Saturday, 17 May 2014

abrus, rosary pea

Rosary pea is a small climbing tropical vine with alternately compound leaves, indigenous to Indonesia but also growing in Surinam.

The flowers are small, pale, violet to pink and arranged in clusters.

The fruit (a pod) is flat and truncate - shaped (1½ - 2" long). 

This seedpod curls back when it opens to reveal the seeds.

The small, hard, brilliant red seeds with a black spot are very toxic due to the phytochemical abrin (consisting of 5 glyco-proteins); a single seed if broken, can cause blindness or even death if ingested.
Abrin is a ribosome - inactivating protein (it blocks protein synthesis) and is one of the most deadly plant toxins known.

Fortunately, the toxin is only released if the seeds are broken (and swallowed) but this is unlikely since they have a hard seed coat!

In certain parts of India, the boiled seeds are eaten; cooking seems to destroy the poison.
The small seeds are used in jewelry (necklaces) and have a uniform weight of 1/10th of a gram.


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