A lush jasmine-like fragrance wafts onto the evening breeze as soon as her petals open, and I am transported to another world like Alice in Wonderland where the flowers talk with me. Memories float through my mind’s eye: swaying in the tops of huge pines at dusk; the sound of rain in the dark hitting the canvas top of the platform tent at girl scout camp; watching meteors steak across the whole of the night sky. There is magic in these memories.
I have grown Sacred Datura moonflower for several years and she easily reseeds herself. But this year, the raised beds by the driveway where she usually grows were completely redone and I did not replant any new seeds. None the less, one little scrawny Datura plant managed to grow by happenstance in the crack between the new flower bed and driveway. Such determination! She only had enough vitality for one flower. And that flower grew as big and beautiful as any Datura flower I have ever seen, six inches across, and she opened on the full Corn Moon. With only one flower, I don’t believe for a minute that she opened on the full moon by chance! They say that moonflowers open in the dark to be pollenated by night flying sphinx moths or other insects. But if that were the only reason, it wouldn’t matter what night her flower opened, would it?
Does the full moon pull her open like the tides? They say that leaves and seeds grow more in the waxing moon, and roots grow more in the waning moon. The moonlight certainly radiates Datura’s beauty, and she glows with an ethereal, ghostly quality. And then, the following morning, she is just another flower, rather pale in the morning light. Moonflowers need the moonlight to be seen in the dark. The bright whiteness of their flower draws down the moonlight to our eyes at ground level and reflects it back to us. Mesmerized with her light and fragrance, our senses open to even more of the evenings’ magic, such as the summer night sounds of the crickets and the frogs, and the stars appearing in the sky. We are enveloped in a velvet cocoon of the evening darkness that transports us to that magical memory place where the busyness of the day is forgotten.
This year I was fortunate enough to be there to watch her flower open. All through the day her closed-up petals slowly emerged from their sheath, pushing up to the sky. Then as the shadows started to lengthen, the tentacles of her petal edges slowly began to release, little by little. It was like watching two lovers’ arms trying to hold tight to each other, but being pulled slowly apart, until the last finger slipped free. Then the white trumpet of her flower mouth flung open, and that incredible sweet perfume rushed out, like opening a window at the bakery, to announce far and wide the feast is ready. And with a little pale green color deep in her throat, and five pale pink stamens holding the offered pollen, she is like a maiden whose radiance needs no additional adornment.
What is the magic of a Datura moonflower? Like a siren call, the impulse to dive deep into her throat is felt. Her fragrance is so sensuous that I am carried to a long-forgotten magical garden where I can almost feel her perfume caressing me. And yet she is highly poisonous, and dangerously hallucinogenic, and her leaves and stems smell like dirty socks. So much contrast in one plant! Her beauty allures us and her poison frightens us. It would be easy to say that bad things often seduce with false beauty and write off Datura as a “bad plant”. Many ranchers have done just that because of how poisonous Datura is to their cattle, and understandably so.
But Datura’s poison is only her way of protecting herself. It is the way she has found to grow proudly and protected, so that she is able to open herself fully and without reservation to the moon when it is time, letting those protections go. Also known as Angel’s Trumpet, when she unfurls at dusk, throws herself open to the light of the moon, and sends out her fragrance, I hear her say to me: “Here, take my hand. Come drink the moonlight with me. Let me soften your fear.” And fears I wasn’t even aware I was still holding, slip away, no longer needed. My body remembers that moonlit summer nights are so nourishing for the soul, renewing a deep sensual connection we have to the Earth.
More Datura seeds are arriving in my mailbox any day now so that I can sow them in the garden bed this fall. The winter soil will hold them and sprout a new bed of Datura in the spring, and hopefully there will be more luscious flowers for many moonlit nights next summer. What memories, what prayers will be called? What fears will be laid to rest then?