Monday, April 15, 2013

The nasty side of the Golden Trumpet

Species name: Allamanda cathartica

Common name: golden trumpet, yellow trumpet vine

Location: Dominican Republic

The golden trumpet vine is native to Brazil, but because of its pleasing aesthetics has been transported around the world to different tropical locations as an ornamental species. Unfortunately, in almost all of those locations it has become invasive not because of its seeds, but because it reproduces asexually so readily. This plant is usually used as a hedge and is pruned multiple times per year, causing the stems of the vine to be cut up. Normally this isn't a problem but for a plant like this that can root so easily from cuttings it's potentially disastrous. Each tiny piece of plant can become a new one, and so without proper disposal of all fragments the vine can very quickly get out of control.

One of the most impressive qualities of this plant is how quickly it grows. Unlike many other vines, it does not have its own support system so requires a trellis to prop it up off the ground (or it could be grown as a ground-creeping vine; it doesn't anchor itself in the ground like English Ivy does which you can read all about HERE). It also doesn't have tendrils or circular stem growth like peas do, so it also won't strangle plants it is propped up against (but will, more than likely, shade out any competitors). In only a couple of months during the peak of the growing season, it can grow up to 20 feet. Yes, twenty. That wasn't a typo. That's a few inches a could almost watch the plant growing if you could sit still long enough. That's insane.

Aside from the ridiculous speed of growth, this plant also has intoxicating yellow flowers. The flowers fully open just at sunrise, releasing a huge amount of scent along with them that you can smell from tens of feet away, in the attempt to attract their pollinators: hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are most active and looking for nectar first thing in the morning when they're still trying to recover from their overnight tropor or short hibernation. Warming such a tiny body up can only be accomplished by moving flight muscles, which hummingbirds can do at extraordinary speeds. This, as you can probably imagine, requires a whole lot of energy. Where does this energy come from? Sugar! And where does sugar come from for hummingbirds? Nectar! So the fact that these flowers open and are right ready to accept hummingbirds first thing in the morning means that the flowers are going to be visited right away if there are hummingbirds in the area. If this plant is propped up off the ground and allowed to grow in very dense clumps beside a wall for shelter, chances are you might find a hummingbird nest inside the clump of vines if you look hard enough. It would be like a Canadian Tim Horton's addict setting up a tent right outside a store. You can get your fix of morning java as soon as you wake up!

Unfortunately, this plant isn't just fun and games and pretty flowers to look at it. It is incredibly toxic, and the toxicity of the latex is enough to induce second-degree chemical burns if it stays on your skin long enough. If you are around this plant and are pruning it, PLEASE wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt and pants (not to mention closed-toe shoes. Toes get ignored the most when it comes to gardening, and the last thing you want is a second-degree burn on your feet!). Also, there should never be a circumstance when you decide eating this plant would be a good idea. The toxic chemical called allamandin in the plant will cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, liver failure, kidney failure, coma, and potentially lead to death. As with many toxic plants, this plant may have a redeeming quality or two: in very low doses, allamandin is sometimes marketed in "natural" laxatives because of its cathartic qualities. Also, pure extracts of the latex of the plant show that it has potent antimicrobial and anticancer properties, so it might one day be used in conjunction with current cancer treatments. Every thorn has its rose (or something like that).