From The Archives: Name That Weed

While scrolling through some photos on my phone this afternoon, I came across this one that I took back in August:


This is a weed I pulled from the garden when I was working my way through the backlog of chores awaiting me upon my return from Costa Rica. As you can see, it is shallow-rooted but quite tall, with a sturdy (but not woody stem). It looks like a small tree, especially with its broad leaves: 


But it's obviously not a tree, given the soft stem and shallow root system. It also has some white flowers that look like morning glories and smell very sweet, like a vanilla honeysuckle:


They were closed when I pulled the weed in the afternoon, but you could still smell their strong perfume.

But weirdest of all is the fruit:


That thing is a killer! I had to wear gloves to pick it off the plant and handle it (and I never wear gloves). Those spines are for real.

Fruit might not quite be the right word. Maybe it's more a seed pod, since I can't imagine any creature being tempted to eat this. The inside is loaded with tiny seeds:


I'm assuming that this green pod was not yet ripe when I pulled the weed.

I had meant to research this weed much earlier, and was wondering if this was maybe some kind of delicious native fruit or something. 

Well, today I finally found out, and the answer is a resounding NO on that score.

Turns out this is jimson weed, which is also known as devils' snare, hell's bells, devil's trumpet, devil weed, stinkweed, locoweed, and devil's cucumber.

And if those names aren't enough to keep you from tasting it, research revealed that it's totally poisonous. Animals won't go near it, and only dumb kids looking to get high will try it. It's a pretty powerful hallucinogen.

Hopefully the poisonous compounds break down in the composting process, because that is where this ended up, tossed there before I knew how crazy toxic this stuff is. Finger crossed! 

By the way, if you ever need to identify an unknown weed, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has a great online weed identification tool. Just keep the state set for Wisconsin and it should work well for you (even if you are actually in Massachusetts).

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