By Paul A. Thomas
University of Georgia
To avoid confusion, it's best to use the scientific and standard cultivar names. What many folks call angel trumpet is a brugmansia or a datura.
Brugmansias are native to Ecuador, Peru and Columbia and grow mainly on the slopes of the Andes mountains. Daturas grow in India, Mexico and from Texas to California.
These two very closely related species are members of the Solanaceae family and are cousins of the petunia, common tobacco and the deadly nightshade.
CautionHowever beautiful they are, both are poisonous if eaten, especially the seeds and leaves. So it's not a great gift idea for someone with young children. However, I've grown them indoors and out, with lots of pets and kids, and no one has gotten ill. Handling the plant isn't dangerous.
I recommend trying Brugmansia arborea or Brugmansia versicolor hybrids first. Others can be more challenging.
B. Arborea hybrids are commonly white with flowers that point outward like an Easter lily. The plant grows upright and can form small, tree-like branch patterns.
The popular long, dangling flowers that look like bells belong to the B. versicolor hybrids. These can be yellow, golden, peach, pink and orange. They grow upright, too, but with a spreading pattern. Both types can get quite large.
EasyBrugmansias and daturas are easy to care for. With full sun and frequent feeding with standard, soluble fertilizers, your plants will virtually jump toward the sun.
Forgetting to water doesn't kill these tough survivors, but it does reduce the chance of spectacular flower displays. Brugmansias and daturas don't like 99-degree days. If they're allowed to dry out in that heat, they go into survival mode.
Dropping lower leaves and flower buds is a good sign you're not doing your part. Keep them moist and fertilized. Mulch works wonders in Georgia.
If you see your leaves becoming blotchy, you may have a plant infected with a virus -- specifically, tomato spotted wilt virus or tobacco mosaic virus.
These are common local viruses spread by insects. Don't dig up the plant. Just don't carry it over to next spring. Buying new, clean stock is always a better idea.
The only thing you have to do daily is scout for hornworms. They can strip a plant in a few days. Brugmansia will quickly grow back, though, with little loss of vigor.
OverwinteringTwo strategies work for overwintering. One is to dig up the plant, trim it back to solid wood and bring it indoors. Then store it in the dark all winter in an unheated basement or garage that stays in the 50s at night. Water only if soil is dry. Brugmansias tend to "go to sleep." Just don't let them freeze.
The second approach is the one I've done most often. Brugmansias do very well in bright, south-facing windows. At this writing in February, my 10-year-old son Avery has a Brugmansia arborea in full bloom.
We reduce the fertility and water only when the plant starts to sag a bit. The growth isn't spectacular, but the flowers are.
In the spring, we trim off the weak growth and let the new leaf buds develop in full sun. Once these leaves are a few inches long, we can plant it in the garden. In north Georgia, this is around April 15. South of the Fall Line, folks plant them around April 1.
The American Brugmansia and Datura Society, Inc., Web site (www.abads.net) features new varieties and other information.
(Paul Thomas is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)