Datura ferox (fierce thornapple)
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IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
Preferred Common Name
Other Scientific Names
- Datura quercifolia Kunth (1818)
- Stramonium ferox Boccone
- Datura laevis Bertol.
International Common Names
- English: angel's-trumpet; Chinese thornapple; false castor-oil; fierce thornapple; long-spine thornapple
Local Common Names
- French: datura
- Germany: Dorniger Stechapfel
- South Africa: grootstinkblaar; large thornapple
- Spain: chamico
- Sweden: langtaggig spikklubba
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
D. ferox is an annual plant that has become a significant weed of summer crops in many subtropical and warm temperate parts of the world. The plant can achieve high densities and is difficult to control. It is toxic to animals and humans, with all plant parts and seeds containing toxic alkaloids. Cases of livestock poisoning do occur, especially if animal feed is contaminated with D. ferox seeds.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Solanales
- Family: Solanaceae
- Genus: Datura
- Species: Datura ferox
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
The species name ferox means ‘strongly fortified’ and refers to the long spines on seed pods. The genus name Datura is from the Bengali name ‘dhatura’ for the plant. A number of sources including Missouri Botanical Garden (2013) and The Plant List (2014) still treat D. quercifolia as a distinct species, but others now regard the latter as a synonym of D. ferox and this is the basis for the distribution and other data presented here.
DescriptionTop of page
D. ferox is an annual herb growing 50-150 cm tall. Stems are hairless or sparsely hairy with short and soft hairs, frequently branched and often purplish towards the base. Leaf shapes range from broadly ovate to rounded-triangular, 8-14 cm long and 6-16 cm wide; leaf margins are irregularly serrated or sinuate (with deep wavy margins). Flowers are white, often tinged with violet, 4-6 cm long, with five lobes, each lobe ending in a point of 1-2 mm length. Anthers are 3-4 mm long. Fruits are ellipsoid capsules up to 4 cm long. Each capsule bears up to 60 stout spines, the upper ones being longer than the lower ones. Seeds are black or grey and 4-5 mm long (George, 1982).
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
A number of sources (e.g. Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001; USDA-ARS, 2014) indicate that, unlike other Datura species, D. ferox is native to China. However, according to Flora Zambesiaca (2014) it is ‘native to southern North America (but for a long time said to be native to China based on an error from Linnaeus)’. It is not listed in Flora of China (2014). It is unlikely that D. ferox is native to Bolivia and other parts of South America, as indicated in some floras; the species of Datura occuring in South America might have been introduced in pre-Columbian times (Geeta and Gharaibeh, 2007). In Australia, D. ferox is much less frequent than D. stramonium (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001).
D. ferox has been widely spread by humans and is now present in Japan, India, Israel, south and east Africa, Europe, California, South America, Easter Island, Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Distribution TableTop of page
|Country||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||References||Notes|
|India||Present||Introduced||Khuroo et al., 2012|
|Israel||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||Mito & Uesugi, 2004; Fufour-Dror, 2012|
|Japan||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||Mito & Uesugi, 2004|
|Kenya||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Lusweti et al., 2013|
|South Africa||Present||Introduced||POSA, 2013|
|Tanzania||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Lusweti et al., 2013|
|Uganda||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Lusweti et al., 2013|
|-California||Localised||Introduced||Not invasive||Calflora, 2013|
|-New Mexico||Present||Native||USDA-NRCS, 2014|
|-North Carolina||Present||Native||USDA-NRCS, 2014|
|-South Carolina||Present||Native||USDA-NRCS, 2014|
CENTRAL AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN
|Argentina||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Torres et al., 2013b; Torres et al., 2013a|
|Bolivia||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013||1000-2000 m|
|-Rio Grande do Sul||Present||Introduced||Schneider, 2007|
|Chile||Present||Introduced||Fuentes et al., 2013|
|-Easter Island||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Meyer, 2008|
|Colombia||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||GBIF, 2014|
|Ecuador||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||GBIF, 2014|
|Paraguay||Present||Introduced||Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013|
|Peru||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||GBIF, 2014|
|Uruguay||Present||Introduced||Plá et al., 2003|
|Belgium||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||Not invasive||Euro+Med, 2013|
|Czech Republic||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||Pysek et al., 2012||Since 1987|
|Finland||Present||Not invasive||GBIF, 2014|
|France||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||Euro+Med, 2013|
|Germany||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||Not invasive||Seybold, 2009|
|Greece||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||Not invasive||Arianoutsou et al., 2010|
|Italy||Present, few occurrences||Introduced||Not invasive||Euro+Med, 2013|
|Spain||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Dorado et al., 2009; Dorado et al., 2009|
|Sweden||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||GBIF, 2014|
|UK||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||GBIF, 2014|
|-Australian Northern Territory||Localised||Introduced||Parsons & Cuthbertson, 2001|
|-New South Wales||Localised||Introduced||Parsons & Cuthbertson, 2001|
|-Queensland||Localised||Introduced||Parsons & Cuthbertson, 2001|
|-South Australia||Localised||Introduced||Parsons & Cuthbertson, 2001|
|-Victoria||Localised||Introduced||Parsons & Cuthbertson, 2001|
|-Western Australia||Localised||Introduced||Parsons & Cuthbertson, 2001|
|New Caledonia||Present||Introduced||Invasive||MacKee, 1994|
|New Zealand||Present||Introduced||Not invasive||Webb et al., 1988|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
The exact native range of the plant is unknown due to its widespread dispersal by man. Much less is known with regard to the introduction history of D. ferox compared to other weedy thornapples. The species of Datura (including D. ferox) occuring in South America might have been introduced in pre-Columbian times (Geeta and Gharaibeh, 2007).
HabitatTop of page
D. ferox occurs in warm-temperate and subtropical regions, mostly in open situations on fertile soils. It grows on disturbed sites such as roadsides, waste places, embankments, river flats and stock yards. It is a weed of summer crops in many parts of the world, particularly cotton, soybeans, peanuts, maize, sorghum, sunflower and vegetables.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Natural|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
D. ferox is a weed in summer crops, including maize, soybean, peanuts, grain sorghum, potato, sunflower and Cucurbitaceae (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001; Torres et al., 2013a,b).
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Chromosome number: 2n = 24 (Bergner and Blakeslee, 1932). Natural hybrids between D. ferox and D. stramonium have been reported from Australia (APNI, 2013). D. ferox is self-compatible and self-pollinating, although cross-pollination yields a higher number of seeds (Torres et al., 2013 a,b). The cytogenetics of the genus Datura is the subject of a volume edited by Avery et al. (1969).
As an annual, reproduction of D. ferox is by seed only. No other plant parts have been observed to grow into new plants, but plants may remain alive if roots become partly destroyed (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). Number of seeds per fruit ranged from 96 to 227 in plants from Argentina (Torres et al., 2013b).
Average number of emerged seedlings in a maize field in Central Spain was 288 and 188 plants m-2, respectively (Dorado et al., 2009).
Physiology and Phenology
D. ferox contains toxic alkaloids, including atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine (Vitale et al., 1995; Piva et al., 1997). The content of these compounds varies with availability of nitrogen, light intensity and temperature (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). In South American D. ferox plants, scopolamine may constitute 98-100% of total alkaloids (Piva et al., 1997). Seeds also contain carbohydrate-binding proteins such as ß-Galactosidase (Plá et al., 2003).
Seeds may germinate throughout the year if soil moisture is high enough (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). 10 mm of rain or irrigation water is sufficient to cause germination once seed dominancy is broken. Seeds require an after-ripening period of several months because a chemical inhibitor in the seedcoat must be leached out or broken down before germination takes place. Therefore, germination in the field is spread over several months, making control strategies difficult (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). Germination rates vary with environmental conditions but may be low. Thus, germination rates of seeds collected from corn fields in Central Spain ranged from 2 ± 1.7 % to 11 ± 3.6 % (Dorado et al., 2009a).
According to Soriano et al. (1964) seeds need light and alternated temperatures to germinate. Martínez-Ghersa et al. (2006) emphasized that seedling emergence therefore takes place after soil cultivation in summer crops, or any other soil disturbances (Scopel et al., 1991).
Seedlings grow quickly if temperature and soil moisture are high enough. Growth rates of 2 cm per day have been recorded. Flowers may be produced at the age of 2-5 weeks. Flowering and fruiting continue throughout the summer.
The large and scented flowers open at night and are pollinated by hawkmoths, sphingids, coleopterans and Apis mellifera in soybean crop fields in Argentina (Torres et al., 2013a). D. ferox may have two flowering peaks in a year (Torres et al., 2013b).
Seeds need light and alternating temperatures in order to germinate (Soriano et al., 1964). In summer crops, seedling emergence is thus promoted by cultivation (Ballaré et al., 1988).
Growth depends on density. In a common garden study, D. ferox plants were grown at 32, 100 and 240 plants m-2 (Ballaré et al., 1988). Seedlings responded rapidly to increased plant density by producing longer internodes and allocating more dry matter to the stem relative to leaves. The number of leaves did not change significantly (Ballaré et al., 1988).
ClimateTop of page
|BS - Steppe climate||Preferred||> 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation|
|BW - Desert climate||Preferred||< 430mm annual precipitation|
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
|Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter||Preferred||Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)|
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Special soil tolerances
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
D. ferox reproduces and spreads solely by seed, which it produces in large numbers. Both seed capsules and seeds float on water, providing an effective means of dispersal.
Seeds are mainly spread by contamination of agricultural seeds, or by machinery and vehicles. In New Zealand, the plant is believed to have originated from imported birdseed (Webb et al., 1988).
Economic ImpactTop of page
Economic damage caused by D. ferox includes yield loss due to weed infestations and livestock poisoning. The plant's bitter taste usually deters grazing animals, but problems may occur if plants are included in hay. If thornapple seeds contaminate meal fed to poultry, poisoning may occur. About 1% thornapple seed in meal is the upper limit which can be tolerated by young broilers (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). Datura intoxication (including D. stramonium) has been reported for cattle, swine, dogs, sheep, goats, poultry and horses (Binev et al., 2006).
In Argentina, the leaves are unpalatable and few cases of cattle intoxication have been reported (Torres et al., 2013b). However, seed ingestion occurs when seeds are accidentally mixed with edible seeds, such as sorghum (Sorghum sp.) or sunflower (Helianthus sp.). In Argentina, this causes mortality in pigs and poultry (Gallo, 1987). Thornapple seeds are difficult to separate from seeds of grain sorghum due to their similarity in size, shape and density, which may cause contamination (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001).
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Competition - shading
- Competition - smothering
- Produces spines, thorns or burrs
- Rapid growth
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts animal health
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Proved invasive outside its native range
Likelihood of entry/control
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
- Difficult to identify/detect in the field
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
Uses ListTop of page
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Detection and InspectionTop of page
D. quercifolia can be distinguished from D. ferox by more purplish coloration in foliage; corolla and anthers, slightly downy versus glabrous; and spines somewhat less stout (Houmani et al., 1999).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
A number of related species have a similar appearance and similar properties to D. ferox, and are also weeds in various places: common thornapple (Datura stramonium L.), downy thornapple (Datura inoxia Mill. = D. innoxia Mill.), hoary thornapple (Datura metel L.) and hairy thornapple (Datura wrightii Rogel).
Both common thornapple (D. stramonium) and D. ferox produce erect fruit capsules on straight stalks. Seeds of both species are black to greyish. In contrast, fruit capsules of other thornapples (Datura leichhardtii, D. metel, D. inoxia, D. wrightii) appear on curved stalks and their seeds are brown to yellow. Flowers of D. ferox are shorter (4-6 cm long) compared to flowers of D. stramonium (up to 10 cm long). A distinguishing feature of D. ferox is the long spines on the fruit capsules.
Datura species are annual, whereas members of the closely related genus Brugmansia are perennials.
Prevention and ControlTop of page
With single plants it is best to hand pull or hoe them before fruit form (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). Larger infestations are best controlled by cultivation, preferably at the seedling stage (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). Repeated cultivation is necessary as seedlings emerge over a long period from the soil seed bank.
Thornapples are susceptible to 2,4-D in the seedling stage and young growth stages but become resistant as they mature (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). Other non-selective herbicides include atrazine, diquat, paraquat and glyphosate. The following herbicides are available for use in specific crops: acifluorfen in soybeans and peanuts; bentazone in soybeans, other beans and peanuts; 2,4-DB in certain varieties of peanuts; dicamba in grain sorghum and maize; metolachlor in maize, and picloram + 2,4-D in summer cereals (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001).
ReferencesTop of page
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ContributorsTop of page
16/12/13 Original text by:
Ewald Weber, Consultant, Switzerland
Top of page
- = Present, no further details
- = Evidence of pathogen
- = Widespread
- = Last reported
- = Localised
- = Presence unconfirmed
- = Confined and subject to quarantine
- = See regional map for distribution within the country
- = Occasional or few reports