Monday, January 14, 2013

Brugmansia Sanguinea: the Fire at the Heart of Winter

In the heart of a cold coastal winter, these red Andean brugmansia sanguinea flowers are blooming, darker than embers. They are also called red Angel's Trumpets, and are endemic to the Andes, from Colombia to northern Chile, thriving at 6,600 to 9,800 feet, in the high thin air. A sacred guest in my parent's garden, from the southern part of this hemisphere. They are intoxicating to look at, jeweled and thriving. Several years ago, Simon gave me two tiny seedlings in pots that fit in my palms. He and his brother Spencer had snatched a seedpod the shape of a big green egg off a flourishing brugmansia up near Bodega Bay, and had sprouted several dozen starts. As a gift, I was given two, which I tended like a nervous and thrilled new mother, stroking their little green leaves and doting, sometimes even singing.

Eventually, I planted the two young Angel's trumpets up near my mother's herb garden in rich soil that, long ago, was annually flooded marshland. They thrived. Now, the blossoms are blood-red, fire-red, and deliriously beautiful. Just looking at them is like touching a dream; you can tell they are hallucinogenic, and treading the line toward deadly. Their hallucinogenic properties are very strong, described as terrifying by those who have tried to ingest the plants recreationally. In many indigenous South American cultures, however, varieties of brugmansia were and are used in ritual divinations, to commune with ancestors, to prophecy and to poison. This is a plant that undoubtedly requires deep respect, that calls up the deeps and the darks of the human mind and the realms of spirits.

The blossoms hang like red bells of winter, tolling in the cold and the darkness. "Angel's trumpet"; I love the holy musicality of that name, the image of sere beings treading the fog, blowing into blood-red trumpet flowers—saintly and utterly pagan at once.

This plant grows near the grave of my childhood cat Delphi, who acquired this thoroughly oracular nickname from his full name, Delphinium, which I bestowed upon him at age five, inspired by his blue eyes. I wonder if this particular plant is thriving because his body has seeped its nutrients nearby. I wonder if he is in the red bells, my first pet, never really mine, with his crossed eyes and his temper.  

A newer blossom, unfurling, damp with its own birth. The skin of it looks like lizard's, holy.

 Inside, many fires are being lit and tended into the long dark evenings, the boughs of people's Christmas trees (left out on the street for garbage pick-up) stolen for kindling. I like to think of the old tales, the Northern European ones of my own mutt-like heritage, and others the world-over, in which the winter sun lingers, like a dark red heart, for a long time each night in the underworld. The night, earth's shadow, holding that heart of fire, red as brugmansia blossoms. The winter, time for the dream-realms and stories that a plant like the red Angel's trumpet can bloom in the human imagination. The red bells, planted with love, growing blood-dark in the cold, open like a dozen winter suns.


  1. I needed this to help kindle my fire during a cold and flowerless Michigan winter. Thank you : )

  2. A truly warming plant, even just to look at! Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for visiting.

  3. Hi Sylvia! I came across some info you might be interested in - though such info is often a late arrival for me, and maybe you already know...

    Martin Shaw (of Westcountry School of Myth & Story), whom Terri Windling quoted a few months back (A Branch from the Lightning Tree) is up at Pt. Reyes and offering something while he's got a guest lectureship at Stanford. I don't exactly know what he's up to, but what's on his website about goings-on in Dartmoor is pretty interesting. Maybe up your alley?

    yet another reason to wish I was in CA!?! :)

    Wendy (tweaking with my openid login, I have no idea what's going to show up as my "handle")


    1. Thank you Wendy! He IS right up my alley-- i am actually signed up for one of his workshops, and went to a storytelling evening last week, which was just outstanding and magical. Thanks for thinking of me-- wish you could come join in too! Warm regards.

  4. Beautiful post, Sylvia, and such a THING this bloom in the winter. Intoxicating in color and form, I, too, can imagine its medicine being not for the faint of heart!! Lovely to have you visit me over at RavenWood Forest. Hope you are warm by the fire, we are huddled there as tonight it will be around zero. Deep winter dreaming to you :)