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Apocynaceae, Thevetia peruviana, Camalonga, Lucky Nut, Be-still, Yellow Oleander

October 11, 2009

Thevetia peruviana is a large shrub or small tree, indigenous to the mountains valleys of the Andes mountains, in South America. I took these photos in Kenya although I’ve seen the plant through Mexico, Central and S. America among other areas in the tropics.

The species is characterized by its distinctive long, green, glossy, linear leaves, and its milky sap, common to many other members of the same family. The decorative yellow, funnel shaped flowers are another prominent feature.

The species is thought to be indigenous to Mexico and the northern part of South America. Today it is common throughout tropical America. Apparently it is common in tropical Mediterranean climates as well. It is fairy abundant in Nairobi and somewhat common in other areas throughout western Kenya.

And extract from the leaves is used to treat toothaches and rheumatism, while branch bark is used to treat fever and as a purgative. This species has also been used to induce abortions, as an anesthetic, as a heart tonic, and to kill fish and insects.

In larger-then-medicinal quantities this plant, like many others, is extremely toxic. In South India and Sri Lanka the seeds and leaves are often used in suicide and murder attempts. In areas of S. America the seeds of T. peruviana are mixed with borrachera and slipt to unsuspecting victims who would experience severe hallucination and then pass out, at which point they would be robbed, or their organs removed for sale on the organ black market.

The whole plant is packed with cardiac glycosides, especially the seeds (5%). Thevetin A and B (heart stimulant) are the main toxic compounds.  Symptoms of poisoning include numbness of the tongue and throat, nausea, vomiting, weakness, spasms, confusion and visual disturbances, followed by a slowing and weakening of the heartbeat to 30 – 40 beats per minute. Death can occur 2-3 hours after ingestion. Luckily, all parts of the plant are very bitter, which acts as a deterrent.

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