In(toxic)ating Brunfelsia & Brugmansia

yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora 'Floribunda')

yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora ‘Floribunda’)

angel's trumpet (Brugmansia 'Inca Gold'

Brugmansia x candida 'Variegata'

Brugmansia candida

Brunfelsia and Brugmansia may sound like the names of fairytale twins — or siblings to the cruel Queen Brunhilda. As a matter of fact, Brunfelsia and Brugmansia are a pair of charismatic, voluptuous, and highly toxic botanical relatives belonging to the deadly nightshade family (Solanaceae).
The flowers of Brunfelsia, commonly known as yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, change color from royal purple to lavender to bridal white. The leaves change color in a most remarkable manner as well. When the leaf buds first break, the incipient growth is so dark green, it is virtually black. Gradually, the leaves lighten to a more predictable leathery green on their upper surfaces, offsetting a paler green underneath.
The Latin name of Brunfelsia was given in honor of Otto Brunfels, a botanist monk who lived nearly 500 years ago. Brunfels belonged to the austere Carthusian order, whose acolytes took vows of silence and solitude. One wonders how Brunfels would have reacted to the naming of such a sensual plant in his honor. Aside from the plant’s physical beauty, the intoxicating fragrance of its flowers is legendary. Did I say intoxicating? Brunfelsia has hallucinogenic properties.
Going to pot
Brunfelsia makes an outstanding container specimen and deserves wider use in this role, since there are few plants that flower so reliably in pots. It craves continual fertilization during warm weather and will respond to such a regime with more blooms. It will lose its leaves briefly in late fall or early winter before flowering in January or February and then, on and off, throughout the year.
Brugmansia (named after the Dutch naturalist Sebald Brugmans) or angel’s trumpet has stout, pendulous, flared flowers that can reach 10 inches in length and are set cheek by jowl on the plant, creating a dense floral tapestry. The flowers are fragrant, especially at night, when they attract pollinating moths. The hawk moth — which, in its larval or caterpillar form is known as the tomato hornworm — has a long proboscis that is especially well-suited to harvesting the nectar found at the base of Brugmansia’s trumpet flowers. In the manner of Brunfelsia, Brugmansia is hallucinogenic when consumed in small doses and potentially fatal when taken in excess.
Brugmansia may grow to a height of 20 feet, producing hundreds of flowers during the latter part of spring, summer and early fall. The fragrance of a single plant can perfume an entire garden. Flowers may be found in white, yellow, peach, salmon or red. Especially fragrant are the double white Brugmansias; each flower consisting of two gleaming white trumpets nested one inside the other.
Tough trumpet
In the Los Angeles area, Brugmansia is a perennial that can live for 20 years or more, and mature specimens survive a frost. The unusual cold spell we experienced last January, for example, damaged many older Valley Brugmansias, but nearly all of them survived and started growing with a vengeance when spring arrived. From the standpoint of maintenance, the most welcome characteristic of angel’s trumpet is its semi-succulent growth. This means that you do not have to be an expert to prune this plant effectively. Almost any sort of moderate cutting back, in early spring, can be done without concern that flower production, later in the season, will be compromised.
Despite its moderate frost tolerance, Brugmansia cannot abide the deeper cold of the Antelope Valley. In that area, however, it can still be grown in a container that, during the winter, should be placed against a west- or south-facing wall. To be extra safe, move the plant indoors during the winter, and reduce watering to a bare minimum. Angel’s trumpet does experience a distinct winter dormancy period.
Planted in the ground, angel’s trumpet seems to grow best in half-day sun to bright shade (under a tall tree), and should definitely be protected from the wind. The soil around it should be kept slightly moist — a 3-inch layer of mulch is highly beneficial in this respect.

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