Common jimsonweed is a tall, branching, leafy, rank-smelling annual, often with purple stems. Flowers are funnel-shaped, pleated, and swirled, with 5 sharply pointed lobes, to 5 inches long. The tube emerges from a green calyx less than half the length of the corolla; white or light violet, or white with a violet throat. Flowers open in the evening with a strong perfume and close in early morning. Blooms May–October. Leaves alternate, on petioles, deeply lobed with teeth, to 4 inches long. Fruit an ovoid, spiny capsule to 2 inches long, upright, splitting open by 4 valves, spilling many flat, black seeds.
Height: to 5 feet.
Occurs in pastures, barnyards, fields, roadsides, railroads, and waste or cultivated land. A native of tropical America, jimsonweed was introduced and has naturalized in much of the United States. Though it and its relatives have a long history as medicinal plants, with many varied uses, even just a slight overdose can kill a person.
Like most members of the nightshade family, common jimsonweed is poisonous, causing hallucinations and death. The seeds are particularly toxic. It is a troublesome weed of crop fields, and livestock can be poisoned by it. Handling the plant can cause skin irritation in some people.
Sphinx moths pollinate the goblet-shaped flowers, which open around midnight and close by early morning. Although toxic to mammals, the plant is eaten by several types of insects.
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!