Facts about Cerbera odollam
This evergreen tree is planted as an ornamental tree, providing plenty of shade. It has a beautiful appearance and white flowers with a jasmine scent. It also contains a poisonous milky sap and a potent toxin in the seeds, which when used for nefarious purposes, can cause death. Hence, this tree has earned the name "suicide tree".
1Cerbera odollam is a plant species in the family Apocynaceae.
This family includes more than 4.5 thousand, and according to some even about 6 thousand species. Apocynaceae are found mainly in tropical and subtropical areas.
2Cerbera odollam is native to the tropical regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
It grows in moist areas, coastal salt marshes in southern India, Madagascar and Southeast Asia.
3The common names for Cerbera odollam is suicide tree, mintolla, pong-pong and othalam.
It has different common names depending on the region of occurrence. In Malay it is called othalam, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu - kattu arali, in Madagascar - famentana, kisopo, samanta or tangena and in South-East Asia - pong-pong, buta-buta, bintaro or nyan.
4The plant spreads by fruit drifting in the water along the coast.
5Cerbera is an evergreen tree reaching up to 15 m in height.
It has gray cracked bark and the crown of the tree is rounded. The thirty centimeter long leaves are oblong-ovate, dark green, glossy with a distinctly pointed tip.
6The jasmine-scented flowers are white with a prominent yellow spot at the base of the petals.
7The fruits look like unripe mangoes.
They are large egg-shaped drupes up to 10 cm long. Ripe fruits are dark red in color. After dropping, the skin of the fruit quickly darkens and disintegrates. The flesh is thick and fibrous, so the fruit floats easily and does not lose its ability to germinate.
8The interior of the fruit contains an egg-shaped seed measuring about 2 x 1.5 cm.
It consists of two white fleshy halves. When exposed to air, the white kernel turns purple, then dark gray, and eventually brown or black.
9Cerberus seeds contain a cardiac glycoside (digoxin-type cardenolide) called cerberin, which can cause death.
Cerberine blocks calcium ion channels in the heart muscle, causing cardiac dysfunction, usually fatal.
10Cerberine is very difficult to detect at autopsy, so it is sometimes used in murders and suicides.
Its taste is easily masked by using aromatic spices.