Rosary Pea is a vine native to Asia, Africa, and parts of Australia. It is now found around the world in the tropics and subtropics and has been in Florida at least since the early 1930s. Rosary Pea has long been used for its bright red-and-black seeds that are very hard, nearly spherical, and mostly a shiny red with a shiny black base where they were attached to the seedpod. Because of their size, shape, colors, and durability, these seeds have been used for centuries as prayer beads – not merely in Christian religions, but also in Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religions where devout followers repeat prayers or mantras a specified number of times. Strings of the seeds are used by a person reciting the prayers to keep track of how many times they have repeated the prayer. The word “rosary” comes from Old English and means “rose garden” – and perhaps refers to a sense of peace and beauty one might get from reciting the prayers.
Decorative necklaces and bracelets are commonly made from the seeds and are popular with tourists because of their color and beauty. The bad news is that these seeds contain a very potent, often lethal, toxin – Abrin. Wearing such a necklace or bracelet while holding a child is very dangerous. The good news is that the seeds are very hard and if swallowed whole might (just might) pass through a human digestive system without releasing the toxin.
As an invasive plant, Rosary Pea is among the worst. It produces a lot of seeds, it has deep roots that grow back quickly when only broken when vine is pulled up. Rosary pea grows very rapidly, covering other vegetation and often killing it as a result. Another problem with rosary pea is that the vines rapidly climb chain-link fences and proliferate such that vine-covered fences can be blown over in hurricane-force winds.