|Traditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)|
syn: A. friesiorum Markgr.
Borana: karraru English: arrow-poison plant Gabra: k'arraaru Kamba: kivai Kikuyu: muricu Kipsigis: kelyot Maa: olmorijoi Meru: mururu Nandi: keliot Pokot: kelion Samburu: ilmorijoi Somali: marid Tugen: kelyon
Description: A dense round evergreen shrub or spreading sparsely branched tree to 7 m high. BARK: Fissured. LEAVES: Shiny, usually elliptic or ovate. FRUIT: Ellipsoid, to 2 cm long, green, turning green-yellow then dark purple on ripening. Seeds cream with an ivory appearance, compressed on one side.
Ecology: Widespread in East Africa, south to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and north-eastern South Africa. Grows in Kenya in bushland on rocky hillsides, especially on red or black rocky soils, e.g. at Muumandu (Machakos), Ongata-Rongai, Oloosaiyeti hill (Kajiado), Rumuruti (Laikipia), Loita, and Chepelion (north Baringo), 1,200-2,400 m. Common in dry highland forests and bushed grasslands. Rainfall: 500-900 mm. Zone III.
Uses: FOOD: Ripe fruits are edible (+). They are sweet with a slightly bitter taste, but should only be eaten when ripe. Otherwise the whole plant is poisonous. Birds have been known to drop dead on sucking nectar from the flowers.
OTHER: This is the plant used to make arrow poison (Pokot, Kamba, Kipsigis, Embu, Tharaka, Maasai) and by many communities in Central, East and southern Africa. Roots (or other parts of the plant) are boiled in a secluded place for up to 10 hours, adding water up to 5 times. A black viscous substance results which, on drying, may be wrapped up and stored far from people. The poison should never be handled with bare hands if there is any break in the skin. On cooling, the poison may also be pounded to a powder and stored. It is softened again by adding a little water (Maasai). The poison is said to remain potent for a long time. Trees in the hotter areas give better poison and it softens or may melt in cold humid weather. Ash or Aloe sap may be put on top to prevent poison from oozing out (Kamba, Maasai). Acokanthera poison is a lethal cardiac poison only effective when it gets into the bloodstream. This is used against wild game ranging from dikdik to elephant, and small quantities may kill a human in 20 minutes or less. Antidote: In case of accident, squeeze out and suck contaminated blood from the point of entry immediately. (The person doing this should not have sores in his mouth.) Apply paraffin oil (Kitui).
COMMERCIAL: Poison sold in Kitui, said to be obtained from the coast. Arrows with poison from this plant sold (Mwala in Machakos, Tseikuru in Mwingi, Ishiara in Embu, Tharaka, Kitui). Locally, poison experts make this poison and apply it to other people's arrows for a fee (Loita in Narok).
Season: Fruits in May (Narok).
Remarks: A related species, but usually with larger fruits and leaves than those of A. schimperi: Acokanthera oppositifolia (Lam.) Codd, syn: A. longiflora Stapf has edible fruits too (English: arrow-poison tree, Swahili: msunguti, Kamba: kikweo, ngweo (fruit), Kikuyu: kiruru, mururu, kiururu, Mbeere: mururu, Meru: mururu, Taita: msungusungu). It is an evergreen shrub or small tree, normally 3-5 m high, exuding a white latex when any part is injured. Bark grey, rough. Leaves opposite, shiny, elliptic to obovate, broadly ovate with a sharp tip. Flowers in clusters, made up of 5 parts, with a pink tube and white lobes. Fruit oval, 2-3 cm long. Distribution: Kanzalu Range and Kalama (Machakos), Kiambu, Nairobi. Also in Tanzania, south to South Africa. Habitat: Bushland (especially on rocky hillsides) and riverine forest edges and dry highland forests, up to 2,400 m. Soils: Rocky, red clay, clay-loam. Rainfall: 600-1,000 mm. Uses: Fruit edible when ripe (+), sweet and rather bitter. Latex from fruit used as chewing gum by children. Only ripe fruits should be eaten. The roots are occasionally used to make arrow poison (Kamba, Pokot, Kipsigis). A shade and ornamental tree. Season: Fruits in February-March (Machakos). Status: Uncommon. Remarks: Plant roots and other plant parts may be poisonous.