Autodidact: self-taught


Poisonous Plants

by V. L. Craven

From Siromi Samarasinghe’s Google+ page

Plant Poisons: Readily Available Suicide Aids

•Sri Lanka being a tropical island, is home to a wide variety of plant life. Many of the beautiful flowering plants such as Gloriosa superba and the Yellow Oleander contain deadly poisons. Gloriosa superba known as the Flame lily, grows in the wild. The yellow oleander is grown as a garden plant or as hedging.Their toxic contents therefore, are readily available for anyone who decides to take the easy way out of life’s numerous problems.

•The Yellow Oleander is a plant commonly associated with suicide in Sri Lanka. Eating the seeds of this plant with sugar, probably to facilitate absorbance, is the ready option for most young adults unable to deal with a broken love affair or unplanned pregnancy. Some threaten to commit suicide to intimidate parents, and eventually carry out the threat as a means of revenge. Publicity given in the media or movies based on such stories relating to oleander poisoning tend to increase the incidence of suicide attempts.

•The Yellow Oleander (Thevetia peruviana) contains a milky sap containing a compound that is used as a heart stimulant, but in its natural form is extremely poisonous. All parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the seeds. The toxic substances in oleander belong to a group of compounds known as cardenolides or natural cardiac glycosides. .These cardiac glycosides are more potent than digitoxin, a similar poisonous substance found in the foxglove Digitalis purpurea. Antidotes for treatment include atropine and Digoxin antibodies and treatment may include oral administration of activated charcoal.

•Another plant popular among the desperate looking for an escape route from problems in life is the beautiful Gloriosa superba (English name ‘Flame lily’, Sinhalese name ‘Niyangala’). The tuber of the plant is boiled and eaten by those contemplating suicide. The suicidal poison is colchicine which belongs to a group of natural products called Alkaloids.Severe gastroenteritis with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea with blood, leading to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration are among the symptoms of poisoning.

•These poisonous substances are synthesised in the plant and are one of its most important defense strategies to protect itself from animals, insects, pathogens and other harmful organisms. Humans and animals over the years have found through trial and error, the nature of these substances. Man has even used the poisonous compounds to synthesise valuable drugs. It is the dose that matters; in small doses it is a medicine while in large doses it is fatal. Plant poisons, like water or fire, are good servants but bad masters!

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