Friday, October 18, 2013

Nature isn't nice

A couple of friends of mine share a rented apartment here in beautiful Santa Marinella on the ground floor with quite a beautiful garden. It's a pretty big score, actually, since the landlord does all the garden work and my friends are both guys and don't really do gardening, but of course, like normal humans, enjoy having nice plants and flowers to look at outside their terrace.

One day we were all having a barbeque on the terrace, enjoying the beautiful summer day and looking at all the lovely flowers. One of our friends pointed to the tree with the big white trumpet-shaped flowers hanging down and said, "Wow, that's pretty. What is it?" As he said this, he went to poke it.

I stopped him.

Brugmansia has got to be one of the evilest plants nature has ever thrown at unsuspecting gardeners. I first saw one in the big dome botanical garden at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. It was huge; at least 20 feet high, and the flowers were double. It was so beautiful I immediately wanted one at home, and never forgot it. One of the most exotically beautiful plants I've yet seen.

Seeing that they grow here outdoors and a lot of people have one in their garden, I looked it up to see what it was called so I could ask my friendly garden centre guy for one. After that I decided not only that I wouldn't get one, but that Brugmansia was one of the signs of the End Times. I don't think I recall any plant other than certain species of mushrooms being so horrifyingly poisonous.

Get this:

Brugmansia have also traditionally been used in many South American indigenous cultures in medical preparations and as a ritualistic hallucinogen for divination, to communicate with ancestors, as a poison in sorcery and black magic, and for prophecy. Medicinally... external uses include the treating of aches and pains, dermatitis, orchitis, arthritis, rheumatism, headaches, infections, and as an anti-inflammatory. They have been used internally much more rarely due to the inherent danger of ingestion. ...In a concentrated or refined form, derivatives of Brugmansia are also used for murder, seduction, and robbery.

Apparently, it also makes you do un-fricken-speakable things to your loved ones...
Several South American cultures have used Brugmansia as a treatment for unruly children, that they might be admonished directly by their ancestors in the spirit world, and thereby become more compliant. [!!!bloody hell!!!] has been used to drug wives and slaves before they were buried alive with their dead lord...

[What?!! What?!!]

All parts of Brugmansia are poisonous, with the seeds and leaves being especially dangerous...Effects of ingestion can include paralysis of smooth muscles, confusion, tachycardia, dry mouth, diarrhea, migraine headaches, visual and auditory hallucinations, mydriasis, rapid onset cycloplegia, and death.

The hallucinogenic effects ...[are] "terrifying rather than pleasurable"..."a powerful trance with violent and unpleasant effects, sickening aftereffects, and at times temporary insanity". These hallucinations are often characterized by complete loss of awareness that one is hallucinating, disconnection from example reported in Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience of a young man who amputated his own penis and tongue after drinking only 1 cup of Brugmansia tea.

The Swiss naturalist and explorer Johann von Tschudi described the effects of Brugmansia ingestion on one individual in Peru:

Soon after drinking the Tonga, the man fell into a dull brooding, he stared vacantly at the ground, his mouth was closed firmly, almost convulsively and his nostrils were flared. Cold sweat covered his forehead. He was deathly pale. The jugular veins on his throat were swollen as large as a finger and he was wheezing as his chest rose and sank slowly. His arms hung down stiffly by his body. Then his eyes misted over and filled with huge tears and his lips twitched convulsively for a brief moment. His carotids were visibly beating, his respiration increased and his extremities twitched and shuddered of their own accord. This condition would have lasted about a quarter of an hour, then all these actions increased in intensity. His eyes were now dry but had become bright red and rolled about wildly in their sockets and all his facial muscles were horribly distorted. A thick white foam leaked out between his half open lips. The pulses on his forehead and throat were beating too fast to be counted. His breathing was short, extraordinarily fast and did not seem to lift the chest, which was visibly fibrillating. A mass of sticky sweat covered his whole body which continued to be shaken by the most dreadful convulsions. His limbs were hideously contorted. He alternated between murmuring quietly and incomprehensibly and uttering loud, heart-rending shrieks, howling dully and moaning and groaning.

Did he start chanting, "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" as well?!

They should re-name this horrifying insanity-plant "Miskatonia Arkhamensis".

"Some municipalities prohibit the purchase, sale, or cultivation of Brugmansia plants."

I should bloody well hope so!

I've been kind of a half-assed amateur naturalist most of my life, and one of the most useful and important rules I've learned from it is: nature wants to kill you. All of nature. All of the time.

When it isn't actively trying to kill you, it's trying to breed on you.

Nature isn't nice.



Anonymous said...

And since Nature (capital N) alone does not seem to suffice, enter (drum roll, please)

HUMAN STUPIDITY: This plant here

was introduced in Western Europe mainly for ornamental reasons. Then, people found out that it makes for a very good bee pasture. Unfortunately it was also discovered to be poisonous as all get out ...


Anonymous said...

I used to teach veterinary students. Often they have a sentimental view of animals. I would tell them about wolves in Canada that hunt bison. They can't kill a bison outright so they tire it out and when it can't get up start eating at the back end. No mercy in nature.


Anonymous said...

If this plant's blossoms are hanging from above, they are called "angels' trumphets." If they are looking up from below, they are called "devils' trumphets."
Either way, their perfume at night is heavenly

Jerome said...

Foolish people also use this plant in Europe, North America, etc. I tried datura tea (made with a similar, relative of the plant described) once, in Tasmania, at a party attended by bad hippies and po-paced punks in the early 80's.

I can still recall how doomy and threatening everything looked and felt as I walked to a bus-stop to get a ride home. Definitely not a plant to trifle with.

Mar said...

I have a Brugmansia in my garden. The flowers have a beautiful perfume. This plant belongs to the Solanaceae family which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, capsicums, other peppers of many kinds and cape gooseberries. Some poisonous members of this family, such as
Belladonna, provide an important medicinal ingredient, atropine. A propos, the common garden plant, the oleander, is also poisonous in all its parts.