By now you know not to be fooled by nature's beauty, right? The Cerbera odollam, for instance, is a perfectly beautiful, lush tree. But, oh no. This unassuming plant isn't called the "suicide tree" for nothing. It can accurately be called the "murder tree," too. Whatever you want to call it, just keep your distance.
Lethal Weapon Seed
The Cerbera odollam is a medium-sized hardwood tree, endemic to India and southeast Asia, that can grow up to 32 feet (10 meters) tall. Nothing remarkable there. It's not like this tree is trying to kill you, but it can. Pretty easily too, thanks to the excessively toxic chemical cerberin in its seeds.
Cerberin is a cardiac glycoside, which is a class of organic compounds that slows your heart rate. These compounds are used in some medications, and it's not hard to see how a little too much of them would be a very, very bad thing. There's enough cerberin in one Cerbera odollam seed to kill an adult human.
The way it works to stop your heart is similar to that of the death penalty by lethal injection. Ingesting a seed will kill a person in just a few hours, but first, it'll cause crippling stomach pain, diarrhea, irregular heart rhythm, vomiting, and a headache. It's not outlandish to think that someone could accidentally eat this deadly seed. They sit inside an edible fruit, after all.
Without a Trace
Sadly, the Cerbera odollam earned one of its gruesome nicknames due to the fact that toxicologists believe that it's used by more people to commit suicide than any other plant on Earth. According to a decade long study published in 2004 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, this tree kills especially large numbers of people in Indian communities.
The team behind the study, led by Yvan Gaillard of the Laboratory of Analytical Toxicology in La Voulte-sur-Rhône, France, documented more than 500 cases of fatal Cerbera poisoning between 1989 and 1999 in the Indian state of Kerala. Half of the plant poisoning deaths here, and one in 10 poisoning deaths overall, can be traced to Cerbera. The team thinks the true numbers could be double that, however. The shocking results underscored the researchers' sole aim: "to call attention to a powerful toxic plant that is currently completely ignored by western physicians, chemists, analysts and even coroners and forensic toxicologists."