Monday, September 12, 2011

Beauty to Tatters

Datura is a genus of nine species of vespertine (evening) flowering plants belonging to the Solanaceae family.  Its natural distribution is uncertain.
Pristine at first (above), the blossom's appearance belies its poisonous content.
Our Datura is a "witches' weed," along with deadly nightshade, henbane, and mandrake. Most parts of the plant contains toxic hallucinogens and datura has a long history of causing delirious states and death. 
It is known as an essential ingredient of love potions and witches' brews in literature.  Recall Shakespeares  witches scene...but into this exotic mix comes a common katydid (below).  Ubiquitous throughout Arizona, the critter wants a meal, not a lot of words or to have its picture taken.
All Datura contain tropane alkaloids such as scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine in their seeds and flowers and has been used in some cultures as a poison and hallucinogen. Delirium and hallucination are different but for particulars you'll have to ask the katydid.  
There can be a 5:1 toxin variation across plants and a given plant's toxicity depends on its age, where it is growing, and the local weather conditions. This variation makes Datura especially hazardous as a drug. In traditional cultures, a great deal of knowledge of Datura was critical to minimize harm. 
But what of the katydid?  
It cares little for toxicological  descriptions but instead feeds on the blossom until the late morning sun begins to close the bloom and it's time to move on.  Stoned, sick or happy its had breakfast but the datura is reduced to tatters.

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