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Growing Hallucinogens in Faro
by John Harmon
September 8, 2002

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I got e-mail this week from Elaine O'Grady - Gardener for Faro and a very nice photo of some large Brugmansia plants she has growing in Faro. Here's some of what she said. "Hello , I thought that your readers would be interested in a plant that I tried for the first time in the Town Of Faro. When I was visiting Toronto in January, my father had this huge specimen tree in his greenhouse, and I managed to take two cuttings and root them successfully. Upon returning to Faro I kept them at home until the town greenhouse started up, and then eventually they went into the Campbell Region Interpretive Centre public garden. The plant is called Brugmansia and it belongs to the nightshade, Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, and many kinds of peppers, eggplant, and also includes petunia, nicotiana, and other ornamentals".

The Solanaceae family also includes some plants that possess psychoactive properties like Datura. The major alkaloid present in Brugmansia is scopolamine but hyoscyamine and atropine are also present. Scopolamine is capable of causing powerful hallucinations. Brugmansia is also widely reputed to have aphrodisiac effects.

The attraction to growing this tender perennial that is native only to South America is the stunning, pendulous, trumpet-shaped flowers that can be up to 20" long! The flowers are also why this plant is sometimes known as trumpet flower or angel flower. The plant is native along the Andean and Pacific fringe of the continent from Colombia down to southern Peru and the middle of Chile. It will survive outdoors in zone nine but some have reported it will survive to zone seven with extra care.

Here it would require over wintering indoors. You can over winter it as a houseplant with supplemental lighting or let it go dormant. Just cut it back to the size you can store and keep it where it's cool and dark but doesn't freeze. It will drop most of its leaves and you can get away with letting it dry out more. Just give it some water without fertilizer every month so it doesn't completely dry out. In the spring when light levels come up just water and fertilize your plant and put it in the light and it will start to grow again very quickly.

You can also take cuttings. Brugmansia is very easy to take cuttings from. Cut an eight-inch piece off the end of a branch just above a node where a new leaf will sprout. Preferably the cutting should have a leaf or two on the end. Cut back any large leaves, just leave a couple of small leaves on the very end. Stick the cutting in a glass of clear, clean water. Once the cutting has a good strong root structure, it can be planted in a pot at least eight inches in diameter and eight inches deep. The roots need the depth. The plant will grow very quickly and should be transplanted into a large deep pot for its final home. Keep in mind that the fragrance of some varieties of Brugmansia has been described as strong and stinky so you might not want it indoors when it blooms.

These plants are often called the 'tree Daturas' but botanists now recognize Brugmansia as deserving of a distinct taxonomic status within the family Solanaceae. Various species, (B. arborea, B. sanguinea, B. aurea), grow in abundance in the Andes above 2,000m. All these plants now only reproduce through being cultivated as there are no longer any truly wild species.

The anthropologist Weston La Barre believes that the Indians who entered and subsequently populated the New World were predisposed to the seeking out of psychoactive plants because of their archaic roots in Eurasian shamanism, which he believed built its religious life around the ritual use of hallucinogens.

Brugmansia species have been used over the centuries for some sinister applications. Anthropologists report that the pre-Conquest Chibcas of Colombia made a concoction of Brugmansia, tobacco and maize beer. This stuff was so potent it was given to slaves and wives of dead kings in order to put them in a deep narcotic state so they wouldn't object to being buried alive with their masters and husbands!

Brugmansia is also sometimes used in conjunction with tobacco. The present-day Tzeltal Indians of Mexico smoke the dried leaves of B. suaveolens with Nicotiana rustica in order to obtain visions that indicate the cause of various diseases.

Be happy that you aren't a child among the Jivaro Indians in South America. Their children who misbehave would sometimes be given a drink of Brugmansia. This caused hallucinations that allowed the child to be admonished by the parents while the hallucinated ancestors were present. Dressed down in front of everyone!

For more information and sources for seed check out http://www.americanbrugmansia-daturasociety.org/. You'll also find helpful information such as how to grow Brugmansia and Datura, how to germinate Brugmansia and Datura seeds and how to root Brugmansia cuttings. It also has a section on Brugmansia Identification.


John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John c/o The Yukon News, 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 2E4 or e-mail tropnorth@polarcom.com

 


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