STORY BEHIND THE ART OF Monika deVries Gohlke

20th Annual International American Society of Botanical Artists & The Horticultural Society of New York

‘Blackcurrant Swirl' Datura

Datura metel 'Blackcurrant Swirl' 

The Datura metel ("Datura" deriving from the Hindu word "Dhatura," meaning "Thorn Apple") is a large aquatint etching I made last winter from the many drawings I had sketched of the plant during the previous summer. When I first saw it, I was struck by the unusual color: this cultivar, named "Blackcurrant Swirl", sports a deep purple exterior, while the interior is white. It is about three feet high and just as wide and was planted as a decorative annual in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


Like many of its other members in the Solanaceae family, it is poisonous, containing tropane alkaloids that can produce hallucinogenic experiences, but have also been known to cause death. In many parts of the world the plants are added to alcoholic beverages to increase intoxication. It's been used in religious rites and native medicine to ease childbirth and I was careful not to touch any part of it for too long, having no need of any of its power.


The flowers are 6 to 8 inches long, with a double corolla, making 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch fruits that are spiny on the species Datura but just "lumpy' and round on these cultivars. Several years ago I read of a couple of boys who had smoked the seeds and died! Very sad that they didn't know any better: it pays to know your Flora!!


Doing a little research on the plant I learned a lovely word: vespertine. The Icelandic performer Bjoerk named one of her albums by that name. It refers to things evening-related; flowers that open for the night, owls that hunt. I never checked to see if my Blackcurrant Swirl was vespertine; it was always open and singularly inviting when I sketched it in the afternoons and the garden tended to close before sunset.


The plant was generous to let me see its full circle of growth and development all at one time; buds, flowers, fruit, the spent inflorescences, they were all there when we met on a late summer day. I was a very lucky observer indeed.

Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual International
  • © 2016 Monika deVries Gohlke
    ‘Blackcurrant Swirl' Datura
    Datura metel 'Blackcurrant Swirl'
    Aquatint copperplate etching, chine colle, hand-colored
    24" x 18"