Rosary pea has been widely used in Florida as an ornamental plant for many years. The native range of rosary pea is India and parts of Asia, where this plant is used for various purposes. The roots of this plant are used to induce abortion and relieve abdominal discomfort. The seeds of this plant are so uniform in size and weight that they are used as standards in weight measurement. The seeds can also be used to make jewelry. Interestingly, one of the most deadly plant toxins, abrin, is produced by rosary pea (Abrus precatorius). Studies have shown that as little as 0.00015% of toxin per body weight will cause fatality in humans (a single seed). Interestingly, birds appear to be unaffected by the deadly toxin as they have been shown to readily disperse rosary pea seed.
Rosary pea is a high-climbing, twining or trailing woody vine with slender herbaceous branches. Leaves are alternate, petioled, and even-pinnately compound, 2-5 inches long, with 5 to 15 pairs of oval to oblong leaflets less than 1" long. The flowers are small, pale, and white to violet to pink, densely clustered in leaf axils. The seed pod is oblong, flat and truncate shaped, roughly 1 1/2 - 2 inches long and curls back when it opens, revealing 3 to 8 shiny, hard, brilliant red seeds. Seeds are less than one inch long and have a black spot, giving the plant another common name of crab's eyes.
Rosary pea is found throughout central and southern Florida, including Marion, Lake, Palm Beach, and Manatee counties. All together, rosary pea has been collected from 27 counties throughout Florida. Undisturbed pinelands and hammocks are often invaded by Abrus. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council considers rosary pea a category 1 invasive species due to its ability to invade and displace native plant communities. Characteristic of a vining plant, rosary pea can grow over small trees and shrubs. Roots grow very deeply onto the ground and are very difficult to remove. Fire encourages the growth of rosary pea.
Regular monitoring and rouging of plants can prevent the spread and establishment of rosary pea. Programs to educate homeowners on proper plant identification will also reduce the spread of this species.
Native alternatives to rosary pea for use in home landscaping or natural areas include leather flower (Clematis crispa) or Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens).
Hand-pulling and removal of entire plants, particularly the roots, is practical for small infestations. Aggressive tillage is an option and very effective, but impractical in many areas. Fire provides only temporary control.
There are no known biological agents for rosary pea.
Timing of application is critical to effectiveness; with applications in the fall prior to seed set being the most effective. Triclopyr is effective as a cut-stump treatment on large woody vines immediately after the vines are cut down. Triclopyr amine or glyphosate can be applied to the foliage at 3-5% or 1-3%, respectively.
Langeland, K.A. and K. Craddock Burks. 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas. IFAS Publication SP 257. University of Florida, Gainesville. 165 pp.
The Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group. Weeds Gone Wild: Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas
Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER). Plant Threats to Pacific Ecosystems
University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Circular 1529, Invasive Species Management Plans for Florida, 2008 by
Greg MacDonald, Associate Professor Jay Ferrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Brent Sellers, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Ken Langeland, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist Agronomy Department, Gainesville and Range Cattle REC, Ona
Tina Duperron-Bond, DPM – Osceola County
Eileen Ketterer-Guest, former Graduate Research Assistant
Description modified January 2014 using Citation #1 below
1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition, by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.
2. Strangers in Paradise, Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida, Chapter 2: Florida’s Invasion by Nonindigenous Plants: History, Screening, and Regulation, by D.R. Gordon and K.P. Thomas, pp. 21-37. Island Press, Washington, DC, 1997.
3. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know - Recognition Cards, by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.
4. Integrated Management of Nonnative Plants in Natural Areas of Florida, by K. A. Langeland, J. A. Ferrell, B. Sellers, G. E. MacDonald, and R. K. Stocker. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 242. 2011.