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Gardening 101: Angel’s Trumpet


Gardening 101: Angel’s Trumpet

February 22, 2018

Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia: “Tropical Touch”

Not to be a sensationalist or the overprotective type, but angel’s trumpet is one of those double-edged plants that you need to fully understand before planting. For gardens in warm climates (USDA growing zones 9 to 11), I absolutely adore angel’s trumpet shrubs and trees for their large-leafed tropical flair, unbelievable sweet evening fragrance, and elegant flowers that hang like pendulous bells. But before I plant it in any of my clients’ gardens, I give pause because, if ingested, the plant is toxic to both humans and animals.

Please keep reading to learn more about this precarious pretty plant.

Photograph by Bluebrightly via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Bluebrightly via Flickr.

Native to tropical regions of South America, angel’s trumpet is part of the nightshade family, meaning it possesses slightly toxic properties, as do tomatoes and potatoes. And because of its potentially large size and stately vase shape, angel’s trumpet represents liveliness and energy.

Above: See more of this garden in Garden Visit: A Wild Secret in the Heart of Temescal. Photograph by Sylvia Linsteadt.

Most know right away when they are in the presence of angel’s trumpet. Everything about it is dramatic: distinctive dangling trumpet-shaped flowers, oversize leaves, and a heady fragrance that appears in warm evening weather. You also will see this beauty strategically planted in tropical gardens and frost-free climates as focal points, mingling well with exotic palms, bamboo, and bromeliads.

Flower colors range from sparkling white to peachy pink, to creamsicle orange and yellow—with single, double, or even triple petals. Mature plants can soar to heights of six to 15 feet, with flowers from late summer through fall. In colder zones, angel’s trumpet can be grown in a container, and then moved indoors before the first frost to wait out the winter.

Photograph by Maja Dumat via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Maja Dumat via Flickr.

So what’s the drawback? The beauty of angel’s trumpet belies the extreme toxicity in every part of the plant (leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots). If the poison is ingested by humans or animals it can result in serious illness or death. Although every part is dangerous, the flowers and fruit-like seed pods pose the greatest risk in gardens because of the concentration of toxic compounds (be careful: curious children may find the flowers and seeds intriguing).

And then there is the concern with proper and safe plant maintenance. Here’s an unfortunate scenario: A gardener contaminates her hands while pruning or cleaning up the plant and then eats food or rubs her eyes, which leads to poisoning and the onset of symptoms such as fever, muscle weakness, rapid pulse, and hallucinations, then potential convulsions, coma, and even death. If you, a companion, or a pet ever ingest any part of this plant and symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately.

Photograph by Tanaka via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Tanaka via Flickr.

Cheat Sheet

  • To minimize health risks while letting angel’s trumpet put on a spectacular show, plant it away from where children or pets play, near walkways, and high-traffic areas. Also, avoid cross-contamination with edible crops by planting it far from vegetable beds, fruit trees, and herb gardens.
  • Plant in a tropical garden with other plants with exotic foliage. Tip: Wind can damage and shred the broad leaves and delicate flowers, so choose a protected spot.
  • Perfect as a specimen plant so one works well alone but under plant with low grasses, ferns, and bold-leafed clivia.
Photograph by Cliff via Wikimedia.
Above: Photograph by Cliff via Wikimedia.

Keep It Alive

  • Sun-loving; angel’s trumpet also tolerates part sun, but too much shade restricts blooming.
  • Fall pruning is best, but remember to wear protective goggles and gloves and always dispose of the trimmed plant matter. Also thoroughly wash clippers afterward to avoid accidental contamination when pruning edibles.
  • Brugmansia needs well-draining soil, and because angel’s trumpet is a rapid grower, demands ample water and weekly fertilizer to keep it healthy and blooming, especially if grown in a container.

See more of our favorite tropical plants in Tropical Plants 101 and flowering shrubs in Shrubs 101, including:

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