These prickly seed pods are from a plant that has many common names relating to its physical characteristics and chemical properties.  For example, the plant’s foul smell gives rise to the name ‘stinkweed’.  Its scientific name is Datura stramonium.  It is native to North America, but it can now found in warm climates worldwide. It grows wild, in gardens and in greenhouses.

Another common name ‘thorn apple’ comes from the appearance of the seed pods.  The spikey olive-green capsules swell and dry as they mature and contain many small black seeds.  Gardeners often call this plant ‘angel’s trumpets’ after its beautiful, long, lily-like flowers.  In this species of Datura, the flowers are white with a purple centre.

Other common names hint at this plant’s more sinister properties.  ‘Devil’s snare’, ‘hell’s bells’ and ‘devil’s cucumber’ are just a few.  It has been used in traditional medicine for centuries.  In India, the leaves are smoked to relieve the symptoms of asthma. In some parts of North America and China, Datura is used as an anaesthetic and painkiller.  Yet, like so many plants used in medicine, it is also highly toxic and can kill.  All parts of the plant contain compounds that can cause delirium, hallucinations, increased heart rate and increased body temperature.

These specimens were collected in the grounds of an isolation hospital, possibly the one at Whipton in Exeter.

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