Microscopic Characters of Nux Vomica

Microscopic Characters of Nux Vomica: Nux Vomica is scientifically known as Strychnos Nux-vomica. Nux-vomica is a highly potent medicinal plant that is indigenous to India and Southeast Asia. Often referred to as the poison nut or quaker buttons, it has a long history in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. In this article, we delve into the microscopic characterization of Nux Vomica, examining its key identifying attributes at the cellular level.

Microscopic Characterization of Nux Vomica

Microscopic Characters of Nux Vomica

Macroscopic Description

Before moving to the microscopic analysis, it’s important to note the macroscopic characteristics of Nux Vomica. The plant grows as a deciduous tree reaching up to 25 meters in height, with a gray, rough bark. The tree’s fruit is a soft, orange-colored berry containing five seeds. These seeds, which are incredibly bitter to taste, are the main source of the plant’s medicinal use and toxic properties.

Microscopic Characterization of Nux Vomica

Microscopic Characters of Nux Vomica

Moving to the microscopic examination, the transverse section of the Nux Vomica seed gives an overview of its detailed structure.

  1. Testa: The outermost layer, or testa, is made up of a layer of cells which are polygonal in shape and tightly packed together. The cells are filled with brown matter that gives the seed its characteristic color.
  2. Sclerenchyma: Below the testa, there lies a thick layer of sclerenchymatous cells which impart hardness and stiffness to the seed. This layer is typically 10-15 cells deep, and the cells are elongated with thickened walls, a classic trait of sclerenchyma cells.
  3. Endosperm: The majority of the seed volume is taken up by the endosperm, which houses the alkaloids strychnine and brucine, the main active ingredients of Nux Vomica. The endosperm cells are large, with a polygonal shape, and they contain aleurone grains and oil droplets.
  4. Embryo: At the center of the seed is the embryo, made up of small, closely packed cells. The embryo is well differentiated into two cotyledons and an axis.

Chemical Characteristics of Nux Vomica

In terms of chemical characteristics, the seeds of Nux Vomica are well-known for their content of potent alkaloids, primarily strychnine and brucine. Microscopic examination of the endosperm shows the presence of these alkaloids as crystal deposits. Other phytochemicals present include various minor alkaloids, glycosides, and flavonoids.

The aforementioned alkaloids, strychnine, and brucine, are of significant medical interest. Strychnine affects the operation of the nerves in the spinal cord resulting in intense spasms, while brucine, less potent but similar in effect, acts as a local anesthetic.

Powder Microscopy of Nux Vomica

The powdered form of Nux Vomica exhibits specific microscopic features that aid in its identification. It contains fragments of the testa consisting of rectangular, thick-walled, brownish cells. Fragments of the endosperm show large, polygonal, thin-walled cells filled with aleurone grains and oil globules. Minute, needle-shaped crystals of the alkaloids can also be seen scattered throughout the powder.

Micromorphology and Histochemistry

Nux Vomica’s seeds have distinct micromorphological characteristics which aid in its identification. The seed surface exhibits a minutely pitted pattern under a microscope due to the tightly packed outer cells. This pitted pattern is a key characteristic of Nux Vomica seeds. Moreover, the histochemical tests show the presence of fixed oils, proteins, and alkaloids in the endosperm.

Chemical Microscopy of Nux Vomica

Chemical microscopy can reveal the presence and location of chemical constituents within a plant sample. This technique is especially beneficial in the examination of Nux Vomica due to its high alkaloid content. The use of specific reagents like Mayer’s reagent and Wagner’s reagent can help identify the presence of alkaloids in the plant’s cells. This microscopic method offers a more in-depth understanding of the spatial distribution of these compounds within the plant’s tissues.

Pollen Morphology of Nux Vomica

The study of pollen grains, or palynology, provides additional identification markers. The pollen grains of Nux Vomica are spheroidal, radially symmetric, and tricolporate (having three furrows or apertures). Their surface is characterized by a finely reticulate pattern. Palynological studies assist in confirming the plant species and provide additional information regarding its evolutionary relationships and ecological adaptations.

Crystallography of Alkaloids of Nux Vomica

Under high-resolution microscopy, the alkaloids strychnine and brucine exhibit distinctive crystal structures. Strychnine forms elongated, needle-like crystals, while brucine forms spheroidal crystals. The ability to visualize and identify these structures microscopically can provide valuable confirmation of the presence of these specific alkaloids.

Ultrastructural Studies of Nux Vomica

With advancements in technology, ultrastructural studies using electron microscopy have provided deeper insights into the cellular structure of Nux Vomica. This has allowed researchers to observe the organelles within the endosperm cells, including the nuclei, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi bodies. These details could potentially unlock further understanding of the plant’s function and adaptations.


The microscopic characterization of Nux Vomica demonstrates the complexity and precision of nature at the cellular level. Understanding these characteristics not only aids in the identification of the plant but also provides crucial insights into its biochemical and pharmacological properties.

As we continue to advance in our microscopic methods, the scope for the discovery of new information regarding this remarkable plant increases, potentially leading to novel uses and applications.

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