Familiar, Dear, But Toxic

By Teo Spengler | August 11, 2022
Image by Lcc54613
by Teo Spengler
August 11, 2022

I used to think that it was possible to link a person’s personality to their favorite book, that their choice would define and explain them. Today, I know that people are too complex to be defined or explained, since we present different aspects of ourselves to different people in our lives.

I like, instead, the idea of associating a person with something that stirs the particular memories they inspired. If that person happens to be a gardener, like my aunt Irene, it makes sense that those memories may involve a favorite plant. 

Her Favorite Niece

My mother had five siblings, all raised in New Jersey. She made the brave move to Alaska when she was a young woman in search of adventure, meeting my father there, marrying him, and settling down. Two of her siblings followed her to Alaska and these were the only two who played real roles in my life. 

One was my aunt Irene, my mother’s older sister. She was part of our family, and like all family, there were highs and lows. She eventually moved to California, where I went to college, so she was a part of both my Alaska childhood and my young adulthood. I was, without question, her favorite niece.

Trumpet Flower Tree

My aunt bought a house near Santa Cruz with a large backyard that she turned into a fabulous garden. Her favorite plant, and the one I associate most with her, was her utterly gorgeous trumpet flower tree (Brugmansia spp).

This incredibly beautiful tropical plant grew happily in the warm air of the central California coast. It was just behind her back door and I always think of her as standing beside it, looking lovingly at the trumpet flower tree.

It had long, attractive leaves and spectacular drooping flowers in the shape of trumpets, a pale yellow and extremely fragrant. Hummingbirds came from miles around to partake of their nectar.

Trumpet of Death

My aunt referred to the plant as the angel’s trumpet which seemed like an appropriate name, given the beautiful smell of the magical flowers. But there are some who call it the trumpet of death. This is because every part of the lovely plant is so toxic that people and pets have died from ingesting it.

The species is also invasive, propagating quickly from cuttings or seeds. As a toxic, invasive plant, it is not welcome everywhere. This cements my association of the plant with my aunt, who died a decade ago. 

My aunt was the most generous person I have ever known and extremely nice to me, her favorite niece, most of the time. But she could also be sarcastic and bitter, wounding deeply with her words. In fact, she has been called both toxic and invasive, and not without cause. It is curious and telling that she shared these traits with her favorite plant. 

This article was last updated on
Read more about Backyard Stories
Did you find this helpful? Share it with your friends!

Browse Dozens of Our FREE Gardening Guides Today

Whether your dream garden is a houseplant sanctuary, a bountiful vegetable garden, a pollinator paradise, a bright and bold flower bed, or a backyard oasis – Gardening Know How has the perfect gardening guide just for you.

Click the button below to access more than 3 dozen of our completely free and completely comprehensive guides to growing your dream garden.

Join Us - Sign up to get all the latest gardening tips!