Growing up in Chicago people were creepy, scary and dangerous.
My first introduction to scary plants while living in the US was attending the musical Little Shop of Horrors. I still hear a deep baritone voice in my head "Feed me, Seymour! FEED ME!"
Today, in rural Germany, I have a greater appreciation for how creepy, scary and downright deadly innocent looking plants can be.
If you want to skip directly to the highlight which is the Horror Trip Zombie plant, scroll down. This blog is structured in three categories:
- creepy but harmless
- scary and poisonous
- dangerous and deadly
Listen to: Somebody's Watching Me
Going down this lane – an alley of towering one-eyed giants – I feel their eyes upon me and the hairs on my skin start rising because I get a little scared, even when the sun is shining.
These aspens don't just have an eye or two - they have a face!
The European Aspen – populus tremuloides – is called Zitterpappel in German which translates as the "Trembling Aspen".
I'd say it's the people who walk by it who shake with fear, not the trees.
The eye forms as the tree prunes itself. Whenever the lower branches don't get enough light it cuts off the sap to that branch. The branch eventually falls off leaving a scar that looks like a human eye. (*1)
A tree which has that kind of intelligence and watchful eyes is creepy to me.
The trees reach a maximum of about 20 meters height and can get to be 100 years old.
The seeds of the clematis vitalba called Gemeine Waldrebe in German and Old Man's Beard in English look scary, like a nest of spiders.
It is a vine which can extend up to 10 meters in height and contains the toxin Protoanemonine which is found in all plants of the buttercup family. Contact with the plant causes severe skin irritation like blistering, rashes and itching.
Ingesting it can cause nausea, vomiting, spasms, hepatitis or paralysis. (*2)
The Devil's Trumpet is a true Halloween horror plant because it can kill you but you cannot kill it!
It's called Thorn Apple (Stechapfel in German, a literal translation) because of the thorny outer shell of the element which contains its deadly seeds. The common names are completely inappropriate for what this plant can do.
It looks harmless, well, except for the spikes on it's egg-shaped distel. And it's common name does not sound dangerous: Jimsonweed
It's other names like Devil's Trumpet and Devil's Breath are much more appropriate.
It is deadly for humans. Just 4-5 grams of the leaves can kill a child. The lethal dosis of scopolamine is 50 mg, at lower doses it will cause pulmonary arrest. (*3)
Nonetheless, for centuries it was used in Europe for the treatment of asthma and whooping cough. It definitely stopped the cough because it paralyzes lung activity.
It is a plant species of the deadly nightshade (Solanaceae) family which was originally native to the Americas and is now found in over 100 countries because it is highly invasive. It contains the alkaloids scopolamine and hyoscyamine which are toxic and poisonous. (*3)
The Devil's Trumpet is toxic to other plants reducing crop yields, and it also endangers all animals, particularly livestock such as chickens, pigs, cattle and horses. Animals will avoid it since it stinks however, because it grows near agricultural fields its seeds can contaminate the grains when harvested. Thus, animals can get poisoned indirectly because the Devil's Trumpet seeds get unintentionally mixed into the harvested hay or processed silage. (*3)
People who ingest the seeds or a drug made with parts of the plant will experience a psychosis and depart on horror trip filled with terrifying hallucinations which can last for several days. This trip has a high probability of ending in death.
Datura Stramonium is very resilient and has few natural enemies. It thrives on the edges of agriculture areas. A typical plant can produce about 1500 seeds, but some plants can produce up to 30,000 seeds. The seeds can survive up to 39 years underground. Thus, even if the plant is iradicated on the surface, its seeds keep germinating and it keeps coming back. (*3).
Thus, I would call the Devil's Trumpet a zombie plant and the most horrifying plant I could find for today's Halloween-related blog.
- european aspen https://fireflyforest.net/firefly/2005/10/27/aspen-eyes/
- clematis vitabla https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clematis_vitalba
- datura stramonium https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datura_stramonium and https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/18006
About my method for the blogpost and researching the texts.
I am not a botantist, nor do I know very much about plants having grown up in a large city. I capture what I think is interesting. Then, days or weeks later, I start to research online what it is I have captured.
I was shocked to learn how dangerous the Devil's Trumpet is! I had no idea at the time I was capturing it since it was just like any other plant on the side of a fallow field.
Most times I spend literally hours trying to find out the name so that I can start to research the plant. This was the case for clematis vitalba. I googled for images related to wild plants in the fall (in German language). Sometime after midnight I got so desperate, I googled "raspberry looking fruit with hairs". No, that didn't work either.
The problem with Google is that you have to know enough about the subject in order to enter a search term which will deliver good results.
Perhaps I should go back to the old-fashioned method of finding information before Google: asking someone knowledgeable. If I had asked the local farmer whose field contained the many subjects of my captures, I'd have my answer.
But first, I'd have to find out the name of the farmer....