Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cerbera odollam

Commonly known as Pong-Pong, it is native to India and some parts of South East Asia.

Around 10 to 15m tall, the Pong-pong is a small to medium-sized tree with greyish bark and conspicuous leaf scars. Sap is produced when plant parts are broken. The oval leaves are dark green and glossy, in a whorled arrangement at the ends of thick branches.

The white, tissue-like flowers are yellow in the middle and have a fragrant smell. They appear at the tips of the branches. 

The single fruits are oval with a smooth green skin, resembling mangoes when they are young. They are about 5 to 10cm in diameter. The outer covering is hard and fibrous to enable it to stay afloat in water. When ripening, the fruits turn from green to pink to then black. 

Each fruit contains one seed. The seeds of the Pong-Pong are extremely poisonous, containing a toxin called cerberin which causes cardiac arrest. 

They have been used for murder or suicide in India, hence its sinister common name, Indian Suicide Tree, as well as in ordeal trials in Madagascar to 'prove' one's innocence.

Seeds have been used as bio-pesticide, insect repellent and rat poison. Bark, leaves and seed oil are used in traditional folk medicine. 

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