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Rosary pea or crab’s eyes – how to identify this poisonous plant and diagnose/treat poisoning.

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Rosary pea or crab’s eyes
Abrus precatorius
Leguminosae (Fabaceae) Family

Description: Rosary Pea flowersThe Rosary Pea plant (also known as Jequirity, Crab’s Eye, Rosary Pea, John Crow Bead, Precatory bean,Indian Licorice, Akar Saga, Giddee Giddee or Jumbie Bead) is a small, slender, high-climbing vine that twines around trees, shrubs, and hedges.  It has alternate compound leaves 2-5 inches long with 5-15 pairs of oblong shaped leaflets.  One key feature is its lack of a terminating leaflet at the end of the compound leaf structure.  Stems are smooth textured with brown bark.

Rosary Pea split seedpod on stemThe Rosary Pea plant has small, pale, light purple flowers arranged in clusters, and beautiful seeds that are red and black.  The seedpod is oblong and flat and roughly 2 inches long and contains 3-5 seeds.  The seedpod curls back when it opens revealing the colorful seeds.  The seeds are brilliant red, smooth, and glossy with a black spot on top and similar in appearance to a ladybug.

This plant is one of the most dangerous plants. All parts of the plant are poisonous with the highest concentrations of abrin, which is closely related to ricin, located in its seeds.  One seed may contain enough poison to kill an adult. Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, liquid black stools, cold sweat, drowsiness, and a weak and fast pulse.

Habitat and Distribution: Rosary Pea seeds in podThis is a common weed in parts of Africa, southern Florida, Hawaii, Guam, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.  It is often found along roadsides, waste areas, and near waterways.

Other Uses: The plant’s seeds are used as beads and in percussion instruments and are dangerous in the production of those items.  At least one recorded death occurred when a worker pricked their finger while drilling the seed for beadwork.  In some countries the root of the plant has been used to induce abortion.  The seeds are so consistent in size and weight that they have been used as standards of measurement.

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