Peacock Flower

peacock flower

flower and leaves

peacock flower seed pods

seed pods






Otherwise known as Mexican red bird of paradise, Pride of Barbados, and butterfly flower.


  • Native to the tropics
  • Prominent in the West Indies/Caribbean
  • Thrives in hot climates
  • National flower of Barbados

Distinguishing Attributes

  • Small tree or large shrub
  • Showy blossoms of orange/red
  • Fern-like blue-green foliage, young foliage is red
  • Seed pods resemble sugar snap pea or edamame pods.
  • Fast-growing
  • Resistant to pest and disease

Poisonous Traits

  • Mature seeds (derived from brown seed pods) are poisonous due to gallic and tannic acid concentrations.
  • The ingestion of leaves causes diarrhea and miscarriage during pregnancy.
  • Roots are spicy and toxic

Presenting Symptoms

  • Gastrointestinal: vomiting, diarrhea
  • Induces menstruation

Current Uses

  • Mexico and Nicaragua boil young (green) seed pods to remove the tannic acids and eat the seeds.
  • A common medicinal herb in Taiwan for treating fever, menstruation issues, malaria, wheezing, and bronchitis.
  • Pakistanis use the flowers to treat intestinal worms, the roots to treat infant convulsions, and the leaves to induce vomiting and abortions.
  • Malaysians use the plant as an antibacterial (fights infection).
  • Panamanians use the leaves to poison fish.
  • Nicaraguans throw the leaves into the water to stun the fish.
  • Medicine men from the Amazon rainforest use the seed pods as an astringent to clean wounds.
  • The tea produced from the leaves is used to treat dysentery (infection of the intestines that produces blood and mucous in the stool).
  • Mexico uses the seed pods to make red and yellow dye and the roots for red dye, and the flowers and roots are used to create a mouthwash. Powdered flowers are used to kill insects.
  • In India, the plant is sacred to Shiva, a supreme being to the Indonesians.

Historical Relevance

  • In 1705 Maria Merian, a naturalist, recorded that Suriname Indians and slaves from Northern South America were known to use the mature seed pods to abort their children in hopes of keeping them from enslavement from their Dutch colonial masters.
  • In the 18th century, free Amerindians living in the regions of Venezuela and Colombia used the seed pods to induce abortions for selfish reasons; they could ‘schedule’ their pregnancies to preserve their youth and beauty as well as ‘eliminate’ pregnancies beyond their youth.

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