Name: Duranta (Duranta repens)
Otherwise known as: Goldenberries, Brazilian Sky Plant
Habitat: A perennial shrub member of the Verbenaceae family, growing up to 5m in woodland and native to Central and South America. It displays toothed, opposed leaves on slender stems and displays blue to purple droops of flowers. There is an overall smell of vanilla on the terminals that transform into clusters of golden-coloured berries. It has now been adopted throughout all parts of the semi-tropical world as an ornamental standard or hedging shrub. All parts of the plant are highly poisonous.
What does it do: Duranta contains a number of triterpene saponins such as hydrocyanic acid, durantinin and oleanic acid. Recent research by the Indian health ministry has revealed Duranta leaves are anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-thrombotic – a cause of rejoicing in some Oriental pharmaceutical companies.
The Amerindian tribal shamen use the plant to treat intestinal worms. It is also a powerful insecticide and riverside dwellers employ it as a molluscicide. One would query the need for this but apparently the mussels and clams when intoxicated float to the surface, making them easier to harvest with nets.
It is one of the most popular ornamentals and will grow in full sun or shade. Constant pruning will yield remarkable results. The winter berries attract grazing animals and have been responsible for a number of fatalities; although deer appear to be immune and escape without harm. Most human deaths have occurred among children attracted to the berries.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants