Devil’s Snare comes to Alberta

By Tim Kalinowski, Ag-Matters staff writer


It goes by many names: Moonflower, Thornapple, Devil’s snare, Angel’s trumpet, Pricklyburr, Jamestown weed.

Jimson weed, part of the deadly Nightshade family of plants, has a long history with humankind both as a medicinal herb and as a powerful hallucinogenic. It can also be lethal in large enough doses. It is a plant with a checkered past, and it has now made its way into Alberta fields.

Curtis Rempel, vice president of production and innovation with the Canola Council of Canada, says there is definitely cause for concern with its arrival but not alarm.

“What I know to be a complete fact is we have three fields in north central or central Alberta. We are also hearing there may also be additional fields with the weed. I am still looking to have formal confirmation of that. These would not all be limited to canola. It’s important from health and safety perspective to let people know about this potentially dangerous weed. If you look back historically at the weed, and its use, it was used as a medicinal herb. Like everything else that has a strong medicinal use, something that can have a positive pharmacological effect can also be an hallucinogenic and/ or potentially lethal one in high enough dose.”

One of the nicknames of Jimson weed is a clue to its origin. Jamestown weed, as it is sometimes called, shows the plant was likely brought over with the early American pilgrims on the Mayflower. It was used by these settlers as part of decoctions to treat everything from toothaches to nausea, and is still grown as an ornamental in many gardens to this day. It began spreading into agricultural fields in the United States over a century ago. It simply took this long to reach Alberta.

As Rempel explains, climate is a factor in its recent appearance.

“We do know the weed likes hot and dry conditions. Less competitive crops are also advantageous for the weed. So if you think about parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan this year, hot and dry, and in some cases with arrested crop growth—this might be the reason we are seeing the plant poking its head up here and there. We don’t know under our western Canadian prairie conditions, with the cold temperatures we get, if Jimson will be able to persist in the seed bank long term as it does elsewhere.”

Rempel says there is no risk to the public accidentally coming in contact with this plant or any risk to the food processing system at this time.

“Will we need to take additional precautions when processing canola oil with this weed in it? That’s still one of the big questions for the future. We are not concerned about the crop this year; that’s based on the fact that there are so few confirmed fields with it. And there are low numbers of weeds in those fields. I would say given the dissolution effects of production, and with so few weeds, the risk to the public is extremely low at this time. The greater risk is to producers who may be going out to pick these weeds in their fields.”

Rempel says the Canola Council and its agriculture industry partners in Canada are currently studying the control measures used in the United States, which has been dealing with this weed in crops for many years. They will hopefully be able to provide additional recommendations to farmers if this weed becomes a long term problem in western Canada.

“We are touching base with academics in the United States. We are trying to find ways to manage it from a culture and control perspective. We do know there are products like Round-up and Liberty, that those products are labeled for control of the weed in the United States. There are chemistries which could be effective,” states Rempel.

For the time being all farmers can do is remain vigilant and handle this plant with care if they do encounter it.

“For now you should just follow good scouting practices,” confirms Rempel. “Every time you are walking through your crop keep your eyes open. In this case you are looking for a new type of weed you have never seen before. If you do see this weed by all means pick it so you can bring it in to an agronomist for positive identification, but we would ask you to use some additional caution when doing so. So definitely wear gloves, and avoid accidental inhalation, contact or ingestion. Make sure you bag the weed after you pick it.”