An invasive plant found in a reader's garden is a nuisance but not dangerous
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An invasive plant found in a reader's garden is a nuisance but not dangerous

Jun 26, 2023

Q: I am very concerned about what I suspect to be a highly poisonous plant that has grown at alarming speed in our garden. My daughter, mother and I planted a variety of vegetables and have just begun enjoying the fruits of our labor. Most of our garden was started with seedlings but we experimented with dollar store seeds for a few items. One of the seed packets we selected was eggplant.

As the plant grew, we thought it was odd how large it was getting and then it sprouted a spiny ball shaped object that looked nothing like an eggplant. A few more sprouted and yesterday I noticed that one had opened up and inside were black seeds. The stem is purple and very thick almost tree-like. The leaves are large. I thought maybe instead of eggplant these seeds were for something like a dragon fruit.

I looked at the original package and it says eggplant. I started doing a google search for “weird eggplants” and reading comments to threads etc. I saw a comment on a landscaper website about a poisonous plant and to be very careful. After further searching I came across pictures of a plant called “datura stramonium.” I am horrified. It is absolutely what is growing in our garden.

There are multiple datura plants growing and very close to our cucumbers, tomatoes and next to our large growing zucchini. I read about a 2022 incident that sickened 200 people with cross-contamination to spinach. This plant is part of the nightshade family which is poisonous. I’ve taken some pictures for you to see. My husband had a heart attack a few weeks ago and I don’t want him near this plant. The literature suggest immediate removal wearing gloves but given the origin was seeds and through tilling of soil and watering is it possible that our other plants are contaminated?

Can you confirm from these pictures that this is of concern? Is there someone I should contact for removal? Should I contact the township? I am going to contact dollar store. They need to let people know that seeds labeled eggplant are this dangerous plant but how can they let our community know? I am so upset about this. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

— Lisa

First, calm down. Yes some nightshade plants are poisonous but eggplant and tomato are also part of the same family and perfectly safe.

The datura is generally most concerning when people discover that it has hallucinogenic properties and try to ingest or smoke the plant. While I understand your concern, you can easily dispose of the plant in a trash bag. Wear gloves and dispose of the plant before it flowers and/or be sure to include the spiked seed pod.

This plant has been safely grown as an ornamental for years. The double purple is one of my favorites. Many garden plants are poisonous and I am sorry that you got the wrong seed. I note your concerns your discovery and will warn others but there isn’t much else I can do. Readers should not ingest any plant that they cannot positively identify. Fortunately, in this instance, the spiky fruit is not easily confused with an eggplant.

Lisa wrote back:

Whew — thank you. Appreciate you getting back to me. Is this rest of my garden safe once i dispose of that plant? We worked so hard on the garden and it is really coming along nicely. Do I need to worry about any cross-contamination?

If you have difficulty pulling it out, let me know. I don’t expect any contamination since you will be eliminating the problem now. I had not read of any potential problems but must admit I did not think of growing it in a vegetable garden before. Lisa’s reference to contamination refers to an incident in Australia where the plant had grown into a commercial spinach bed and the young leaves were harvested and distributed with the spinach. For additional information read up on Jimsonweed.

The surprise of the week is a cluster of small shrubby plants blooming in an out-of-the-way spot. They bloomed and are hydrangeas. I have had small plants sprout at the base of older ones but until now, never a patch of hydrangeas.

Cooler temperatures should allow the vegetable garden to return to productivity. Watch for new growth and flowering, followed by a fresh crop of vegetables. Note that plants such as lettuce and spinach, leafy ones that like cool weather may have bolted, going to seed and should be removed and replaces in the garden.

Week in the Garden

Planting: Plant but protect from heat: late-season cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, peas and broccoli for late summer or early fall harvest. Sow seeds that require a cold period for germination, i.e., poppies. Start thinking about adding asters and mums to your fall display, either in the garden or as part of a container display. Hold new plants until the weather cools. Gather pots together to make watering easier.

Seasonal: Stake tall flowers and provide supports for vining plants. Allow the final flush of flowers to go to seed. Many provide food for the birds and small mammals during the fall and winter. Take cuttings of those annuals that you want to winter over or other favorite plants that have grown too big to move indoors. Order asparagus, rhubarb, bulbs, flower and fruit plants and shrubs for fall planting. Shop nurseries for end-of-season bargains or new fall arrivals. Weed often and cut off flowers of any weeds you don’t get pulled out. Deadhead flowers and trim damaged, diseased and dead foliage to keep beds tidy and encourage reblooming. In particular, keep irises and daylilies from forming seedpods. Allow peony greens to grow until fall and then cut back. Prune summer-flowering shrubs about two weeks after flowering. Apply corn gluten based weed control in the garden and establish a schedule for reapplication, usually at four to six week intervals

Lawn: Purchase seed for fall lawn projects and broadleaf weed control. Plan sodding projects and order sod for early fall installation. Treat for chinch bugs and sod webworms. Purchase fertilizer and, if desired, apply now until mid October. Cut as needed, based on growth not schedule, to a height of about 2 ½ to 3 inches tall. Use a sharp blade. Keep newly seeded or sodded lawns watered; supplement rain in weeks where less than an inch. Apply preemergent crabgrass control. Fill in holes and low spots in lawn. Apply corn gluten based weed control in the garden; reapply at four to six week intervals.

Chores: Start getting plants ready to bring in. Repot those that need it and pot up those you want to winter over indoors. Harvest crops regularly, at least every other day. Check hoses; replace washers and correct leaky connections. Dump standing water and remove anything that may collect rainwater to help control mosquito populations. Check seed inventory for late crops and fall planting. Water any recent plantings and containers anytime we experience a week with less than an inch of rain. Note damaged caulking around doors and windows. Provide deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents. Clear gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations.

Tools, equipment, and supplies: Check spring equipment and supplies, repair or replace. Sharpen blades, get fresh gas, check and/or replace oil. Send mowers and tractors for tune-up or repair.

Safety: Clear lawns of debris before mowing and make sure pets, children and others are well away from the area being mown. Store garden chemicals indoors away from pets and children. Discard outdated ones at local chemical collection events. Photograph storm damage before clearing or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Anytime you are outside and the temperatures are about 50 F or warmer watch for tick bites. Use an insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages. Even in cold weather, apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit exposure to sun. Wear closed-toe shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using any loud power tools.

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.

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Q: — LisaLisa wrote back:In Our GardenWeek in the GardenSeasonal: Lawn: Chores: Tools, equipment, and supplies: Safety: