The name Datura is taken from Hindi dhatūra ‘thorn-apple’, ultimately from Sanskrit dhattūra ‘white thorn-apple’. In the Ayurvedic text Sushruta different species of Datura are also referred to as kanaka and unmatta. Dhatura is offered to Lord Shiva in Hindu/Santana religion. Record of this name in English dates back to 1662. Nathaniel Hawthorne refers to one type in The Scarlet Letter as apple-Peru. In Mexico, its common name is toloache.
Datura species are herbaceous, leafy annuals and short-lived perennials which can reach up to 2 m in height. The leaves are alternate, 10–20 cm long and 5–18 cm broad, with a lobed or toothed margin. The flowers are erect or spreading (not pendulous like those of Brugmansia), trumpet-shaped, 5–20 cm long and 4–12 cm broad at the mouth; colors vary from white to yellow, pink, and pale purple. The fruit is a spiny capsule 4–10 cm long and 2–6 cm broad, splitting open when ripe to release the numerous seeds. The seeds disperse freely over pastures, fields and even wasteland locations.
Datura belongs to the classic “witches’ weeds”, along with deadly nightshade, henbane, and mandrake. Most parts of the plants are toxic, and datura has a long history of use for causing delirious states and death. It was well known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches’ brews.
In India it has been referred to as “Poisonous” and as an aphrodisiac. In little measures it was used in Ayurveda as a medicine from the ancient times. It is used in rituals and prayers to Shiva. It is also used in Ganesh Chaturthi.
The larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Hypercompe indecisa, eat some Datura species.