Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham

Back to Garden Writing

Brug Butterscotch
Brugmansia 'Butterscotch'

Click the image to enlarge

Brugmansia 'Ecuador Pink'

Click image for larger photo

Brugmansia aurea

Click image to enlarge

Grand marnier


Brugmansia candida flora plena

Click image to enlarge

Noel's blush

Click the image to enlarge


Brugmansia 'Vicki'

Click the image to enlarge


Brugmansia 'Kathy'

Click the image to enlarge

Brugmansia 'Angelique'

Click the image to enlarge

Brugmansia 'Matapouri Virgo'

Click the image to enlarge

Brugmansia - "Angel's Trumpets"

Alfresco evenings on the patio with the barbecue smouldering and the kids sneaking quaffs of Dad's beer are the stuff of Summer memories.

Have you noticed how the smells of Summer nights are just as memorable. Every time I smell frangipani I'm transported to Bali and its perfumed night air. I can even taste the food again.

Brugmansias or Angel's Trumpets are one of those unforgettable Summer perfumes.

Planted around the barbecue area, their fantastic flowers, lush foliage, and heady perfume can give the patio a certain spooky, forbidden glamour through the night.

Commonly lumped together in the past with Datura, a separate branch of the family, they all have a nasty reputation as druggie plants, which if eaten can cause hallucinations, convulsions, temporary blindness, brain damage and death. Not always in that order!

Understandably, some people frown on their inclusion in a garden.

But personally I reckon that anyone stupid enough to go to the trouble of boiling them up and eating them deserves what they get. Parents need to teach young kids about NOT eating them, just like they teach them not to run across the road without looking! By all accounts they taste pretty vile, which is a good safeguard against little kids harming themselves.

Its interesting to note that Rhododendrons, potatoes, rhubarb, daffodils and Daphne are also very poisonous and we don't hear calls for them to be forbidden plants. Growing Brugmansias is not after all compulsory.

All the Brugmansias originate in tropical South America. They are very fast-growing, frost-tender and need good wind-shelter, while a major chop back every year or two keeps them lush and youthful. Pity that doesn't work so well with people.

Everyone is familiar with the old-fashioned double white one, Brugmansia candida flore plena, which pours out a river of perfume from sunset to sunrise as if a tap has been turned on. But there are lots of others, ranging in colour through cream, yellow, pink, apricot, orange and red.

Brugmansia 'Noel's Blush' has also become well-known with its mass display of wide pale pink trumpets. This one has a mass flower display three times a year.

Brugmansia aurea has soft gold, beautifully shaped, 20cm trumpet flowers and very large furry leaves. It is the tallest species and flowers prolifically almost all year with beautiful perfume. A stately, dramatic 5m tree. It is also available in a pure white form. Very beautiful.

Brugmansia sanguinea is a smaller plant whose smaller, narrow trumpets are an intense red or orange at the mouth, shading to pale yellow at the stem end. This species comes from higher altitude in the Andes than the other species and is more cold-hardy, but is not adapted to the heat of our New Zealand Summers, which causes it to defoliate and stop flowering between November and March. The flowers have no perfume. It performs best grown in permanent shade.

The most extravagant species of them all is Brugmansia versicolor and its many hybrids. The huge trumpets hang straight down and can be up to 50cm long with a texture like fine kid leather. In the wild this species tends to have creamy white or pink flowers("Ecuador Pink") but its hybrids can be richly coloured; 'Grand Marnier' has large, pale salmon-apricot trumpets while 'Butterscotch' is a lovely golden-orange.

Already a Northland breeder, Brian Rathbone, has produced an even richer orange form of it that he is calling 'Rusty'. See front page of this website.

Brugmansia 'Ecuador Pearl' is a rich cream with a delicate fragrance. Its huge flowers have a dimpled crimplene texture and elegant long awns curling from the flower tips.

Similar in size and shape but a brilliant ice-white is our new hybrid, "Matapouri Virgo".

Brugmansia versicolor 'Ecuador Pink' is a wild form found in one small area of its natural range, whose beautiful pink flowers are twice the size of 'Noel's Blush'. Again this one is fairly new in NZ. The abundant flowers are damaged by full sun in Summer here so it is best planted in bright dappled light.

Now we have Brian Rathbone's new, more adaptable pink hybrids, "Vicki" and "Ritzi", and the deepest pink ever, "Kathy". He has produced the first NZ double pink, "Angelique", with a wonderfully rich, spicy perfume. Very special.

Most Brugmansias have three-to-five week flushes of flowering then there is a break for several weeks while they grow new buds. This cycle continues throughout most of the year. Brugmansia "Butterscotch" is notable for flowering almost continuously without a break all year round. Its wonderful perfume is reminiscent of King Alfred Daffodils, like spicy honey.

The perfume of each variety is different; some being pretty heavy and intense while others are more delicate or spicy.

Brugmansia flowers usually last for four days. They all open pale greenish cream and the colours develop over several hours or days. Each day the colour darkens more and the colours are richest in the warmth of Summer.

Imagine a screen planting of Brugmansias around the barbecue area. You could create a smorgasbord of exotic evening perfumes from these sumptuous big flowers, gleaming in the firelight.

Whatever you do, don't eat them!



(Copyright Russell Fransham 2009)