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Rosary Pea Abrus precatorius

 

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Rosary Pea - flower
credit: J.M.Garg/CCSA

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Alternate name: Crab's Eye

Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family



Description This slender woody vine bears attractive clusters of pink, purple or white flowers, but it is weedy and invasive, covering shrubs and small trees.
Habit: introduced perennial vine; twining stems, very thin, branching.
Height: stems to 10 ft (3.3 m) long or more.
Leaf: alternate, feathery, pinnately compound, 2-5 in (5-12.5 cm) long; leaflets oblong, 0.5 in (12 mm) long, in 5-20 pairs, lacking terminal (unpaired) leaflet.
Flower: small, pale purple to pale pink to white, 2-lobed, one lobe much smaller, 0.7 in (17 mm) long; held in tight cluster in leaf axil.
Fruit: narrow pod, to 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) long; holding 3-5 round seeds, 0.25 in (6 mm) diameter, shiny red with black "eye".


Warning The seeds of this plant are very poisonous. If one is swallowed without first being chewed, it is apparently less toxic, but if the seed coat is crushed, one seed can cause death. Because of their attractive scarlet color the highly poisonous seeds are sometimes strung for necklaces or rosaries; but since children might be tempted to put these items in their mouths, such use is not recommended. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.


Flower May to September.


Habitat Abandoned farms, rangelands, pastures, undisturbed pinelands and hammocks, thickets, roadsides, disturbed areas; also grown as an ornamental.


Range Thought to be native to India, Indonesia, or Africa; now naturalized throughout the tropics; introduced as an ornamental, now escaped and naturalized in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.


Discussion Also called crab's eye (from the appearance of the seeds), jequerity, jumbie bean, pois rouge, precatory bean, tento muido, Indian licorice, rosary bean, lucky bean, prayer beads, weather plant, etc. Two subspecies are proposed. Considered weedy or invasive in most areas of the U.S. Rosary pea is a category 1 invasive species in Florida.

The seeds are highly toxic and can be fatal if eaten. They are quite uniform, making them useful in jewelry and in maracas; they were once used as balance weights.


 

 

 

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