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Focus on Brugmansia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mary Voss   
Thursday, 23 July 2009 15:41

There is nothing more impressive than a large Brugmansia, or Angels Trumpet, in full bloom.  So impressive that you may even have people stop at your home to ask about the trumpet blooms.  Most are also incredibly fragrant at night.  If you have many shrubs blooming in your gardens at once, the scent can be almost overpowering at times.  Their presence may make them seem demanding, but they are quite easy to grow.

Brugmansia Species

The genus Brugmansia belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which also includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, Datura, tobacco, and many others. There are several different species of Brugmansia, which are divided into 2 groups.  The ones that we commonly grow here in Louisiana fall into what is called the aurea group. These species are aurea, versicolor, suaveolens, x candida, and x insignis.  There are also many multi-hybrids in existence that are crosses between these various species.

Brugmansia aurea is best known for its large, vigorous leaves, which are the largest of all the Brugmansia species. Depending on cultural conditions, they can be up to 28 inches long and 14 inches wide. Flowers of aurea range in color from yellow through golden and apricot, white and pink, and are generally held in a horizontal or nodding position with the calyx covering the narrow portion of the corolla tube. . They range in size from 6 inches to 12 inches long. The long peaks, from 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, are very distinctive.

Brugmansia versicolor is easy to recognize, with the flowers being the largest of all the Brugmansias, reaching a length of 12 to 20 inches. The base of the flower tube, or corolla, is thin and long and is always clearly visible outside the calyx, and can be up to half the total length of the flower. The flower is trumpet shaped, widening into large frills on the flower edge with curved peaks that are 1 to 2 1/2 inches long. The flowers are held vertically, or pendant. It blooms in bursts, but very impressive about this species is the number of blooms at the same time. When in bloom it will appear as one mass of flowers, followed by periods with no flowers at all while new buds are forming. Versicolor flowers first open white then eventually take on their final color that can range from apricot or peach to pink or white.

Brugmansia suaveolens is probably the most widespread variety of all Brugmansia. The flowers range from 9 1/2 to 13 inches long and are funnel shaped with short peaks, usually only 1/2 to 1 inch long. They are mainly white to creamy white in color, yellow or pink, and are held in a nodding position, with the narrow part of the corolla tube visible outside of the calyx. Suaveolens flowers in bursts but is usually never completely without flowers. It is one of the strongest growing species of Brugmansia.

Brugmansia x candida is a naturally occurring hybrid between Brugmansia aurea and Brugmansia versicolor. This is a very tolerant variety, surviving in very diverse environments. Flowers are strongly fragrant, and range from 9 to 13 inches in length with colors varying from white to yellow, apricot, and pink; are generally held vertically or pendant, with the narrow part of the corolla tube covered by the calyx. It is one of the most abundant blooming and reliable brugmansias. Several x candida varieties produce double flowers, with the second flower or corolla lying within the outer one.
Brugmansia x insignis, once thought to be a naturally occurring hybrid, is now considered to be an independent species. It closely resembles suaveolens but upon closer inspection, x insignis can be distinguished by the longer thread-shaped flower peaks and the distinctly longer narrowed parts of the flower corolla. The flowers of x insignis vary from cream to white, yellow to orange, and varying shades of pink, and are generally held in a nodding position. They are 10 to 16 inches long and narrow at the base to a thin long tube that is clearly visible outside the calyx. The petal peaks are 1 to 2 1/2 inches long and often twisted in spirals. This species exceeds all the other species of Brugmansia in its need for warmth.

Brugmansia Cultivation

Brugmansia are native to South America where they flourish with humid warm days and cool nights.  We cannot duplicate that growing environment in Louisiana, but they do thrive here.  In the heat of the strong summer sun, Brugmansia prefer shade in the afternoon, so situate yours where it will receive ample sun in the morning but benefit from some shade in the heat of the afternoon.  Brugmansias should be grown in fertile, moist but well-drained soil.  They do not like wet-feet, so pick a site that has adequate drainage and prepare the soil well by amending with large quantities of organic matter. Grown in the ground, they will not require as much fertilizer as pot culture, but will perform and bloom better with regular quantities of a high quality fertilizer. 15 percent nitrogen, 5-10 percent phosphate and 10-15 percent potassium is recommended, along with micro nutrients including magnesium, calcium, boron, iron, etc.  One good water-soluble fertilizer that meets these requirements is Peter’s Excel 15-5-15 Cal Mag.  If you prefer to use a timed-release fertilizer, look for one with those ratios that contains micronutrients.  Often timed-release fertilizers made for roses will fit the requirements.

If you prefer to grow your Brugmansia in containers, always choose large, wide, containers. A fairly deep layer of gravel on the bottom of the container increases the weight of the tub and at the same time reduces the danger of the plant having wet feet. It is extremely important that water is continually drained from the planter.  As the plants get larger, they will become top heavy and have a tendency to blow over in heavy winds.  Many people choose to partially or completely bury their containers to prevent this from happening.  A good quality potting soil should be used.  Many of the commercially obtained potting soils are primarily peat based, and I prefer to amend mine by combining ½ commercial potting soil and ½ compost to make a little heavier mix.  Kelp meal makes an excellent addition to the soil of container grown plants, and you might want to also mix in some timed-release fertilizer at this point.  Grown in containers, your Brugmansia may need watering once or twice daily, depending upon the weather and the humidity.  The ball of the roots must be soaked thoroughly until water flows out of the drainage holes. If the leaves start to droop, the plant generally needs water. If Brugmansia are left to stand continually in full sun during extremely hot weather, then the roots cannot supply enough water to the leaves during the day as the leaves will loose more water through transpiration (the plants equivalent of sweating) than it can take up from the roots, even when sufficiently watered. You will notice leaves drooping even though the soil is still moist. Frequent sprinkling is beneficial not only to plants standing in full sun but also to all Brugmansia in general.

Brugmansia grown in pots will require more frequent fertilizing than those grown in the ground.  Fertilize once or twice a week. Brugmansia that are going to over winter outside do not need any fertilizer after August.

Brugmansia Growth

There are two distinct regions on a growing Brugmansia, the vegetative region and the flowering region.  A new plant grown from seed must grow tall enough to develop a “Y” before it will begin to bloom.  The point at which the “Y” develops will vary from plant to plant.  All growth below the “Y” is considered the vegetative growth, above the “Y” is the flowering region.  If you receive a cutting grown Brugmansia, and the cutting was taken from the vegetative region, then you will have to wait until your plant develops the genetic “Y” before it will begin to bloom.  If, however, you receive a cutting grown plant and the cutting was taken from the flowering region, then you may see blooms develop before you see the development of a “Y”.  The plant will continue to grow and develop more “Y’s” and bloom more.  The leaves are distinctly different from the 2 regions also.  Leaves from the vegetative region will have equal bases; those from the flowering region will have unequal bases.

Propagating Brugmansia

Brugmansia are generally very easily propagated from cuttings or started from seed.  The species we grow here in Louisiana are self-sterile, meaning they cannot be fertilized by their own pollen or pollen from another identical plant or clone.  Because of this, any plants you grow from seed will not be identical to the plant the seed was obtained from but will be genetically a mixture from the 2 parents.  In order to obtain an identical plant, or clone, from a Brugmansia, you must root cuttings.

When choosing your material from which to take cuttings, inspect the trunk of the plant and look for what is referred to as lenticels, white bumps or nubbies, present on the trunk.  These obvious bumps should be present in order for your cutting to root easily.  It may root without them, but will root much easier and quicker with them.  Take a cutting approximately 4 to 6 inches long, making sure that the cutting contains at least one or more nodes, which is the place where leaves grow from the trunk.  It may be an old node where the leaf has already dropped off, or the leaf may still be present.  Use clean sharp pruners when removing the portion to root.  Remember to always sterilize your pruners when going from plant to plant to prevent the spread of any disease.  Remove all of the leaves from the cutting.  If your cutting is a tip or growing point, you may leave the very smallest leaves at the tip of the cutting.  It isn’t generally necessary to use any type of rooting hormone with Brugmansia, as they root easily, but you may use some at this point if you prefer.  Place your cutting in a small pot of very well draining soil, vermiculite, perlite, sand, or a combination of these.  Keep the soil damp, but allow it to dry out some between watering.  It is better to keep the medium too dry than too wet when rooting, as these cuttings are prone to rot.  You should see new growth and roots developing soon.  The new growth may begin to develop before the roots do.  I root my cuttings in clear plastic cups in which I have drilled drainage holes.  That way, I can see the roots developing and will know when it is rooted enough to move into a larger container.  Once the roots have begun to fill the small container, you can pot it up to a larger container.  I generally pot them up from the plastic cup into gallon size pots, and from the gallons into 5-gallon pots, or directly in the ground.  Brugmansia are fast growing, so give them plenty of room.
Growing Brugmansia from seed is not difficult.  Remember, though, that you cannot predict what the seedling flowers will look like, as they will not be identical to the parents.  This is what makes growing from seed interesting; you never know what you will get.  The size of the seed varies depending upon the species, but all Brugmansia seeds have a woody or corky outer covering called a pericarp.  Dried seeds should be soaked in water approximately 24 to 72 hours.  If you have a seed that is large enough, after soaking, peel the outer corky covering off, leaving the inner seed that resembles a tiny white bean.  If you do not peel the pericarp off, you could have problems with the seed coat not falling off the seedling after germination.  Attempts to remove this from the seedling after it has germinated, often results in decapitating the new seedling.  Some Brugmansia seeds, such as suaveolens, are too small to peel, though, so a thorough soaking is best.

Plant your seeds in well draining sterile medium just barely covered with soil.  Some hybridizers plant directly on the surface so they can observe when germination has taken place.  Keep the containers in a warm area or use a seedling heat mat.  The medium should remain evenly moist but not too wet or the seeds will rot.  Germination can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  The fresher the seeds, the quicker they will germinate, usually.  Seedlings can be planted in individual containers as soon as they have developed their first or second set of “true” leaves.  It can take seed grown Brugmansia anywhere from 4 months to 2 years to initially bloom. 

Winterizing Brugmansia

In Louisiana, Brugmansia can be planted in the ground and will generally return from the root if the ground doesn’t freeze.  Some species are hardier than others, such as suaveolens, which will withstand the cold better than versicolor or x insignis.  Versicolor and x insignis Brugmansia often will not return from the roots if the temperature drops below 50 degrees. If you plan on leaving your plants in the ground, mulch heavily with straw, bark, etc., over the root zone to protect from freezing.  It is suggested that you remove some of the top growth before a freeze, and cut it up for rooting, as a back-up in case your plant does not return from the roots.  If you choose to over-winter your Brugmansia in this method, you may have to wait a while the next season before you see blooms.  Plants that are required to return from the roots may not develop enough growth to bloom until the fall, or if you have a mild winter, they may grow fast enough for a spring bloom.

In order to have blooms sooner in the season, you may choose to over-winter your Brugmansia in containers.  If they have been container grown during the season, it is just a matter of moving those containers into a protected location during freezes.  Any place that doesn’t drop below freezing is adequate, such as an unheated garage.  These plants may go dormant dropping most or all of their leaves.  During this time, water very sparingly, and do not fertilize.  Less light is necessary if the plants are stored at lower temperatures. Between 41° and 50° F (5° - 10° C) most Brugmansia growth ceases, so the plants can tolerate storage in darkness for extended periods.  When you move them back into sunnier and warmer weather the next spring, they will vigorously burst forth with new growth.  Brugmansia grown in the ground can also be dug up and put into containers to bring in during freezes.

Alternatively, if you have your plants in the ground, just before the first freeze, pick the largest, healthiest looking trunk.  Cut this trunk off just above ground level.  Remove all of the leaves, and plant the trunk into a pot of well draining potting soil.  Keep the soil moist but not overly wet.  If you use a large container, such as a 5-gallon pot, you can put several trunks into one pot.  Remember to mark each trunk with the cultivar name so you can distinguish them from each other.  Move these potted trunks into a protected location. These trunks will develop roots during the winter, and be ready to plant back in the same location the next spring.  Using this method, you can overwinter more plants in a smaller area, but still have full size Brugmansia to put out in the spring.  You also will not have to wait as long for blooms the next season. 

Pest & Diseases

Being in the same family as tomatoes, potatoes, etc., Brugmansias can be bothered by caterpillars, especially the tomato hornworm.  A tomato hornworm is the larva of a five-spotted hawk moth. Tomato hornworms are big, fat, green caterpillars.  They are voracious eaters, and can work their way through a small Brugmansia plant in no time.  The first time I saw the damage, I thought a rabbit had been eating my plant because of the amount of destruction, and the droppings left behind, but it was the tomato hornworm that had been at work.  Other caterpillars will also find their way onto your plants.  Sprays that contain Bacillus thuringiensis var. kustaki, or Bt, are an effective means to control most types of leaf eating caterpillars.  Thuricide is one example of Bt spray for caterpillars.

Spider mites can also be a real problem in hot, dry weather.  Spider mite injury can resemble herbicide injury or a foliar disease; however, characteristic signs are tiny yellow spots, or stipples, on leaves. As the injury becomes more severe, leaves turn yellow, then brown or bronze, and finally die and drop off.  In severe infestations the webbing may be visible between leaves or on the underside of leaves.  The mites live on the undersides of the leaves, and can be seen by holding a piece of plain white paper under the leaf and flicking the leaf. The mites can then be seen crawling around on the paper. They look like bits of moving dust.  In a very mild case, you can spray the undersides of the leaves with a strong stream of water to dislodge any mites that are present.  Doing this daily may get them under control.  If you have a severe infestation, you may have to resort to chemicals, or destroy the plant.  Miticides (chemicals that are specific for mite infestations) include Kelthane, Avid, and others.  Many of these are very expensive, but a little goes a long way.  Always use at the concentration recommended by the manufacturer, as well as observe any safety precautions that are recommended.  It is recommended when using any type of chemical control for insects to rotate types of chemicals used after 3 applications.  Insects build up resistance or immunity to some pesticides, and rotating applications helps prevent this from happening.  Neem oil sprays can also be effective for spider mites, and they are not as likely to develop resistance.  When using oil sprays, it is best to spray very early in the morning or late in the evening when the weather is cooler to prevent foliar damage from the oils.

Other common garden pests such as aphids, etc can also bother Brugmansia.  Any time you suspect insect damage, make sure you identify the culprit correctly, and use controls that are appropriate for the pest that is causing the damage. 
You may occasionally find fungal damage to brugmansia plants, especially during wet weather.  Identifying the exact pathogen can be difficult with plant diseases, but if a fungus is suspected, you can treat with a broad-spectrum fungicide, such as Daconil, which is now commonly sold as Ortho Garden Disease Control.  It should be applied every 7 to 14 days until conditions no longer favor disease.  During periods when conditions favor severe disease, generally cloudy or wet weather, use the shorter interval between applications.  It will not erase damage that is already present, but will prevent new fungal damage from occurring. 


If you aren’t already growing Brugmansia in your landscape, give one or more a try.  Their rewards of beautiful flowers and heavenly fragrance far exceed the demands. 

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 July 2009 15:57