Cerbera odollam, commonly known as the Suicide tree, Pong-pong, and
Othalanga, is a species of tree native to India and other parts of
Southern Asia. It grows preferentially in coastal salt swamps and in
marshy areas. It has been grown as a hedge between home compounds.
It yields a potent poison, often used for suicide or murder
The fruit, when still green, looks like a small mango, with a green
fibrous shell enclosing an ovoid kernel measuring approximately 2 cm
× 1.5 cm and consisting of two cross-matching white fleshy halves.
On exposure to air, the white kernel turns violet, then dark grey,
and ultimately brown, or black. The plant as a whole yields a milky,
white latex. Cerbera odollam bears a close resemblance to the
Oleander bush, another highly toxic plant from the same family.
The kernels of C. odollam contain cerberin, a potent alkaloid toxin
related to digoxin, a poison found in foxglove. The poison blocks
the calcium ion channels in heart muscle, causing disruption of the
heart beat. This is most often fatal. Cerberin is difficult to
detect in autopsies and its taste can be masked with strong spices.
Therefore it is often used in homicide and suicide in India. More
than 500 cases of fatal Cerbera poisoning between 1989 and 1999 in
the south-west Indian state of Kerala alone.
The seeds also have a long history as a poison in Madagascar. The
poison was responsible for the death of 2% of the population (3000
people per year, 50,000 per generation) of the central province of
Madagascar. The belief in the genuineness and accuracy of trial by
ordeal using this poison was so strongly held among all that
innocent people suspected of an offense did not hesitate to subject
themselves to it; some even showed eagerness to subject themselves
to the test. On one occasion over 6000 people died in a single
ordeal. The use of ritual poison in Madagascar was abolished in 1861
by King Radama II. However, it is believed that this practice may
still occur in remote areas of the island.
The fruits are used for manufacturing bioinsecticides and
Investigations have also been made into the feasibility of
converting the seeds into biodiesel