When I was living with my wise old grandmother from 1965-1973, one of my “chores around the house” was pruning the billions and billions and billions of oleanders forming a fence around our property. I hated those things (which is why I have never had oleanders on any of my properties) because I was severely sensitive to oleander sap. I quickly learned to wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants, and gloves when pruning those blasted things. Hmmm. Deep south Texas and a teenager working outside with long shirts and long pants. Hated it.
Another plant that I am overly sensitive to is actually a plant genus: Euphorbia. Some of you might know that the common Christmas poinsettia is a Euphorbia, Euphorbia pulcherrima. Poinsettias grow year-round here in San Diego and can get about 20 feet tall, making a beautiful statement at Christmas time when they bloom.
Another common plant around our homes is the “Crown of Thorns,” Euphorbia millii.
My wise old grandmother also had poinsettias and crowns of thorns, both planted along the driveway. Well, guess where this tall, skinny dude had his basketball court? Inevitably a missed basket would result in the ball bouncing over to the poinsettias and crowns of thorns, and breaking branches, getting sticky sap all over my basketball. Poinsettias and crowns of thorns were also on my “Never in my own yard” list. Because poinsettias and crowns of thorns are succulents, though, I have had them in my home and on my property simply because I plant them out of the way and forget about them. They can survive on the water that Mother & Father Nature provide them, and since they are out of the way, I don’t have to prune them. The Crown of Thorns picture above is from one of my past gardens.
When I arrived in San Diego in April 1993 and started exploring, I found a plant that grows wild, is very beautiful, and has a heavenly scent, especially at dusk: Datura.
I never saw Datura in a nursery, though. Eventually I found out why. It is very poisonous, especially their flowers and seeds, and people like me can develop a severe skin rash when the milky white sap gets on our skin. Their common name is Devil’s Trumpet.
Related to Datura is a plant that IS found in nurseries although it is just as poisonous: Brugmansia.
The Brugmansia’s common name is Angel’s Trumpet. The Angel’s Trumpet in the picture above is from one of my past gardens. It bloomed year-round, so the scent outside the master bedroom window was out of this world. I think the window was always open at dusk to let the fragrance in.
Brugmansia’s are difficult to find in nurseries and are usually carried by the smaller mom-and-pop nurseries. I recently found a small yellow one that is now outside waiting for me to transfer it from nursery pot to the ground, although the longer it waits, the more I’m thinking about putting it in a large glazed pot.
A side story to Datura and Brugmansia is that if the flowers are boiled in water, they create a “tea” that, when drank, creates a “natural high”—delusional and hallucinogenic euphoria. Sadly, this natural high can paralyze the vocal chords; cause liver failure, dry mouth, blurred vision, and incontinence; and even cause death. About every five years or so, some high school students here in the San Diego area learn the hard way about getting a natural high from these two plants. Animals, especially dogs and cattle, also are affected negatively when they eat the plants.