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BRIEF: Could you tell me the scientific name of this plant?


QUESTION:
Several of my neighbors have a plant they call a moon flower. It grows on a thick vine that can either climb or spread acrooss the yard. It is a very large plant and can cover an immense area. The flowers are huge and white, they only bloom in the evening and at night. They resemble an extemely large morning glory. In the fall the plant developes a large hollow ball that has razor sharp spines and contains the seeds inside. Are you familiar with the plant I am describing? If so, I would like to know the actual scientific name of it. I would also like to know if it is toxic since one of my kittens ate some it and passed away shortly afterward. Any information or websites you could recommend would be very helpful.

ANSWER:

Although I usually associate the common name Moonflower with one of the morning glory (Impomea) species, I think you have described a species of Datura or closely related genus. These latter genera include Jimsonweed and angel's trumpet. Seeds from these plants are quite deadly in sufficient dosages, and have caused both human and animal deaths and illnesses. Unfortunately, in addition to death and some horrible discomfort, they are also hallucinogenic, so people have tried to use them for recreational purposes. Unfortunately, the poor judgement that leads to that sort of behavior can contribute to taking lethal amounts, as well. I don't know if this had anything to do with your cat's death (we'll never know that for sure), but it is possible.