thornapple thorn apple

Thornapple contamination of Spinach

Thornapple (Datura stramonium) is a poisonous flowering plant of the nightshade family Solanaceae. It grows yearly in gardens, along roadsides, and other uncultivated and farmed land. Thornapple is native to Central America and was imported to Australia in the early 19th century as a garden plant.

Thornapple flower
Thornapple flower is trumpet shaped, white to purple in colour and have five lobes that narrow to a thin point.

How tall does a thorn apple grow? How can I identify a thornapple?

Thornapple is a herb that grows into a bush that can be 1–1.5 m tall. The leaves are either oval or widely triangular and sharply pointed. The leaves have a light green underside and a dark green top. When crushed, the leaves have a bad odour. The trumpet-shaped flowers are white to purple and have five lobes that narrow to a thin point. The fruit is an egg-shaped capsule covered in various-length spines. Thornapples develop rapidly, flower from summer through autumn, and typically die in the autumn.

thornapple seed pods
The Thornapple seed pods are them most toxic part of the plant.

Uses for thornapple

Thornapple is a plant with both poisonous and medicinal properties and has been shown to have pharmacological potential. Thornapple has been shown to contain alkaloids, tannins, carbohydrates and proteins. Studies showed that its leaves, applied after roasting, are useful in relieving pain and encouraging the healing process.

Thornapple seeds are the most toxic part of the plant.
Thornapple seeds are the most toxic part of the plant.

The seed of thornapple is medicinally the most active. It is also used to relax the smooth muscle of the bronchial tube and asthmatic bronchial spasm. In ancient cultures, it was used as a hallucinogenic drug. Note, thornapple is poisonous and consuming it is dangerous. It is not recommended to try even small amounts.

Thorn apple, or thornapple, Datura Stramonium
Thorn apple, or thornapple, Datura Stramonium.

The Effects of thornapple poisoning on the human body

Thornapple is a poisonous plant that should not be consumed in any form, especially the seeds. Children are especially susceptible to thornapple poisoning. It has toxins called topane alkaloids that can make you very sick or even kill you. The effects of eating the thornapple plant include hallucinations, vomiting, dilated pupils, high fever, and weak or quick pulse. Some people may have headaches, nausea, and rashes after just touching the plant.

Atropine molecule
Atropine deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) alkaloid molecule. Medicinal drug and poison also found in Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) and mandrake (Mandragora officinarum). Hyoscyamine (atropine) and scopolamine are the predominant tropane alkaloids in the Datura genus, occurring in all plant parts.


The Effect of thornapple poisoning on animals

Thornapple is also dangerous to livestock, dogs, and other pets. Although livestock often avoids it, most cases of livestock poisoning are caused by thornapple in their feed. Animal signs include low body temperature, breathing difficulty, a dry mouth, and a sluggish or rapid heartbeat.


Related species of Datura stramonium

The related species of Datura stramonium are Datura ferox, Datura inoxia, Datura leichherdtii, Datura metal and Datura wrightii. All these species differ only because of the shape of capsules, the number and length of spines on capsules and the position of capsules.  

Control of throne apple weed

You can get rid of thornapple by using herbicides, mulching, slashing, pulling it out by hand, or chipping it. To get rid of the plants, pull them out. Make sure to get as much root as possible, or the plants might grow back. Cutting the plant before seeding is the best way to control it since seeds have been viable for years. However, plants that have produced seeds should not be discarded as part of the green wate collection and either buried at a depth of more than 60 cm or burned to prevent the spreading. Wear gloves or wash your hands well after touching this plant.

To suffocate this weed, use an opaque sheet such as woven polypropylene or organic mulch at least 5 cm thick.

Green baby spinach crop
Green baby spinach crop

Australian spinach crops and thornapple

Recent reports indicate that at least 190 people in four Australian states have experienced hallucinations, blurred vision, and confusion.  After the investigation, Riviera Farms and Victoria Health determined that thornapple, a weed, had accidentally been gathered and packed with the Australian spinach. As a result, it has been shown that thornapple was the source of the illness.

View of field planted with ripening green spinach cultivar. Thornapple could easily be unnoticed in this crop.
View of field planted with ripening green spinach cultivar. Thornapple could easily be unnoticed in this crop.

How did thornapple get into spinach?

These weeds thrive in warm, temperate, and subtropical climates with good soil, therefore they are frequently found along rivers, roadside edges and in agricultural areas where they compete with summer crops. Tim Entwistle, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, said that the high amount of rain this year probably helped the weed spread.

More information on  weed control

9 Toxic Plants to avoid for pet friendly gardens


Melbourne Garden Weed Prevention


Agriculture Victoria


NSW Weedwise


Government of Western Australia Agriculture and Food