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India's Terrifying, Toxic Tree

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Wikimedia Commons //Tauʻolunga// CC BY-SA 3.0

It sounds like something out of a particularly dark Grimms fairy tale—consume the poisonous othalanga fruit of the Cerbera odollam tree to experience eternal slumber. But the so-called “suicide tree” of India isn’t fiction.

The softball-sized fruit contains seeds so toxic, they’re used to produce rat poison (and, alarmingly, deodorant). In the 19th century, thousands of people were subjected to witchcraft “trials” not unlike those held in Salem: If the accused ate othalanga and survived, he or she was declared a witch and was punished accordingly. If the accused died, well, whoops—at least they were virtuous!

Cerbera odollam grows wild and abundantly along the southwestern coast of India near Kerala, making suicide a snap for anyone who harvests fruit from its branches. It’s estimated that at least one person per week in the Kerala region uses the natural poison to kill themselves. In May, four teenage girls ate othalanga after allegedly being harassed by the trainers and senior members of their rowing squad. One 15-year-old died, while the others were hospitalized.

Researchers believe the seeds are often used for murder as well. The toxin in the seeds is known as cerberin, which stops the heart, making odollam poisoning look a lot like a heart attack. Since so little is known about the plant and its effects, this means intentional poisonings may go unnoticed

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iStock
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infographics
All the Plastic Ever Produced, Visualized
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iStock

Humanity has a plastic problem. The cheap, durable material has become a vital part of our vehicles, food packaging, and even the inner structures of our homes. We’ve already produced 8.3 billion metric tons of the stuff, and most of it is sitting in landfills where it could take centuries to break down.

In early 2017, a study published in the journal Science Advances highlighted the literal weight of this growing issue. Researchers calculated that the bulk of all the plastic that’s been made by humans is equivalent to that of 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. Of that, only 9 percent has been recycled. The amount of plastic waste currently trashing our planet adds up to 6.3 billion metric tons, and the researchers don’t see our plastic addiction getting any less severe in the near future. By 2050, the plastic in our landfills is expected to hit 12 billion metric tons. You can see more alarming statistics from the study in the infographic below.

Infographic showing plastic production statistics.
University of Georgia, Janet A Beckley

Of all the trash we produce, plastic is some of the toughest to get rid of [PDF]. Scientists are looking into solutions, such as plastic-chomping caterpillars and germs, but for now consumers can do the planet a favor by investing in more reusable goods.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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