One of my favourite souvenirs from Ecuador is a bright orange-red necklace. It’s made of orange-red seeds with black spots that are known as Huayro. The first time I came across these seeds, I was impressed by the amount of work done by the indigenous people to paint a black spot on each seed. I soon discovered that the tree actually produces the seeds this way which made me feel a bit stupid. However, while doing research to find out what the meaning of Huayro is, and where the seeds come from, I discovered something which really made me feel stupid: the seeds of my necklace are from a very poisonous variety. When you are travelling in Latin America, you will probably come across the Huayro seeds as well, so it’s good to know which Huayro seeds are toxic and which ones aren’t.
The origin of the Huayro seeds
Huayro seeds come from the tree Ormosia Coccinea which grows to a height of 25 to 35 meters. It grows best in a humid environment and can mostly be found in the jungle. The flowers are pink or purple, and the fruit is a small flattened and green seedpod which contains a couple of seeds. People collect the seeds that have fallen to the ground to create jewelry. The seeds come in two varieties: entirely red or red with one black spot covering ⅓ of surface. Indigenous people distinguishes these seeds between male and female: the red one is called hembra or female, and the black spotted seed is called macho or male.
The seeds of the Ormosia Coccinea are poisonous if chewed, so it is okay to wear them as jewelry long as you don’t eat them (so don’t give it to a child). However, I discovered that a similar type of orange-red seed exists which is produced by the Abrus Precatorius. These seeds, on the other hand, contain arbin wich is extremely toxic when ingested or through direct contact with a skin wound. Especially once the seed is crushed it’s dangerous and can even kill. It’s hard to tell the difference between the seeds, but the Ormosia Coccinea (11 – 14 mm) is bigger than the Abrus Precatorius (3 – 8 mm). Also this image may be of help to tell the difference between the Ormosia Coccinea (C & D) and the Abrus Precatorius seeds (H).
The bean of luck
The Huayro seeds are used since pre-hispanic times. For example, the Incas used them to create jewelry or for rituals. The seeds are especially known for their symbolic value: it’s said that they bring and attract good luck, protect against negative energy, and attract good fortune. To attract good fortune, put a Huayro seed in your wallet. If you rather want protection against negative energy, you can place for example a jar of huayro seeds in your home.
Since I discovered that my necklace is made of the Abrus Precatorius seeds, I’ve decided not to wear it again. While thinking about it I’m not completely surprised that the seeds are poisonous, because most bright coloured things in nature are, but I never really investigated it. Well, I prefer not to risk it, and I’ll save the necklace in a little jar instead. This way I can still enjoy the beautiful colour, and hopefully it will bring me luck as well!