Toxicity of Boophone disticha

Rhoda and Cameron McMaster
Mon, 05 May 2008 20:28:01 PDT

While the toxicity of Boophone pollen is being discussed I thought it would be interesting to note that if close enough to the plant it will have similar effects.  The well known botanical artist, Dr Auriol Batten recounts how when painting the plant from a fresh flower, she developed a headache, drowsiness and sore eyes.   In fact one of its common names in South Africa is "Sore Eye Flower".   The bulb is extremely poisonous and was used as an ingredient in the arrow and fish poison concocted by the San and Khoi Hunter-Gatherers in past eras.  The remarkable properties of this bulb were highlighted by the discovery by Johan Binneman of a mummified body of a San hunter in the Kouga mountains in 1998.  As reported in the organ of the Archaeological Society of SA, "The Digging Stick" Vol.16 No.2 in April 1999, he discovered the body in a cave carefully wrapped in the scales of Boophone disticha bulbs.  So toxic were the bulbs scales that the  wrapping had kept the 2000 year-old body in a well preserved state, protecting it from insects and flesh eating organisms.  The mummy is now housed in the Albany Museum.

Cameron McMaster

African Bulbs
PO Box 26, Napier 7270
Tel/Fax: 028 423 3651
Mobile: 082 774 2075

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