Published: Thursday, May 19, 2011, 8:00 PM
My introduction to angel's trumpet came when I moved to New Orleans. Wandering around a friend's garden at dusk in late summer, I caught a whiff of an amazing fragrance.
Like many gardeners faced with a similar situation, I was not about to ask the origin of the scent. I set off to find it for myself, and it didn't take long. It is hard to overlook a plant that brings such a dramatic presence to the garden.
There are two related plants that local gardeners call angel's trumpet. The one I first encountered is Brugmansia arborea.
The brugmansias are large-growing, tree-like plants that may reach heights of 10 feet or more if winters are mild and they don't freeze back.
The trunks and branches are covered with a slightly rough, tan bark. The large leaves are generally about 8 to 12 inches long and are covered with fine hairs.
Members of the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes and petunias, brugmansias are tropicals native to northwestern South America. They are easily grown in a moist, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun, although they will also do well with direct sun for at least four to six hours.
When the plant comes into bloom, the effect is breathtaking.
The trumpet-shaped flowers are large, about 9 inches long flaring to about 6 inches across, white and very showy. A tree in full bloom is covered with these dramatic, funnel-shaped flowers. They hang down from the branches as if trumpets directed at the earth from the heavens above -- and so the common name.
At dusk, the white flowers fairly glow. If the plant is lighted at night, the effect is awesome (use a spotlight below the plant directed upward).
I have already mentioned the fragrance. Most noticeable in the evening, the soft, seductive scent floats in the air like expensive perfume with light lemony overtones. To stick your nose right in a flower and take a whiff is almost intoxicating.
The brugmansias can begin to bloom as early as April or May, if the winter was mild and they suffered little or no freeze injury.
Although they bloom through the summer and into the fall (often continuing well into December, if the weather stays mild), angel's trumpets are not in constant bloom. They produce their flowers in flushes or waves, reaching a peak and then finishing.
Typically, there will be a period when the plants produce few or no flowers, and then a massive display will again amaze you.
I love that about them. If they stayed in constant bloom we would likely become jaded to their beauty, and we could quite possibly grow bored with the display and fragrance. As it is, when the plants enter a blooming cycle it is always welcome.
When your angel's trumpet is in full bloom, look around. You will find that all of the angel's trumpets in the area are in full bloom at the same time. This astonishing feat is remarkably consistent..
There are more colors available than white. B. versicolor produces flowers that start white then turn a delicious salmon pink. Cultivars of the hybrid B. x candida produce white, yellow, pale orange or pink flowers. Another hybrid group, B. x insignis, produces white or peach flowers. There are even double forms available and some with variegated leaves.
Angel's trumpets have been popular with area gardeners for generations. They belong to that wonderful group of plants that are readily propagated and passed from gardener to gardener.
They rarely set seeds, but it is easy to root a 6- to 8-inch cutting taken from the end of a branch during the summer.
Remove leaves from the lower two-thirds of the cutting and any flowers or flower buds. Use of a rooting hormone is optional, but it can speed rooting. Stick cuttings half their length deep in a pot of soilless potting mix, sharp sand or a half-and-half mix of perlite and vermiculite.
Keep the cuttings in a shady area and make sure the rooting mix stays moist. Rooting generally takes place in six to eight weeks.
Nurseries occasionally have angel's trumpets for sale, but they are not as readily available as they should be. Several online mail-order companies offer a good selection of cultivars and colors.
Early to midsummer is a great time to plant them. This will allow them a longer time to grow and become established. As a result, they will be more cold-resistant when they go through their first winter in the ground.
Brugmansias are reliably root-hardy here, and will resprout from the ground even if the winter is severe. Mulch the base of the trunk with about 12 inches of pine straw to protect the roots and lower trunk. If desired, a simple covering can be built to protect the upper portions of the plant, if it is not too large.
The other plant we call angel's trumpet is closely related to the brugmansias but looks quite different.
Datura metel is shrubbier in appearance, although these plants occasionally can grow 6 or 7 feet tall. The young stems are typically shiny dark purple. The leaves are not hairy and often have a purple tint to them.
The trumpet-shaped flowers may be white, purple and white or pale yellow, and the double-flowered forms are more commonly grown than singles. Unlike the brugmansias, whose flowers hang downward, daturas hold their flowers upright.
The sweet fragrance does not permeate the air around the plants to the extent of the brugmansias, but is delightful nonetheless.
Daturas produce lots of round seedpods that may be spiny or bumpy, and the plants are more commonly propagated from seeds than cuttings. When the pods are ripe and begin to split open, harvest the seeds within.
If planted during the summer in pots of soilless mix, the seeds germinate readily and will produce all the plants you and your friends could possibly want.
All parts of brugmansia and datura plants are poisonous, so watch toddlers or young children when they are around them.
It is against the law to grow or process these plants for human consumption in Louisiana, but it is not illegal to propagate and grow them as ornamentals.
Don't let this deter you. Just be aware, and enjoy these remarkable plants in your own landscape.
DAN GILL'S MAILBOX
I am currently having a problem with my cucumbers and tomatoes, and I am emailing a few pictures of them as you sometimes ask people to do. Although the plants are currently producing fruit, the health of the plants seems to be declining, as the browning of the leaves is worsening and spreading. Your help would be greatly appreciated.
The problem with the vegetables is an insect pest called leaf miners. They are usually not a major problem this early in the season, but there seems to be a large outbreak going on now, as I've gotten numerous emails. And the emails often include photos that show extensive damage, like yours. The adult is a small fly that lays eggs on the leaves. The very tiny larvae burrow into the leaves and feed inside the leaves on the green tissue. As they feed and move through the inside of the leaf, the larvae leave behind white trails. If you look closely, you can even see where the trail starts small and gradually gets wider as the larva grows larger. Eventually, the larvae emerge from the leaf, fall to the ground, pupate and eventually emerge as adult flies. When leaf miner damage is light, the damage does not greatly affect the overall health or production of vegetable plants. This is the level of damage I see in the cucumbers. But, when entire leaves or leaflets are so tunneled through that they lose most of their green pigment, as seen in the tomato leaves, the damage is hurting the vegetables and will affect production. To minimize additional damage, spray the plants regularly with spinosad, following label directions.
We are selling my father's house, and we have to move a 50-year-old rose bush to keep it in the family. We will have to move the rose within the next two weeks and would like to know the best way to move it to ensure its survival. The rose is approximately 9 feet tall and is growing on the west side under the eaves of the house.
As you may know, moving a plant in the heat of summer when it is in active growth is very risky -- but you don't have a choice. Dig it up with as much of the root system as you practically can get. The more roots you get, the more likely the rose is to survive. You may also prune the plant back to make it a size that's more practical to move. If possible, plant it in a pot and put it in a shady area. Keeping it in shade will help it deal with the sudden loss of roots. Water as needed to keep the soil moist, but don't keep it constantly soggy. If the rose survives, plant it in its new location when the weather cools in October.
Last year after my strawberry plants were done giving berries, they almost all died. Weeds took over the garden and cucumber leaves covered some of them. I watered and fertilized, but they kept dying. I transplanted some to pots and put them in the shade; they died too. I transplanted some into sunny locations, they also died. They don't like being transplanted and die easily. The plants that I have now are doing well and are producing fruit and runners. How should I care for them before the heat sets in? Also, my satsuma trees have citrus leaf miners every year. I spray but never seem to get them under control. Should I just ignore them? Is there a way to control them without using an insecticide?
We grow strawberry plants as annuals down here. After your experience last summer, I think you can see why. After the plants finish production later this month or in June, you should remove them and put them in your compost pile. Plant that area with a heat-tolerant summer vegetable like okra, Southern peas, hot peppers or peanuts. You can plant new strawberry plants again in the fall from plants you purchase in October or November.
I would just ignore the citrus leaf miners. They do not greatly affect the overall health of the tree or the crop. If you choose to spray, make sure you are spraying with the right insecticide: Spinosad is what you want to use. Spray at the first sign of symptoms in late summer, and repeat sprays following label directions. There are no methods of control that do not involve an insecticide.
Dan Gill is extension horticulturist with the LSU Ag Center.
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