Datura Bloom

Datura in bloom on the Carrizo Plain, San Luis Obispo County, California.

“In their quest for visions and for supernatural power, the Chumash of the Santa Barbara region were one of many tribes throughout North and South America that resorted to the use of hallucinogenic plants. Datura was one of the most widely known of these hallucinogens.”

Richard B. Applegate, The Datura Cult Among the Chumash, Journal of California Anthropology (1975)

The Chumash believed Datura provided a pathway to the spirit realm and a means to interact with the supernatural world and they used it for a wide variety of ceremonial and religious purposes. The broad-leaved, large-flowered plant was also used medicinally in many ways.

According to anthropologist and ethnobiologist, Jan Timbrook, Curator of Ethnography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Datura was “probably the single most important medicinal plant of the Chumash.” It is featured prominently in Chumash myths, and whereas numerous animals are attributed human characteristics in their oral narratives, Datura is the only plant to be described in an anthropomorphic manner.

“In general, toloache (Datura) was taken for three principal purposes: to establish contact with a supernatural guardian who would provide protection, special skill, and a personal talisman; for clairvoyance, such as contacting the dead, finding lost objects, seeing the future, or seeing the true nature of people; and to cure the effects of injury, evil omens, or breaches of taboo, and to obtain immunity from danger.”

Jan Timbrook, Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California (2007)

A friend once told me a story about a guy he knew who ate Datura. The guy’s quest for a good time ended abruptly one afternoon when his neighbors called the police after seeing him in his front yard acting erratically and repetitively stacking something for a prolonged period of time. When the authorities arrived they found a naked man traipsing around his front yard jabbering loudly to himself, while stacking cardboard boxes that nobody else could see.

(Datura is a poisonous, coma inducing, deadly plant. If you’re looking for a cheap thrill you’d be well advised to avoid experimenting with it. The serving size needed to cause hallucinations and intensified sensory affects is not much less than the amount that can induce a coma or kill a person. Death was not unknown among the Native Americans that used it. If you successfully guess the correct dose and avoid fading into a subconscious state for several days or sending yourself to the morgue, you may still experience continual hallucinations for several weeks afterward. The mention of Datura on this blog is done out of historical and anthropological interest only.)

Related Post:

Chumash Shamans, Rock Art and Datura (Jimsonweed)

This entry was posted in San Luis Obispo County, Santa Barbara County, Ventura County and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Datura Bloom

  1. Nico says:

    Good call on the disclaimer at the end… While doing some research on Chumash rock art a few years ago, I recall coming across a couple of anecdotes of folks experimenting with Datura tea; sometimes with very unfortunate outcomes (death, paralysis, coma, etc.).

    Anyway, my main reason for commenting was to share something else I recall reading in my research. Much of the research at one time suggested that Chumash pictographs are the result of vision quests and similar events, and that the Chumash would use the Datura to induce these visions. Further reading eventually led me to read up a little on hallucinogens in general and the effects they have on people’s perceptions. One of the things mentioned was that when people are tripping, it’s not uncommon for them to see “stars” or light around different things in their visions.

    It was posited then, that perhaps the white stars or dots that are found outlining some of the figures painted at various rock art sites, such as the snake at Pool Rock, could have been done while under the influence of something like datura.

    I’ve never found other mention of this theory, but it always struck me as interesting and I think about it often when viewing rock art sites, wondering where the inspiration for the various figures comes from.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Nico, you should read my post Chumash Shamans, Rock Art and Datura, which I linked to at the end of this post. In that post I discuss the use of Datura and possible connection to rock art and how several of the motifs found in local rock art are the same as what people report seeing when taking Datura.

      • Nico says:

        Ha! So there it is! Looks like you must’ve come across the same sources as I. I did this research about 10 years ago and couldn’t, for the life of me, remember where I read it. Good find.

  2. I grew a sophisticated cousin to this one in costa rica. a friend of mine warned, ‘lisa.. people take trips on this and never come back. it’s dangerous.’ i had read that sleeping to close to one of these night bloomers can cause hallucinations, though in my garden it provided visual beauty and incredible evening aroma.
    i agree, it’s an interesting plant, but it’s very dangerous.
    great photo!

  3. jim ansley says:

    We have “loco weed” profusely at our place off the Santa Susana Pass. We leave it alone and no animals have been harmed. It is an incredibly beautiful blossom, and I have many photos too.
    Enjoy your blog/posts.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great blog, I always love reading about cultural relationships with various plants, and I would also like to say good disclaimer at the end. People tend to be like leprechauns sometimes in the way they will do exactly what you tell them not to do…

  5. David Crews says:

    Nice picture of this dramatic and dangerous plant teacher.
    The finest book I know on the subject of rock art origins in psychotropic visions is Graham Hancock’s “Supernatural – Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind” (2005). Extensive research into this subject with rock art from the American Southwest to South Africa.

    Also, you are very correct to emphasize the danger of datura. It is used with great care by some shamans in the Upper Amazon where they use its almost exact cousin, Brugmansia (which they call toé). Toé has the very same alkaloids (scopolamine, etc.) mix as datura and has been used for thousands of years as a tiny additive to the intense but very safe great spirit medicine, Ayahuasca, which does, indeed, transport one to the spirit realms directly. Having experienced this, I can attest to the power of the visions. Expert guidance in the preparations using toé from my 68 year old shaman was essential.

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