March 8, 2016: Do you know the seeds that kill?

Local and national media outlets recently reported a 22 year old died of complications after consuming an unknown amount of “pong seeds” purchased from Thailand via the internet.

The seeds are listed for decoration and planting purposes.

However, the seeds are from the infamously known “suicide tree”.


The pong-pong tree, (bta-buta, nyan, othalanga, maram) also known as Cerbera odollam, grows along sandy coasts, river banks, and mangrove swamps of India and parts Southeast Asia.


Cerbera odollam is a tree belonging to the poisonous Apocynaceae family, which includes the common and yellow oleanders.

The kernels contain the active glycosides cerberin, cerberoside and odulin. The kernels contain a digoxin type cardiac glycoside toxin.


Fig. 1.Cerbera odollam fruit.                                                                                               Fig. 2. Structure of cerberin






Toxicology: Increased intracellular calcium leads to early afterdepolarization, cardiac irritability, and dysrhythmias. Increased vagal and decreased sympathetic tones lead to bradycardia and heart block. Inhibition of the Na-K ATPase pump causes hyperkalemia.


Cerbera odollam: sinus bradycardia, wandering pacemaker, second-degree SA block and nodal rhythm, nausea, retching and vomiting have occurred following the ingestion of half to one odollam kernel.


Reports of accidental or suicidal ingestions in the United States are very rare. The “suicide tree” is responsible for about 50% of plant poisoning cases and 10% of all poisoning cases in the state of Kerala, India. It is used for both suicide and homicides in that region. Also, it is sometimes eaten by children who mistake it for fruit.


This Question prepared by: Jeff Moore, RN, CSPI (Cerfified Specialist in Poison Information)   Tennessee Poison Center


This is a great example of internet shopping.  You can get whatever you want-you just can’t be sure what it is. ds

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Donna Seger, MD

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center

Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222