Cyprus Mail

Plant of the week: Poisonous plant used by Amerindians to catch mussels

Name: Duranta (Duranta repens)

Otherwise known as: Goldenberries, Brazilian Sky Plant

Habitat: A rapid growing shrub member of the Verbineaceae family growing to 5m in waste and woodlands in tropical South America, the Caribbean and the southern United States. It has toothed, opposed leaves on slender stems that produces blue to purple droops of flowers that smell of vanilla on the terminals that transform into clusters of golden-coloured berries. All parts of the plant are highly poisonous.

What does it do: Duranta contains a number of triterpinene saponins such as hydrocyanic acid, durantinin and oleanic acid. While it originated in the southern tropical hemisphere, it has now spread throughout the semi-tropical world and is one of the most popular ornamentals that will grow in full sun or shade. It requires constant pruning but gives tremendous results as a single ornamental or as a hedging plant.

There have been many instances of fatalities in grazing animals and some rare cases of deaths among children that have consumed the berries: ingestion leads to vomiting, diarrhea, coma and death; it appears that deer relish the plant and escape without injury. The Amerindians use Duranta as an insecticide, vermifuge, and interestingly, as a molluscicide. One wouldn’t have thought this was necessary, but apparently the mussels and clams will float to the surface when intoxicated and are easy to gather. Duranta is rarely predated by insects although some gardeners would not agree in the case of scale insects. Recent Indian research has revealed that the plant leaves contain chemicals that are anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-thrombotic and a number of pharmaceutical companies are showing interest. If you have one of these plants in your garden don’t make jam from the berries.

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