This educational article on the Upas tree appeared in the April 19, 1856 issue of Frank Leslie’s Weekly. These weekly papers were large quarto in size, about 12″ by 16″, and each consisted of sixteen pages to the issue. They followed a tested and proven formula of carefully combining elements of war, politics, art, science, travel and exploration, literature and the fine arts in each issue, enhanced with between 16 and 32 illustrations.
The Upas Tree
This terrible plant, to which was for a long time attached a sort of fabulous interest–killing, it was said, man, bird, and beast, that came within the circle of its influence–is of the same tribe of plants as that from which the Strychnos Nux Vomica is obtained. The fruit is about the size of a St. Michael’s orange, with a bitter, astringent pulp, and containing from three to five seeds. The pulp may be eaten; the seeds, which produce one of the strongest poisons, are of a brownish gray color. Each side is flattish, or very slightly concave.
Owing to the hard, cartilaginous nature of the seeds, they are extremely difficult to reduce to powder. When reduced, a very small quantity of this powder is sufficient to destroy life. The poison Strychnine is obtained from the seeds by the following process:–
The seed is rasped down as small as possible; it is then exposed to the action of nitric ether. The residue, thus deprived of its fatty matter, is digested in alcohol so long as that re-agent is capable of dissolving anything. The alcoholic solution is evaporated to dryness, and what remains is dissolved in water. Caustic potash being dropped into the solution, a white crystaline precipitate falls, which is Strychnine.
The poison thus prepared has a white color; its taste is tolerably bitter, leaving a metallic impression in the mouth; it is destitute of smell, and is not affected by exposure to the air; it is neither fusible nor volatile, except at temperatures at which it undergoes decomposition; it is very soluble in cold water.
Strychnine belongs to the alkaloid class of substances; which is easily proved by adding its alcoholic solution to an infusion of litmus turned red by a little acetic acid. The blue color is instantly restored by the alkaline action of Strychnine.