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How to germinate strychnine seeds

August 15, 2010

In an earlier blog I treated the strychnine tree  (Strychnos nux-vomica, Loganiaceae) which grows wild at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai. I have tried different ways of germinating the seeds, but always failed. This morning I was successful! Apparently, one should not harvest and plant the seeds while they are still surrounded by the orange pulp. I simply collected seeds from fruits that had been on the ground for quite some time. The original fruit was already degraded, and the white seeds where exposed on the soil surface. I collected these and buried them in a pot with compost. After the past few days of heavy rains (24 mm yesterday, 56 mm on th 7th) they all germinated simultaneously!

Eric Danell

The fruit of the strychnine tree resembles an orange. The tree thrives in dry savannah-like forests in northern Thailand.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Sonia permalink
    March 30, 2011 9:58 PM

    It’s amaing about this. I have tried several times, but always failed. IS the pot with holes?

    • March 31, 2011 9:49 AM

      Dear Sonia,

      The pot had drainage holes in the bottom. Excellent drainage seems necessary since flooding will kill the seedlings.


  2. April 20, 2012 5:00 AM

    Could You possibly say more about the process of germinating this species?

    • April 20, 2012 8:46 AM

      The seeds are out now. I can only share my experience, i.e. if you collect very dry seeds and plant them and water, they will germinate. If you collect them from the fruit, pulp and all, they will not germinate. They probably contain germination inhibitors which have to be removed first. This assures favourable conditions for the young seedling. If the seed germinates too early due to an erratic rain follow by weeks of drought, the seedling may die.

      • April 20, 2012 7:08 PM

        Thank You for the information!
        I have a bunch of questions…
        I heard the seeds wouldn’t be viable for too long. Is this true?
        I live in Europe and my seeds were delivered to me, though I have no idea what location mother plants were in. Since then almost three weeks have passed I’m afraid my seeds could be dead. 😦
        Also, some of them I have lost to that horrible mold infection, because I tried to peel them off completely, but failed to provide a sterile environment… The white radicle started to darken and some holes started to appear on the surface of the seeds…
        Other than that, it is such a long process, that I never know if I’m doing it right… I’m using a trick that I found somewhere, i.e. periods of soaking with periods of drying (for example, a few hours of soaking, and then a few hours of drying). I’m sorry for bothering You… I just got highly interested with the plant…

      • April 21, 2012 8:23 AM

        The natural process is: the fruit falls down and degrades. The glistering pulp is edible so I guess some animals spread around the deadly poisonous seeds. The seeds may stay alive for a long time in dry conditions, and to my limited experience it seems only those seeds that have been sun dried for a long time will germinate. Put many seeds together in one pot and soak with water but allow the water to drain. Keep moist until germination. Three weeks may not be sufficient time. Have patience. Once the seeds germinate, be very careful with watering, the soil has to be sandy and well drained. The root will dive deep. It is almost impossible to transplant even a small specimen from the wild to your garden due to the deep root system (an adaptation to drought).

        Good luck!


  3. August 21, 2012 9:31 AM

    How would you go about acquiring a strychnine seed? Are they sold in any particular botany retailer or online?

    • August 21, 2012 2:34 PM

      They grow in the wild here. We can not handle small orders but most welcome here to come and pick!


  4. TheEyeOfIsis permalink
    February 21, 2013 5:59 PM

    Hi again! It’s been almost a year since the last time I asked You about this plant. The thing is, I had totally managed to germinate about 10 of these, but I lost every little seedling. I’m just always so curious about that tiny root going so deep and sometimes I couldn’t resist uneartthing it a bit. I don’t know if it’s the vigour of the seeds that I received or the plant general feature, but it is extremely sensitive to such activities and I think it’s best left alone on its own. I didn’t have any problem like that with any other plant…. At least molds are staying away and I know that they are orthodox, so time shouldn’t be a problem. Hard, a very HARD PLANT indeed, to establish. Paper towel method seems to work with this species, but one needs to be careful with moisture. Luckily, I have another Strychnos species, Strychnos madagascariensis, which germinated a few months ago and is doing very well. You had said earlier that the seeds would need to be sun-dried for a long time and a certain article includes some information that drying seeds for 3 days at 40*C improves germination significantly (from 10% for control to 40 something %). So it must be those high temperatures that break dormancy… Still, not all seeds respond to this at the same time. So erratic! 🙂

    • February 22, 2013 3:44 PM

      Very interesting observations. Indeed it is difficult to grow.Throwing the seeds where you want the plant seems like the best option. I have tried to transplant little seedlings from the field, also in vain.


    • November 1, 2013 7:19 PM

      These trees grow wild in my part of the world and we have never ever tried to cultivate them. I know that they grow best in Savannah type of climates because this is the climate that we have. They might have died because of the weather that side…wherever your side is.

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