Friday, February 10, 2012

Venus, Mars and the Devil's Weed (Datura): a Scented Love Story for Valentine's Day

Officially Sandro Botticell's painting "Venus and Mars" is a story which recounts the omnipotence of love that conquers even the most powerful war. However, new research suggests a daring reading: that behind the image of the blessed love, may in fact be hiding the display of sexuality of plant hallucinogens!

The art historians had overlooked one detail, and it was David Beligkcham, director of the Institute of Art at Sotheby's house who zoomed on it. Looking closely at the satyr on the bottom right part of the painting (click to enlarge), he recognized a fruit that belongs to the species Datura Stramonioum known as "devil's weed" or "devil's trumpet", a plant with a history of hallucinogenicy which induces men and women to take off their clothes and frolick away. The hallucinogenic effects are recorded in ancient Greek texts hence the use of Datura either as an aphrodisiac or as a poison.

The table set out to describe the painting by Boticelli in the National Gallery of England bears the following description: "It is a scene of adultery, since Venus was the wife of Hephaestus, the God of Fire, but it contains a moral message: the power of love to win and to civilize." Beligkcham on the other hand believes that the message is more subversive. "The fruit is offered to the viewer, so it is important intentionally," quoted in The Times. "The Botticelli is keen on plants with symbolic significance. For example, in the back there are laurels, which are references to his supporters, the Medici family whose emblem is the laurel. The Datoura known in America as "a hallucinogen of the poor" reveals the symptoms in the male figure. Inhibit the natural functions and induce excitement, so it makes you want to get undressed. It also makes you swoon. "

Toloache. Náatumush. Datura wrightii. Angel’s trumpet. Devil’s weed. Names in Nahuatl, Luiseño, Latin, and English, respectively, for the sacred datura plant. A plant to make one swoon out of erotic excitement, therefore, perhaps the sexiest Valentine's Day scent of them all!  

There are a few perfumes which are directly inspired by and incorporating datura in their composition: Perfumer Ineke Ruhland makes a sweet and mysterious datura fragrance called Evening Edged in Gold and Serge Lutens also proposes Datura Noir for a more tropical and suede-laced take. Maître Parfumeur et Gantier has Secrète Datura in their line-up, a powdery, elegant take of the herbal tinge of datura allied tovanilla-smelling heliotrope. Other fragrances include Keiko Mecheri's Datura Blanche, White Datura by lluminum Perfume and Green Datura by Voluspa.

The theory regarding the Botticelli painting goes even further as Beligkcham suggests the two figures in the table 15th century painting are not even Mars and Venus, but Adam and Eve, while the plant is none other than a stem from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the very thing that caused their expulsion from Eden; although often referred to as an apple, in the Bible it is not specified exactly. Is datura the elusive element into something even further? You shall be the judge of that.

Datura pic via Deborah Small


  1. I once grew some datura stramonium plants for fun. Very cute trumpet shaped flowers. But the smell of the plant is horrid, intensely dark-vegetal-musty, no doubt the plant is not intended for consumption (the unrelated hemlock is also intensely mousy and disgusting). But I think there are many datura species, many of which likely smell good (whether they are actually used in perfumery or not).


  2. If you go look up Moon Flower on Wikepedia there are three flower families, including Datura, with that name. The one of the Morning glory family, from Hawaii, and also all over the coast of Virginia to the Carribean, is the most fragrant, beautiful scent in the Universe. It is the scent I miss most in all the world. Page down the right side of the photographs and look at the one shown as (I. tuboides). They are eight to nine inches long, and unfold in front of you like a fairy at dusk, and even on a cloud covered day, they start to shiver and open up earlier. The scent is to die for.

  3. My mom used to have a moon flower in her garden. The scent was indescribably beautiful, probably the best floral scent I've ever smelled. :)

  4. M,

    I guess different varieties have different smells, and mostly they don't smell the same way in the essential oil and on the plant.

    It's not as easy as all that, as a very impressive HUGE bush around the corner of my house (or words to that effect, it's not just around the corner, but you get the drift) has giant bells that have a sweet but more vegetal smell. Other varieties are sweeter and more "floral" (though there's always a weird element with datura). It's an interesting plant to be sure!

  5. N,

    I admit I can't find the one you're referring to (on links under the photos or a I.tuboides species linked). Any links?

  6. S,

    I believe when people mention moonflower they mean the Cereus cactus variety. Unless of course you mean otherwise (?)


    You'll see that the first thing listed is the cactus. But in the southern US, where I grew up, Moonflower was used to refer to a type of Datura - you'll see it's the second link.

  8. Love this article! Thank you for sharing gave me something to think about! ;)


  9. Love the scent of these! We have the mauve-tinged-white and the yellow one. The yellow one smells like some fantastic desert! And the white mauve is just lovely addicted to these plants!!


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