The Moonflowers of Florida

The name moonflower is used to describe two species of flowering plants, Ipomoea alba (tropical white morning glory) and Datura stramonium (Jimson weed, and my personal favorite, zombie’s cucumber). Of the two moonflowers, only I. alba is native to Florida rivers (FIG 1)1, forming great white curtains draped from the canopies of oak, willow and ash {Monsoons and Moonflowers}, while D. stramonium prefers the dregs of roadside soils. Both attract various species of hawk moth, but only I. alba blooms exclusively under the moon (also in heavy shade)2.

As a postscript, a friend and colleague of mine reminded me of the roles these moonflowers have played in human history. For example, since the 1500s the sap of I. alba has been used as an anodyne (for pain), as well as a laxative, and in the making of crude rubber latex3. Whereas the Datura contain psychotropic alkaloids, such as atropine and scopolamine, used by many cultures since the 1800s in entheogenic rituals4,5, and in the early 20th century to induce twilight sleep (amnesia) intrapartum by administration of morphine in conjunction with scopolamine as the amnesic6,7.

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1.            Atlas of Florida Plants, Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida. Retrieved in December 2020 from:

2.            Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris spp.), United States Forest Service. Retrieved in December 2020 from:

3.            Austin, 2013. Moon-flower (Ipomoea alba, convolvulasceae—medicine, rubber enabler and ornamental: a review. Economic Botany 67(3): 224-262.

4.            Passos et al. 2016. Hallucinogenic plants in the Mediterranean countries. Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-800212-4.00071-6.

5.            Freye, 2010. Toxicity of Datura Stramonium in Pharmacology and Abuse of Cocaine, Amphetamines, Ecstasy and Related Designer Drugs. Netherlands: Springer. pp. 217–218. 

6.            What is twilight sleep and obstetrics? Sheil et al. Retrieved in December 2020 from:       

7.            J. Leavitt, 1980. Birthing and Anesthesia: The Debate over Twilight Sleep. Signs, 6(1): 147-164.

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