Description and Identification of Brugmansia Species and Hybrids 
©Rich Sanders 1999-2003
©American Brugmansia & Datura Society (ABADS) 2003
 
Species identification within the genus Brugmansia is a persistent problem for growers of these
ornamentals. Considering the chaotic manner in which many retail plant companies list them, and the
vastly different taxonomic conclusions of experts, it is no surprise that gardeners can find this topic
frustrating. Here are two examples highlighting this situation: First, a well-known mail-order seed
company, Thompson and Morgan, incorrectly lists datura as Brugmansia. Second, within the genus
Brugmansia, authors over the last two centuries have concluded that anywhere from three to 24 species
exist. Justifiable reasons for all of this confusion are the high degree of variability within individual
Brugmansia species and the broad range of intermediate forms that arise from hybrid crosses. Of
course, it is reasonable to expect companies in the business of selling such plants to correctly identify
them. Those who do not are lazy, careless, inept, or are intentionally misrepresenting the plants.

In the early 1970's, Dr. T. E. Lockwood reconciled much of this confusion as part of his doctoral
research. He acknowledged five species of Brugmansia: arborea, aurea, sanguinea, suaveolens, and
versicolor which he described in Hortus Third. In addition, B. vulcanicola is often recognized as a sixth
species. From these species a number of hybrids of known lineage have been developed and
designated as crosses. These crosses include x candida, x insignis, and x flava. Finally, many cultivars
are the result of extensive inter-breeding and back crossing of species and/or hybrids, making their
lineage impossible to establish precisely.

Summary descriptions of the species and named hybrid crosses follow. When used in conjunction with
photos, the descriptions should help narrow the possible choices when establishing the identity of a
plant, and (hopefully!) prevent people from purchasing duplicates that have simply been listed under
different names by different growers.

 

Description of Brugmansia Species and Named Hybrid Groups

 

SPECIES
 

B. arborea (L.) Lagerh. (Synonyms: Datura arborea, D. cornigera) This shrub or small tree (6-15
ft.) has softly hairy young stems, leaves, calyx, and fruit. The leaf is ovately shaped and entire to
coarsely toothed. Small flowers (5-6.5 in.) are nodding. The calyx, splitting once upon the corollas
emergence, is 4-5.5 inches long and possesses a long spreading tip (like a horn). The corolla is white.
The corolla teeth ("flower tentacles") which are separated by distinct sinuses or notches, make the
flower appear to have "petals" at its end. The fruit is round to egg-shaped and 2.5 to 3.5 inches long.

B. aurea Lagerh. A small tree reaching to 35 ft. with either smooth or somewhat hairy leaves. Leaves
on young plants are sometimes coarsely-toothed, while those on mature plants are smooth-edged.
Flowers are 6-10 inches long, nodding to pendulous, with a calyx possessing 2 to 5 teeth. The corolla is
white or golden-yellow, flaring at the mouth (trumpet shaped), with recurved corolla teeth (twisting
backward). Fruit is egg-shaped, 3-6 inches long, containing large seeds with corky seed coats.

B. sanguinea (Ruiz. & Pav.) D. Don. A small tree which reaches to 35 ft. having softly-hairy leaves,
young stems, and calyx. Leaves on young plants are coarsely-toothed, while those on mature plants are
nearly smooth-edged. Flowers are generally 8-10 inches long. The calyx has 2 to 5 teeth and remains
attached as the fruit develops. The corolla is typically red at the mouth, becoming yellow and then
yellowish-green moving toward the base. The flower is tubular in shape and does not flare to a large
degree. The corolla teeth, recurved to strongly reflexed, are less than 1 inch long. The fruit is egg-
shaped and 3-5 inches long. Other color forms are common.

B. suaveolens (Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.) Bercht. & J. Presl. (Synonym: Datura Gardneri
Hook. f.) This shrub or small tree (6-15 ft.) bears smooth-textured or minutely hairy leaves. Leaf shape
is ovate to narrowly elliptic with smooth edges (no teeth). Flowers are 8-12 inches long and nodding.
The calyx has 2 to 5 teeth and may remain as the fruit develops. The corolla, generally white but other
colors also exist, is funnel-shaped and constricted at the point of emergence from the calyx so as to
leave a space. Corolla teeth are 1.5 inches long or less and flaring, but not recurved. The anthers
(pollen-bearing organs) are fused-together. The fruit is fusiform in shape and measures 4-6 inches long.

B. versicolor Lagerh. (Synonym: Datura mollis Saff.) A small tree (8-15 ft.) possessing elliptic to
oblong smooth-edged leaves. Leaves may or may not be softly hairy. Very large flowers (12-20
inches) are pendulous and have a spathe-like calyx (single split) that does not usually remain attached to
the flower stalk as the fruit develops. The corolla, typically white, becomes peach or pink with age.
Similar to B. suaveolens, the corolla tube is constricted near the calyx, leaving a gap between these two
parts of the flower. Corolla teeth are long, flaring and recurved. Fruit is fusiform and 6-12 inches long.

B. vulcanicola (Barclay) ex Schultes. A shrub or small tree growing to 10 ft. which closely
resembles B. sanguinea. Leaves are ovate to elliptic and softly-hairy. The leaf margins are either
smooth or toothed. Flowers (6 to 10 inches) are nodding, with the calyx splitting into one to three
sections. The calyx is usually shed as the fruit develops. The corolla is tubular and colored; often, green
at the base, becoming light red and fading to yellow near the mouth. Fruit is oval and warty in
appearance. Corolla teeth are quite short (less than 0.6 inch) as in B. sanguinea.

 

HYBRIDS
 

B. x candida Pers. (Synonym: Datura x candida (Pers.) Saff.). A hybrid cross between B. aurea and
B. versicolor growing 10-20 ft. Young stems, leaves, and calyx are fuzzy. Leaves are oval or elliptic in
shape with smooth or toothed edges. Flowers are usually 10-12 inches long and pendulous. The calyx
is spathe-like and about half as long as the corolla. The corolla is usually white, rarely yellow or pink,
and fills the inner circumference of the calyx at the point of its emergence. The corolla flares at the
mouth with recurved teeth that range from 2.5-4.5 inches long. Fruits, 5-6 inches long, can vary in form
from egg-shaped to fusiform.

B. x insignis (Barb. Rodr.) Lockw. ex Schultes. A hybrid cross between B. suaveolens and B.
versicolor which has been crossed back again with B. suaveolens. B. x insignis is very similar to B.
suaveolens, but can be identified by its longer corolla and corolla teeth, as well as its fuzzy calyx. The
corolla is white or pink and anthers may or may not be fused-together.

B. x flava (Herklotz ex Preissel). A hybrid cross between B. arborea and B. sanguinea displaying
intermediate characteristics. Flowers are tubular, 8-10 inches long, and may be of uniform color - often
yellow or tricolor like B. sanguinea. Fruit is 4-4.5 inches long and egg-shaped.

 

The preceding descriptions have been adapted primarily from Hortus Third and Engelstrompeten 
(see below).

LITERATURE CITED

1.Avery, A. G., S. Satina, and J. Rietsema. 1959. Blakeslee: The Genus Datura. Ronald Press,
New York. pp. 36-47.

2.Bailey, L. H. and E. Z. Bailey. 1976. Hortus Third. MacMillan, New York. p. 185.

3.Bristol, M. L. 1966. Notes on the species of tree daturas. Bot. Mus. Leafl. Harvard Univ. 21:
229-248.

4.DeWolf, G. P. Jr. 1956. Notes on cultivated Solanaceae 2. Datura.. Baileya 4: 13-23.

5.Fosberg, F. R. 1959. Nomenclatural notes on Datura L. Taxon 8: 52-57.

6.Menninger, E. A. 1966. Datura Species in Florida Gardens. Am. Hort. Mag. 45: 375-387.

7.Preissel, U. and H Preissel. 1997. Engelstrompeten. Ulmer, Stuttgart. 141 pp.

8.Safford, W. E. 1921. Synopsis of the genus Datura.. Jour. Wash. Acad. Sci. 11: 173-189.

9.Schultes, R. E. 1976. Bot

Sanders' Brugmansia Identification Chart

©Rich Sanders 1999-2003

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