St. Petersburg Times
Home & Garden
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Letter to the editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message


Trumpets create a fanfare

Brugmansias aren't fussy about soil and are equally fond of sun and rain; it's no wonder they've ditched their evil old reputation.

Published May 19, 2007

[Times Files]
The aromatic Brugmansia comes in an assortment of colors and scents.

Are you tired of boring landscape plants? Do you love fragrance, tropical lushness and low-care reliability? Indulge in the towering trumpets of the lovely Brugmansia.

These statuesque relatives of the Datura, whose trumpets point up while Brugmansia's point down, for years were thought of as an old-fashioned plant. They were widely available only in the white-flowered form that many call "Death Angel" or "Angel's Trumpet" because they are toxic if consumed. Luckily, they taste terrible, so no pet or child will be inclined to munch. But these days we can get them in salmon, pink, light and dark apricot, rich yellow, or even varieties that open one color, then change hues on day two.

The perfumes vary too. The white variety reminds many gardeners of lemon dusting spray. Other varieties have musky, sweet scents similar to Confederate jasmine. On the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica I visited a town that was heavily planted in towering apricot Brugmansias, 12 to 15 feet tall. What a sight and a memory, hundreds of downward dangling blooms perfuming the silky tropical air.

You'd think a plant of such ethereal beauty would be demanding and fussy, but all a Brugmansia requires is dappled to full sun and ordinary soil. These plants like organic soil foods and balanced chemical fertilizers, such as a good citrus or palm fertilizer. (My favorite is Sunniland Palm 8-6-6.) They seem happy in both acidic and sweet soils. Drought-tolerant once established, they also love the rainy summer months (may they start soon!).

Since Brugmansias are truly tropical, they will get zapped by a frost or freeze, only to reliably regrow from the base. The growth rate is amazing. The 7-foot tall rich-yellow Brugmansia to the left of my front door, which wows visitors with its lush fragrance, was an 8-inch unrooted cutting just a year ago.

Few plants are easier to root. Get 10-inch semiwoody cuttings from a friend, strip off the lower leaves, cut off the flowering tip, let it dry an hour in the shade, then insert it deeply into the soil where you wish it to grow, burying the lower half. Water once, then forget about it. Growing should commence in four to six weeks.

You can buy named hybrids from reliable mail-order firms such as Logee's (toll-free 1-888-330-8038 or, and now and then I see apricot and unnamed pink specimens at garden shops.

Summer is almost here, so invite these beauties into your landscape soon.

John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for Florida. He can be reached at

Trumpet tunes

Scientific name: Brugmansia

Common name: Angel's trumpet, death angel, brug

Origin: South America. It is a member of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, petunias and nicotiana.

What it likes: Moist, fertile, well-drained soil, in full sun to part shade. Flowering from mid to late spring, continuing into fall and early winter. Tolerant of both drought and summer rains.

Good to know: All parts of the plant are highly toxic. Only in the past 10 years has the plant shaken its reputation as a "plant of evil" and become a desirable addition to the garden, worthy of serious cultivation, the American Brugmansia and Datura Society says.


[Last modified May 18, 2007, 20:07:56]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters