A dark-leafed plant with a five-petaled, trumpet-shaped white-and-purple flower seemed to sprout out of nowhere along the Shining Sea Bikeway between Locust Street and Elm Road.
Paul Rifkin of Mashpee noticed it last weekend. He said he was “amazed at the plant’s unusual formation, as if nature had Photoshopped it.”
This is a description of jimsonweed, whose scientific name is Datura stramonium, a genus of nine species of poisonous flowering plants belonging to the nightshade family.
Indigenous to the Americas, jimsonweed is often seen flowering in warm climates and growing along roadsides.
“It is usually spread through topsoil. It grows in agricultural fields and is scooped up with the soil and then it pops up,” University of Massachusetts Extension weed specialist Randy Prostak said. “It is found in New England but is not widespread.”
The weed might have been spread when in late spring the highway department spread topsoil from the town’s composting pit along the bike path.
It is also known as thorn apple, devil’s apple, downy thorn apple, devil’s trumpet, angel’s trumpet, mad apple, stink weed, Hell’s bells, locoweed and moonflower.
It contains toxic tropane alkaloids, which have caused poisoning and death in humans and other animals. Jimsonweed is named for a case of human poisoning in Jamestown, Virginia, when soldiers were poisoned by eating the plant in a salad and then suffered delirium and hallucinations.”
“The seeds are incredibly toxic,” Mr. Prostak said. “If you eat the seeds, they will have an effect like belladonna, where the eye pupils become dilated. If you eat enough, you will hallucinate and then hopefully vomit.”
Jimsonweed is deer-resistant, as with all of its relatives in the nightshade family, which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tobacco and petunias. Livestock will not touch it, Mr. Prostak said.
Jimsonweed is an annual and will only come back if the seeds are allowed to propagate. To manage the weed, Mr. Prostak recommends wearing gloves (the leaves can irritate the skin) and cutting the plant off at the base.
“If the seed pods are still green, you can compost the whole plant. The seeds are not viable until the seed pod turns brown and cracks open,” he said.
If the seed pods have already dried and cracked, Mr. Prostak recommends cutting them off, putting them into a plastic bag and throwing them in the trash.
The area where the jimsonweed grew one year can be marked for mowing the following season to catch any plants that have reseeded.
“If you mow in the spring before the plants get too tall, they won’t flower,” he said.
Falmouth Tree Warden and Parks Supervisor Jeremiah Pearson said that while the Falmouth Department of Public Works routinely mows along the bike path, it has not mowed much this summer due to the dry weather.