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Strychnine tree – how to identify this poisonous plant and diagnose/treat poisoning.

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Strychnine tree

Strychnos nux-vomica
Logania (Loganiaceae) Family

Description: The strychnine tree is a medium-sized evergreen tree with a short, thick crooked trunk, reaching a height of about 12 meters (36 feet).  The wood of the Strychnine tree is white and dense and durable with irregular branches covered with a smooth, ashen colored bark.  Its deeply veined, shiny, oval shaped leaves grow in alternate pairs opposite each other and are about 4 inches in length by 3 inches wide. Small, loose clusters of pale greenish to white, funnel shaped, foul-smelling flowers appear at the ends of branches and are followed by fleshy, orange-red berries about 4 centimeters (1 1/2 inches) in diameter.  Its berries are covered in a smooth and hard shell containing a jelly-like pulp and five seeds or beans.  The seeds are very hard, flat, round, with a very characteristic sheen.

The berries contain disk-like seeds that yield the poisonous substance strychnine. All parts of the plant are poisonous.  Seeds and roots possess a very bitter taste.  Symptoms include violent convulsions, high blood pressure, vertigo, confusion, dullness in the head, internal soreness, acute headache, sensitive scalp, pressure in the temple and head, drawing and pressing pain in the eyes, pressure and hissing noise in the ears, swelling gums, ulcers in the mouth, teeth pain, heavy tongue, and paralysis.

Habitat and Distribution: A native of the tropics and subtropics of southeastern Asia (especially populous in India) and Australia.

Other Uses: Strychnine trees have been processed and used in cancer treatments.

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