. It didn’t even die back in the warm winter of 2008/9. However, it froze to the ground in the severe freeze of January 2010. I wasn’t too disappointed because it had sown plenty of seed. I knew there would be no shortage of plants this summer. I was very surprised, though, when it came back from its roots.

In October, I was watering when I noticed a lovely lemon scent. I followed my nose to this datura. None of the other datura flowers had a scent. I looked more carefully and noticed that the flowers on this one plant were larger and that the petals curved back at the lip.
2010-10-04. The lemon-scented flower.

The flowers on the other datura plants did not open as fully and the petals didn’t curl back as much.
2010-10-04. The unscented flower.

The leaves were different, too. The leaves of the scented datura were much wider at the base. The leaves of the unscented datura were more lanceolate.

As the seedpods formed, I could see more differences.

The seeds from the scented plant were fat, round globes. When they split to drop their seeds, the bottom fell out of the globe.

The pods from the unscented plant were more elongated, more egg-shaped. When they split to drop their seeds, the four sides curled back like a banana skin.

The seeds inside differed as well. The seeds from the unscented flowers (left) were smaller and slightly darker brown than the seeds from the lemon scented flowers (right).

I’m not that surprised to discover a lemon-scented datura in my garden. Ten years ago I bought seeds for Datura metel ‘Belle Blanche’ because it was described as having the scent of lemon chiffon pie.

Note: Wikipedia says that Datura metel has fruits that are “knobby, not spiny”. Both of these seedpods look pretty spiny to me. So I’m still not sure I can tell the difference between Datura inoxia and Datura metel. And I don’t know where Datura meteloides comes into it. But at least I can see the difference between these two datura in my garden. If my eyes fail me, the nose knows.

Update: March 1, 2011

The lemon-scented datura is sprouting back from its roots after freezing to the ground during Austin’s two hard freezes in February 2011.

Update: April 5, 2011

First flower.

by M Sinclair Stevens

4 Responses to post “Datura, a Mystery”

  1. From Pam/Digging:

    Interesting. Anything lemon-scented is a winner in my book. Got any extra seeds from that one?

    Hint. Hint. Don’t worry, I’m saving seeds for the next garden blogger plant exchange. I’ll bring some when I see you tomorrow. — mss

  2. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin Texas:

    That is totally fascinating. What a great scientific post and fabulous pictures. I wonder if ‘Belle Blanche’ is just a late bloomer, so to speak.

    My original ‘Belle Blanche’ datura bloomed years ago. I noted it in my garden journal and other photos of datura in my garden are the same as the lemon-scented plant this year. At the time, I was disappointed at the lack of the scent advertised. The intensity of the scent might have differed because of the time of year or day or even the amount of humidity in the air. We’ll see what next year brings. — mss

  3. From Bob Pool:

    That is strange. My Datura inoxia is very strongly scented although not lemon scented but very sweet smelling. One bloom will scent the whole area. A lemon scented one would be great though. Do you suppose there might be some amount of hybridization going on?

    I’m sure there are a lot of variations. Some varieties are described as “tropical” scented–whatever that means. The scent that I find strongest is in the leaves. To me the leaves smell like peanut butter in an unpleasant way (like stale peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in school lunch boxes). — mss

  4. From Lori:

    Weird, I always thought datura innoxia was lemon-scented until the datura that reseeded completely failed to be lemon-scented this year. I think they interbred with the datura I got from Diana last summer.

    The ones I originally had were so spectacularly lemon-scented and half the neighborhood smelled like Lemon Pledge at night, and it got even more intense as it got into fall. I got my lemon-scented plants at Barton Springs Nursery in 2009. Maybe they’d know?

    The lemon-scented datura bloomed latest. It’s possible that (slightly) cooler fall temperatures brought out the scent more. Humid air also carries scent better than dry air. But it is also clear that it and the ones I grew in earlier years from seed are a different kind of datura than the passalong from Diana. The leaves, flower shape, seeds and seedpods are all different. — mss