Friday, April 20, 2012

Strychnine tree.

Strychnos psilosperma

This is a very pretty small to medium tree species, with a shady canopy of glossy green leaves and very attractive fruits at this time of year - but it’s probably not wise to grow one in a garden. A number of Strychnos species grow in Africa and Asia, and some of them are very poisonous. It is probably true of the seeds of all of them.

However the fruits of some strychnine species (in Egypt, Senegal, India, and Java)  are used as food. I do not know whether our Australian species has been tested for toxicity, so believe it is best to treat it with great caution.

Strychnine tree is sometimes accused of poisoning stock, but no evidence has been collected that it actually does so. This may be a case of an assumption being made on the basis of the plant’s name - or may indeed be a fact. It would be reasonable to leave it where it grows on grazing properties, so long as it is somewhere where the fruits are unlikely to be eaten by children.
It is sometimes cultivated, but on the whole, plants like this are dependant on conservation of the natural environment for their survival - another reason for making sure that patches of scrub on private land and in reserves are preserved from clearing wherever possible. Every plant species has its part to play in the ecology, and this one provides nectar for small insects in its perfumed flowers, and its seeds are eaten by birds.

A feature which can help us to recognise the tree are some little spines, which grow in the leaf axils.

In younger trees these are in conspicuous pairs. On this old tree there were very few spines to be found, so it was difficult to find any to photograph.

This tree grows in our local dry scrubs, where I’ve seen it on black soil slopes at Gowrie Junction.

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