Plants I love

Angel’s trumpet

Plant common names are annoyingly imprecise but they often capture the appeal of a plant better than their real names. Take Brugmansia, better known as angels trumpet. For once this isn’t a case of common hyperbole. The flowers really are the size of a trumpet, albeit a small one, and have an elegance about them that is quite angelic. Some even have petals that curve upwards in slender ribbons that are very wing-like. The flowers are so lovely that it seems a shame that their real name remembers a Dutch physician, Sebald Justinus Brugmans, who was an expert in the treatment of gangrene.

Brugmansia, angels trumpet

While Brugmansia have nothing to do with gangrene, they do serve as medicine for indigenous people in their native central and South America. There they are used as medicine; in negotiations with the spirit world; and in what ethnobotanists describe as chemically-triggered ethno psychotherapy. All parts of the plants are poisonous, and they contain psychoactive substances. When the conquistadors arrived in what is now Bogata, Colombia, in 1537, the locals drugged them with a brugmansia-laced drink, and sent them all into wild hallucinations. Attempts by Australians to experiment with this aspect of the plant (median age 18, 82% male) have led to hospitalisation for tachycardia and delirium, with associated accidental injury.

The history and cultural uses of the plant are fascinating (find out more in ‘Huanduj: Brugmansia’, written by Australian expert Alistair Hay, with Monika Gottschalk and Adolfo Holguin, published by Florilegium) but the best reason to grow them is that they are fantastic garden plants for Sydney. Every drenching rain is followed a few weeks later by an amazing show of flowers that covers the whole plant. In my frost-free garden, brugmansias flower all year, or until I prune them. They are apt to drop leaves and flowers when the chill sets in and are at their dramatic best now and into autumn. The most common form is apricot, though there are also white, gold and any number of shades of pink. Bees love them and a big shrub in full bloom is abuzz with action.

Brugmansia, angels trumpet

Brugmansia can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub, or trained to a single stem like a small tree. They can be pruned and kept to a desired size, or left alone, save for the removal of dead growth and rubbing branches. You can arrange for a canopy of flower atop a border, or for flowers right down to ground level, depending on how you use the secateurs from early in the plant’s life. They need sun for good flowering, and though a hot summer afternoon will make them limp they’ll bounce back at dusk. And as night falls they will start to release their perfume, which given their common name, I just have to describe as heavenly.

Brugmansia, angels trumpet


8 thoughts on “Angel’s trumpet

  1. Tess says:

    Dear Robin,
    I read your recent article on Angel’s Trumpets in the SMH Spectrum (Feb 14-15) with interest and wonder, thank you. I’ve since found a grower and would like to purchase one, however there are numerous colours to choose from and now that I’m taken with the one you took for the image in your printed article (not the ones in your online edition (so much)), I hoped you might be able to tell me the colour of the one in that photograph?
    This is the grower, but none seem to be the exact colour of yours?:
    I hope you can help.

  2. Tess says:

    Thank you very, very much Robin. ‘Bruce’s Pink’ is stunning in both photographs, so I will purchase from the link you provided. How exciting!

    • Robin Powell says:

      Another thought Tess. You will be able to get some lovely brugs at Collectors Plant Fair. It’s on April 11 and 12 at Hawkesbury Race club at Clarendon. There’ll be heaps of horti-goodies, and some great speakers, including Michael McCoy and Philip Johnson. Michael is a garden designer and writer who blogs at The Gardenist, and Philip is the designer who won the Best in Show at Chelsea in 2013. I wrote about his fabulous billabongs a few months ago. I’ll be introducing Philip’s talk on Saturday. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

  3. Tess says:

    Thank you again Robin. I’ve already ordered 2 ‘brugs’ from El Arish Tropical Exotics but I’m thrilled you’ve alerted me to the Collectors Plant Fair where I’m sure I’ll be inspired to purchase many more goodies!

  4. Tess says:

    An update (!): ‘Bruce’s Pink’ arrived via post from El Arish Tropical Exotics in late Feb 2015 at around 10cm tall and this week (Oct 2015) she produced 6 stunning salmony-pink flowers. How delighted we were, and surprised – 7 short months! Testament to the quality of plants I believe.
    Thank you for the inspiration and advice!

  5. Robin Powell says:

    That’s so exciting Tess! Thanks for letting me know. But watch out, it’s easy to get addicted. I have a lovely gold one that is pretty irresistible.

  6. Wayne says:

    Hi I have a 3 metre high plant with around 100 pink flowers growing well at Springwood just up from Penrith
    My favourite plant in the garden

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