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June 2009

Angel's Trumpet - Brugmansia - Datura - What Blooms in Santa Barbara

Angels' Trumpet

Like a scene from a Midsummer Night's Dream, trees full of angel trumpets are what blooms in Santa Barbara now.  Looking very much a fairy's lair, the branches drip with long, twisted blossoms that unfurl in the colors of old satin  - softest peach, antique ivory, tender-pink, downy yellow.   When I walk past them, their scent is hypnotic - as a magical flower should be


Angels' Trumpet 2

Angel's Trumpet, brugmansia, datura, Solanaceae - nightshades all - are in the same family as potato, tomato, eggplant, tobacco, and belladonna.   They appear to have just been newly transplanted from an otherworldly landscape....

And, too,  in empty lots, along the sides of city streets, on the dry hillsides outside of town, you'll see the jimson weed - datura - that are blooming now, too.   These are the ground-hugging sisters to brugmansia.

Datura plants spread into wide mats of dull green leaves.  Their leaves are not the spring green of new life, nor the forest green of vibrant old growth - but the dull and powdered green of narcotic dreams.  The leaves are topped with bone-white blossoms, 6" - 8" wide.  The edges and tips of the flower are tinged with a pale shadow of lavender. 

Datura Bloom

Eventually, the large blossoms wither to reveal their fruit, the aptly-named thorn apple.

To the Chumash, Santa Barbara's indigenous people,  datura, - momoy - was a friend and guide.  The plant was referred to as grandmother, and she was one of their wisest and most important teachers.   Through prayer and ingestion, momoy taught the people how to maintain ecological balance, to heal, and to explore the spiritual world.   But she was strict, and not to be trifled with.  She could be deadly.

Momoy was also used as a tool in certain initiation rites....her lessons ensured that those who survived the rites were spiritually, emotionally, and physically strong - they were ready to take their place as full-fledged members of society - active, responsible, and wise themselves.

Datura Bloom 2

In the olden days, Chumash saw the spirit, mind, and body as inseparable entities....Prayer was the first step...since prayer invites the participation of God....Initiation practices....encouraged young people to develop the maturity and spiritual strength to become productive members of society. 

Spirit, Mind, and Body in Chumash Healing,  James Adams and Cecilia Garcia, Oxford Journals

The plant datura, like its cousin belladonna, contains scopolamine and alkaloids that are hallucinogenic, mind- and body-altering, and can potentially enlighten - or, if used incorrectly, can easily kill.   To me, that is part of the charm of these angel's trumpets.

Angels' Trumpet 5

On the one hand, their name implies little angelic hosts that can conjure dulcet tones direct from heaven...songs to be played among the beautiful branches full of frilly floral parachutes of softness, fragrant with notes of spicy, syrupy sweetness...and yet....

And yet it is in the other hand that we find the very recipe for hallucinatory dreams and madness, with only a sketchy path that either leads one back to sanity and wisdom, or to a slow and aching death.

Datura 1

How deliciously authentic - how exquisitely candid.  Will you partake of beauty?  Will you partake of wisdom?  Madness and/or death?  The angel's trumpet possesses them all....

Angels' Trumpet 6

The nightshades are plants that seduce, entice, and often ensnare....they are gaudy, beautiful, and demanding to be noticed.

Datura 2

And right now, they are what blooms in Santa Barbara....

Angels' Trumpet 4