The Rosary Pea is a plant whose brightly hued seeds people once sought for their beguiling beauty. However, that beauty hides a potentially fatal secret.
Their seeds contain a compound known as abrin, a chemical closely related to the deadly ricin. In fact, abrin remains one of the most powerful plant toxins known to man. Despite this, the Rosary Pea has long been used in the construction of jewelry.
In fact, as the common name implies, they formed the original source of rosary beads used in worship. That fact seems ironic, given that a single seed contains enough of the toxin to prove fatal to an adult human if chewed.
Fortunately, the seed’s skin grows extremely tough, allowing it to pass harmlessly through the digestive tract if swallowed whole.
Rosary Pea Physical Description
Botanists categorize the Rosary Pea as a legume since this perennial plant develops in the form of a slender, climbing vine. It frequently twists its way around trees, hedges, and shrubs.
Its leaves develop slenderly, and approximately 5 in (12.7 cm) long, and the thin branches are herbaceous in nature. The flowers stay small and may be either white, violet, or pink, and typically grow densely clustered.
The deadly seeds develop within pods roughly 2 in (5.1 cm) in length. Each pod contains 3-8 of them, and thankfully, the shell of each has relatively thick and hard covering.
They appear in different color varieties, with the red color and a black spot being the most common. However, white, green, and black seeds occur as well.
Rosary Pea Distribution, Habitat, and History
The Rosary Pea remains endemic to the country of India, thus it grows well in both tropical and subtropical climates. However, the species was spread to numerous other regions with compatible climates.
These include the Caribbean Islands, Belize, Hawaii, and parts of that U.S. state of Florida. In most of these areas, the plant originally served as an ornamental, which, in hindsight, was not a good idea.
In these regions, people generally consider it an invasive species. It has proven extremely adaptable, and difficult to eradicate in these areas. Their roots grow extremely deep and nearly impossible to remove. In fact, burning (intentional or otherwise) actually encourages it to grow.