Little Shop of Horrors: Is Toxic Jimsonweed Taking Over, Or Are We All Just Overreacting?

Jimsonweed in front of 111 West 96th Street.

By Carol Tannenhauser

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of New York City being invaded by a toxic, hallucinogenic weed are greatly exaggerated, according to Crystal Howard, assistant commissioner, communications, NYC Parks.

“Our gardeners rarely find Jimsonweed in city parks,” she said, “but when they do, they remove and dispose of it immediately.”

Still, reports of the poisonous weed growing outside of parks, in the neighborhood, keep coming in.

“HELP! Hallucinogenic killer weed…jimsonweed…LOADS OF IT….here, in front of…111 west 96th street,” Lisa Lehr emailed WSR on Monday, the day after we reported the first Jimsonweed sighting in the pedestrian island next to the bike lane on 93rd Street and Columbus Avenue.

Jimsonweed is “a well-known hallucinogenic plant [that] is fatally toxic when consumed in even tiny amounts,” tweeted Adrian Benepe, the former NYC Parks Commissioner, who spotted the weed while biking last Saturday.

Parks removed the 93rd Street plant on Monday morning, though it was not its responsibility to do so. “I’m not clear who’s responsible for that space,” Howard said. Nor did she know who’s responsible for the tree pits that line the avenues and side streets of the city—unless there are trees in them, she explained, and then, they belong to Parks.

But what about treeless beds, such as the one on 96th Street, filled with Jimsonweed? The departments of Parks, Buildings and Sanitation suggested we try Transportation, which has been slow to respond.

“Please help us get this dangerous Jimsonweed Bush/Tree removed…toddlers, teenagers, dogs at great risk…the Toxic Tree is more than 5 feet high and with massive girth….” Lehr implored.

“The first thing someone who sees Jimsonweed in the public domain should do is call 311 to report it,” Howard wrote.

“For 24 hours I’ve called: Community Board 7, The Parks Department, 311, the Poison Control Center, etc… “NO one has come or done anything…and this is GIGANTIC….” Lehr responded.

Then, another report came in on Thursday afternoon.

“There’s one on 102 just east of West End and another on 103 SE corner of West End,” a WSR reader commented.

Howard offered another option. “We welcome New Yorkers to care for the tree pits in their neighborhoods,” she said.

In other words, remove the Jimsonweed yourself.

“It is not fatal or toxic to the touch, just do not ingest it in any way, shape or form,” Howard said. “Put on a pair of protective gloves, get a big garbage bag, pull out the weeds from the roots, put them in the bag, throw it away, and you’re good to go.”

“I am an 81-year-old, disabled woman who gets around with a Rollator…I’m afraid that my ‘days of wine and roses’ and weeding are over….” said Lehr.

As of Thursday night, the plants remained.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 22 comments | permalink
    1. Jay says:

      Overreacting

    2. Mark Moore says:

      Considering how quickly the one on Columbus was removed this one will be gone soon too.

    3. Jesse says:

      Everybody calm down & read the Erowid FAQ.
      https://erowid.org/plants/datura/datura_faq.shtml

    4. BeBest says:

      complete overreaction.

    5. VariousArtist says:

      Overreacting is an understatement.

    6. Frank Irizarry says:

      It is very invasive. We have it all over the place on Fire Island.

    7. EGF says:

      Overreaction at its finest

    8. LC says:

      Overreaction is the normal state of affairs here. I’m surprised no one has blamed cyclists for the Jimsonweed.

    9. Steen says:

      it is invasive, so it should be pulled out. The flowers are quite pretty though.

    10. Nukleopatra says:

      I wouldn’t have imagined so much pearl-clutching over some weeds. It should be common sense not to allow your child, dog, or self to consume any plant growing on the roadside. Period!

    11. Wayne Say and Patti Perkins says:

      Good grief…..nip it in bud! People will be smoking it if they aren’t already. I was in town last week and saw the Japanese Knotweed trying to overtake Central Park!!!! Horrid!!! Try to educate people about that one too!

    12. Jane says:

      We’ve had it in a tree pit on 96 between Columbus and CPW for 3 or 4 years, though this year it disappeared. Foul doings??

    13. adrian adonis says:

      THIS PLANT ATTACKED ME ON MONDAY

    14. George CPW says:

      The plant has sinister, long, trumpet-shaped pale flowers that could have been in a Charles Addams cartoon and the seed pod has spiked thorns, like a miniature mace. But if you don’t eat it, it is essentially harmless. But it makes good urban press.

    15. Ruth says:

      The pit where the weed is growing on 96 is where the city removed a diseased tree but never returned to put a new tree in its place. I’ve been calling 311 and putting in a request with the parks department to replace that tree for several years!

    16. Joe says:

      When I was a kid on an Illinois farm in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jimsonweed was rampant. It won’t bother you if you don’t bother it.

    17. llong says:

      I’m a little slow on the uptake…are you saying that we shouldn’t eat roadside plants?!?!

    18. NY10023 says:

      how about just not eat the weed? win/win

    19. Jeff Segall says:

      In the famous words of the cowboy singer Gene Autry:

      I’m back in the saddle again
      Out where a friend is a friend
      Where the longhorn cattle feed
      On the lowly jimsonweed
      Back in the saddle again

    20. Adrian Benepe says:

      As I watched a toddler gravitate to a lush planting of wax begonias on W. 104th street and start to grab at the flowers while dad was talking, it made me realize that it would not take much for a toddler to grab a Jimsonweed seed pod within easy reach on a busy sidewalk and pop it in his/her mouth–which is exactly what toddlers do. Parents can’t always be watching. It’s really not a great idea for highly toxic plants to be allowed to grow in heavily trafficked locations, and the city’s buck passing is unacceptable, when we have a $90 billion budget and over 300,000 city employees. If they will pop you with a summons for failing to clean or remove snow from your sidewalks, they should also bear responsibility for keeping the public way safe with tree pits created by the city. I don’t know which agency should have the responsibility, but that’s a good thing for the city to work out, as they have always done going back decades.

    21. Richard Wasserman says:

      On Thursday, I found a jimsonweed plant that was producing seeds at 86th and 1st Ave. I called 311 and they had no idea what to do. Wanted to give me phone numbers for other agencies. It was after 5:00PM and nothing was open. 311 finally transferred me to 911 and I explained the situation.The plant was gone the next morning.