Bolivian Mystery bean

Discussion in 'HortForum' started by Skookum, Sep 9, 2002.

  1. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Hortboard;

    While backpacking in Bolivia, I made a trip down to the Amazon basin (east of the Andes). During a day trip in the jungle with a local guide; he showed me some bright orange bean-like seeds that were 2 to 6 inches below the loose soil surface. We started to collect these seeds; he had indicated you could use them to make a necklace. The seeds are roughly 3/8" in diameter, and flatter in one dimension, non-spherical, like a mini-peach-pit. The colour is bright-orange, with a black splotch on one edge. They are hard as rock.

    I tried planting 1 or 2 of the seeds once, but after a couple of months, I uncovered it and found it was still hard as a rock and nothing had happened. I tried again, scuffing the seed's shell, watering it more, but found after several weeks that it had started to rot and grow fungas. I am interested to grow it and see what it becomes.

    Questions;

    1. Do you have a recommendation for a process that can successfully get these seeds to sprout?

    2. Do you think this seed in the wild requires the ingestion by an animal or fish to initiate the sprouting process by going through the digestive tract? If so, then how can I best try to duplicate the process? I remember I saw a TV program once that showed a bird in the Amazon that would eat some seeds and it was the only way the seed could get softened enough to initiate growth.

    3. Any idea what plant or tree it might be?

    PS...while travelling in Costa Rica recently I found similar seeds in the jungle there as well, except these seeds were solid orange and had no black splotch like the Bolivian variation. Maybe it is a tree or plant common to South America?

    Thanks for any ideas you can give me,
    Skookum
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2002
  2. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    Hi,

    First, let's get the plant importation stuff out of the way:

    What you have (whatever it is) you have imported (I supect) in contravention of Canada's plant import regulations. Such importations can be dangerous for a variety of reasons, including: the seeds may harbour other organisms that can cause havoc, once loosed upon the countryside, the seeds may be toxic, etc.

    To correctly identify the seeds, I would need a high resolution digital photograph to start figuring it out, and would probably need to shop the images around to other plant people more familiar with tropicals.

    Germinating large tropical seeds is often difficult. Most will only germinate when they are fresh. Some require their impermeable seed coats ruptured (e.g., ground down in a bird's gizzard, as you mention, or) by soaking in acid (don't try this at home) or filing a notch so that water can be imbibed by the seed. Chances are, however, that these seeds will not be viable by this time, anyway.

    If the seeds are still viable, and you have notched them (presuming that an impermeable seed coat is the first problem), they should be buried to a depth of no more than double their diameter in a peat/sand seed compost (no nutrients to start) that is evenly moist and warm (about 23 degrees C). The whole container should be enclosed in a plastic bag to maintain high humidity until the seeds germinate, at which point the bag needs to be loosened to gradually acclimatize the seedlings to lower, more ambient humidity conditions.

    Good luck.
     
  3. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Thanks Douglas;

    The seeds were well washed before I brought them home, kept them in a jar, and I have no plan to plant outside of an indoor pot.

    Thanks for the ideas on germinating. When you say notch, do mean to score the shell in one spot?

    I have no access to a digital camera at the moment, but I could give you a couple of seeds if you have any interest.
     
  4. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    Thanks, we'd be interested in looking at the beans if you can spare them.

    When I said notch, yes -- I mean score. The important thing is that the seed coat is broken, but what's inside isn't compromised.
     
  5. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Doug;

    Where is your office located?
     
  6. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    My office is at the Botanical Garden. Check our website for directions.
     
  7. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    I now have a tentative identification of the more colourful (black and orange) of the two species. It is Abrus precatorius (coral pea, crab's eyes, Indian licorice, jequerity seeds, lucky or Paternoster beans), a pantropical species in the legume family. The seeds are used as beads and weights, but are very poisonous, especially in contact with wounds or eyes, due to the presence of abrin, a toxic glycoprotein - 0.5 grams is fatal to humans.

    The Costa Rican seed is probably a related legume species.
     
  8. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Thanks Douglas;
    I guess it was not as "exotic" as I thought! From what I found on the web it appears to be in found as far north as Florida, where it is considered a weed ! I believe it is non-native to Florida.

    Here is a website with some photos;

    http://aquat1.ifas.ufl.edu/abrpre.html

    From the photos it appears that the black section is supposed to be where the seed attaches to the stem, with the seeds I gave you, the black sections are located away from the stem. It also appears from the photos that my seeds are flatter. Because the plants originated in Asia, could this be a plant other than Abrus precatorius??


    Good to know the seeds are that poisonous, I read that one seed swallowed could be fatal.

    Thanks for your efforts and help. Do you still plan on trying to germinate?
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2002
  9. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Douglas;

    From the website I attached previously it appears this plant originated from INDIA ! It first showed up in Florida in 1932.

    Question: How does this plant wind up in the Bolivian Jungle? Migratory birds? If so, its an amazingly efficient propagation mechanism.

    Common Names: Rosary pea, crab’s eyes, precatory pea, licorice vine
    Synonymy: Abrus abrus (L.) W. F. Wight
    Origin: India, and perhaps other parts of tropical Asia
    Description: High-climbing, twining, or trailing woody vine with slender
    branches. Leaves alternate, petioled, 5-13 cm (2-5 in) long, even-pinnately with 5-15 pairs of leaflets, these oval to oblong, to 1.8 cm (< 1 in) long, with entire. Flowers shaped like pea flowers, white to pink or reddish, small, in shortstalked dense clusters at leaf axils. Fruit a short, oblong pod, splitting before falling to
    3-8 shiny hard seeds, 6-7 mm (< 1 in) long, scarlet with black bases.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2002
  10. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Some interesting/amusing questions and answers off of the Cornell website under "questions";

    http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/alphalist.html

    QUESTION:
    What is the most poisonous plant in the world to humans?

    ANSWER:
    The lectins in castor bean and rosary pea are your best bets. They can be lethal by multiple routes (ingestion, injection, inhalation) and a little goes a long ways. A only a few molecules can inactivate a cell's ribosomes' activity and thereby block protein synthesis.

    QUESTION:
    I'm researching a mystery novel and I was wondering if you could help me. If someone cooked rosary peas, would they still be poisonous? Is there any kind of poisonous bean that could go in say... soup?

    If you can help me, please let me know. I'll make sure to include your name in the acknowledgments page. Like I said, it is a weird question. But, I need the answer so I can write chapter 29.

    ANSWER:
    Rosary peas (Abrus precatorius) contain abrin, which is a special kind of protein called a lectin. Abrin and it is, microgram for microgram, about the most toxic natural substance known.

    I have never tested this on animals with abrin, nor do I know of anyone else who has, but theoretically, moist heat (such as that found in boiling soup) should denature the protein and render the abrin harmless. Given the unbelievably toxic nature of abrin, I would not eat rosary pea soup for at least two reasons:

    1. I do not know for sure that moist heat irreversibly denatures abrin and
    2. If the dried peas are not presoaked or cooked long enough, then water may not
    penetrate all the way to the center of the pea and all of the protein may not be denatured properly, leaving enough intact abrin to kill.

    There are a couple of thermostable (not destroyed by heat) toxins present in fava beans, but they only affect the 100-200 million people in the world who are glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficient. Ingesting fava beans causes these
    people to to develop hemolytic anemia and it can be fatal. Can your fictional victim be G6PD deficient?

    Most peas and beans are rendered less toxic by boiling in soup. That is why they are prepared that way! There is an aweful poisoning that is caused by eating uncooked pulses (another word for legume seeds like beans and peas and lentils) and that is the neurolathyrsm caused by eating Lathyrus sativa seeds. In India, laborers used to get paid in these pulses instead of money. The seeds would be made into an uncooked paste or dough ball and eaten raw or semi-raw. After eating this for a few months, the men suddenly suffered rigidity, paralysis and often dropped dead. It is thought that hard work or exercise or perhaps malnutrition were contributing factors.

    Maybe your victim could be a an anorectic workkout-obsessed person with an eating disorder that includes scarfing raw dough (I have actually known a person like that.) Could he or she have the dough adulterated with Lathyrus by the murderer? It would take a while, but who would suspect (except your heroine/hero detective)?

    Perhaps this is why authors often put mushrooms rather than beans into their literary stews! Or add unexpected spices that cause the victim to uncritically quaff a liquid that has been poisoned, etc.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2002
  11. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Last edited: Sep 16, 2002
  12. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Douglas;

    I have managed to get one of the Bolivian beans to start to germinate! I took a clear plastic bottle (bottom cut out) and put it inside a tin can bottom. I sterilized all components with bleach prior to placing the seed. I put in some paper towel and pressed the seed bewteen the paper towel and the plastic. I soaked the paper towel and put a little water inside the tin can to allow the towel to wick up more moisture as required. Its been about 3 weeks, but the seed casing has split and there seems to be a little bit of a sprout leg starting to emerge. The seed casing is still mainly attached except where it has split away to expose a segment of the seed flesh.

    Question;
    When is the best timing to plant the emerging sprout into soil, and not risk killing it?
    What type of soil? Mainly sand or will store bought potting soil suffice?
    Any suggestions for how deep so as not to kill it off?

    As usual, Thanks for your help.
     
  13. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    Transplant into good potting soil any time after the radicle emerges, but be careful not to damage it. Use soil that drains well and has good aeration porosity for best growth.
     
  14. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Douglas;

    Any luck germinating those beans? I have been successful starting the Costa Rican seedling, currently two broad leaves, does not appear to be Abrus precatorius. Growth has been halted, lots of water, welldrained, but it seems stuck at two leaves.

    I manage dto get the Bolivian seed to germinate to a stalk with 3 leaves, again did not look like the typical Abrus precatorius multi-leaf appearance. Sprouted up quick but halted, stagnated and eventually died. Post mortum indicated fungus on roots. Too much water, not enough?

    What is best way to prepare soil beforehand to kill off any latent fungus prior to transplanting the germinating sprout?

    I tried baking it at 300 F for a few hours, apparently no effect.

    When the Costa Rican plant starts to develop (I hope), I'll drop it by to give you a look.

    Thanks again.
     
  15. Douglas Justice

    Douglas Justice Active Member UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society 10 Years

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    We did not attempt to germinate the seeds you supplied us -- they're more valuable to us intact (as exhibits).

    The seedling stage is often the most vulnerable in a plant's life. Various "damping-off" fungi are common in unpasteurized growing media. The presence of plant-pathogenic fungi on the seedcoat (from the collection site, for example) is also possible, and is one of the reasons we discourage people from bringing seeds home from away. Some propagators surface sterilize seeds by soaking them in a 10% bleach (sodium hypochlorite) solution for a few minutes, but this is no guarantee that fungi lurking in the cracks won't survive.

    There are many recipes for pasteurizing soil at home (e.g., http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/askext/indoor/2122.htm), but in my experience, they are more trouble than they're worth and all result in really unpleasant odours. Pasteurization may also kill off beneficial micro-organisms. Most people purchase "sterilized" media for seeding, or use a high proportion of inert material, such as vermiculite, washed sand or perlite with baled peat moss fresh from the bag, which is generally free of damping-off organisms.

    The shape of a plant's cotyledons (seed leaves) generally has little correlation with the shape its adult leaves.
     
  16. Skookum

    Skookum Member

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    Thanks Douglas;

    I will try using bleached sterilized sand next time until the seedling roots are establsihed. I will monitor the growth of the Costa Rican seedling and tell you if it develops into Abrus precatorious.

    Best Regards,
    DG
     
  17. Myka

    Myka Member

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    Sorry to butt in here, but this is an interesting little story you have! I sure don't have the experience or schooling like Douglas obviously has, but maybe I can help you get those beans going!

    Usually a plant gets root rot simply from over-watering. I have found that seedlings do well in a container size that is as small as possible. Depending on the size of your seeds, a 2" pot should work sufficiently, provided your seed is not bigger than about 1". I then use 1/2 sterilized potting soil (store bought), and 1/2 perlite, by measure not weight. I find this method allows the bean to stay moist, but it drains and dries out quickly. Usually needs to be watered every second day.

    Myka
     
  18. Ossa

    Ossa New Member

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    Friends
    you are probably dealing with either
    ormosia arborea or
    adenanthera bicolor
    both have seeds looking very much alike the Abrus but are not toxic
    I am currently reseaching the good sides and medical uses of the abrusand succeeded in propagating the seeds in 23 celcius.
     
  19. Skookum,
    I've also been backpacking in Bolivia &, like you, have a small red-orange seed collected during my travels (tho I had a permit to bring it home - hehe). I wonder if our seeds come from the same species... As I recall, my seed looks similar to the photo of Abrus precatorious you provided, but the black area is much smaller - as if it had been given a 'blob' of black ink at one end rather than being half 'dipped' into a pot of it. Does this sound familiar? Have you managed to grow the seedlings any further? Or to identify the species at all?
    C
     
  20. Ossa

    Ossa New Member

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    Again ,the Abrus seeds are either scarlet red or light pink .
    I have never seen seeds in orange color but the ormosia arborea seeds are orange with
    black spot. The adenanthera bicolor seeds are red with black spot but their form
    differ from the abrus.
     

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