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Devil's Trumpet
Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Devil’s trumpet (Datura stramonium)

What do you suppose is the most popular American holiday? I mean, after Christmas, what do we spend the most money on, for cards, decorations, even parties?

I was surprised to learn that it’s not Thanksgiving or Easter.  Hint – it’s a time when we buy lots of candy (which we try not to eat), decorate our houses, and plan for uninvited guests dressed as superheroes or ghouls.

Yes, our second most important American holiday - is Halloween! (theme music)

You can grow lots of interesting plants for the season; some in the ground and others in planter pots.

We think about pumpkins for Halloween, even though the first Jack o’ Lantern was in Ireland - a turnip with a candle. Pumpkins don’t grow in Ireland, and I doubt I could convince people to decorate their homes with turnips, but why not think about creating some kind of scary garden for next year!

A while ago, I spent a few hours on the internet looking at appropriate plants for the Halloween garden.  I decided to concentrate on “devil plants”. I’m not talking about a “devil’s garden” though; that actually means a garden that’s been overwhelmed with ants. Scary for a horticulturist, not for Halloween.

Just because a plant has “devil” in its name doesn’t mean you’ll be getting something terrible and ugly. Some of them are downright lovely, and almost all of them are interesting.

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Devil’s tongue, or voodoo flower, is a fascinating tropical plant with small purple flowers surrounded by large black bracts. That also explains why it’s other name is the “Black Bat” plant, although the scientific name is Tacca cantrieri. I haven’t checked to see how available this is. If you can find it, you’d have to grow it in a pot; it wouldn’t survive our challenging outdoor conditions.

On the other hand, Devil’s trumpet (Datura stramonium) grows wonderfully well here. Talk about surprising; it likes our soils! This is a cousin of tomatoes and potatoes. Now, you probably know - we don’t advise desert gardeners to try growing plants with big leaves and don’t expect large, attractive flowers. Of course, there are exceptions to virtually every generalization. This has big floppy leaves and gorgeous, huge white flowers. I only know a very few people who’ve been able to grow the plant successfully from seed, but it is possible.  


The odds are, you’ve already been growing another devil plant – Devil’s ivy – but more than likely, you call it pothos. Epipremnum isn’t a philodendron, although the two kinds of vines do look pretty similar.

We all know that invasive, noxious weeds can be quite attractive, which is one reason they get established in the first place. Mexican Devil isn’t on Nevada’s list of invasive weeds, although it is on the lists of other states.  Ageratina adenophora is a lovely thing that can grow as tall as 6 feet, with clusters of cream-colored flowers, each about ¼ inch across.

Devil’s walking stick’ll grow here with a little supplemental water, since it’s from the southeast. Aralia spinosa is one of those plants we call “interesting” and attractive. “Spinosa” indicates one of its notable features; it’s a spiny, thorny shrub. It produces a flush of white flowers, blooming from late summer through fall. If you decide you’d like to try it for landscape effect, put it in an area where it won’t damage kids and pets.

Oplopanax horridus is the scientific name for Devil’s Club. Unfortunately, some people call this Devil’s walking stick – another good reason to use scientific nomenclature. It’s a shrub from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, so it’s probably not a great choice for Southern Nevada. Besides, I avoid anything with “horridus” in the name.

Local Native Americans used the seedpods of Devil’s claw in their basketry. Proboscidea althaeifolia is indigenous to the southwest; a perennial, with golden tubular flowers and interesting seed pods that dry into stiff claws. Another spiny plant called devil’s claw’s from Africa and you mostly see that as an alternative medicine. Not for landscapes. 

Your gorgeous, interesting, Halloween garden can have native devil plants in the ground and visiting devils from other regions in pots. You might not want to stand next to some of them, but you’ll definitely have an unusual set of decorations for this unique holiday.

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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