1

It is a widespread bilief that Asclepias gigantea or the "Arka" or "Jilledu" tree is poisonous and causes blindness.

The general belief is that

  1. If the milk of the plant falls into the eye, you go blind.

  2. If the leaf is consumed, you go blind.

I researched about the origin of the belief and found the Mahabaratha epic to contain a mention of it.

"And Upamanyu, one day, oppressed by hunger, when in a forest, ate of the leaves of the Arka (Asclepias gigantea). And his eyes being affected by the pungent, acrimonious, crude, and saline properties of the leaves which he had eaten, he became blind. And as he was crawling about, he fell into a pit.

The Mahabharata

1

Yes there can be a varying degree of vision loss, but it is only temporary.

From the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology. 2009 May-Jun; 57(3): 232–234.

A retrospective analysis of 29 patients who presented with accidental ocular contact or injury with the latex of Calotropis procera, in our cornea department between January 2003 and December 2006, was performed... The latex of Calotropis procera contains several alkaloids (such as Calotropin, Catotoxin, Calcilin, Gigantin) which are caustic and considered poisonous in nature.Previous reports showed that accidental contact of Calotropis latex into the eye caused violent kerato-conjunctivitis with associated corneal edema and gross dimness of vision but without any pain.But they did not report any uveitis or secondary glaucoma in any case. However, confocal microscopy of a recently reported case showed permanent endothelial cell damage which was evident after three weeks...In conclusion, the latex of Calotropis procera causes immediate severe corneal damage with painless sudden dimness of vision. It may also cause reduction in endothelial cell count over a period of time.

The medical journal of the armed forces of India also have an account of this:

A 27 year old patient reported with Calotropis plant milky sap drop entering into his left eye accidently. He developed an immediate burning sensation, redness of eyes and photo-phobia. He washed the eyes thoroughly after which the burning improved but his vision slowly reduced over a period of 2 hours...The sap of procera is acidic in reaction and turns blue litmus red. On keeping for some time the latex separates into a white coagulum and clear serum. The serum is highly toxic. Gigantin a white crystalline substance isolated from the serum has been found to be 15 to 20 times as poisonous as strychnine.Calotropis induced ocular manifestations occur because of two reasons, the first being the acidic nature of the milky sap and second due to the toxins present in the sap. The observations in our series of cases revealed that the clinical features occurred in two stages which have not been described previously in the literature though all manifestations have been reported in various reports. Stage 1: stage of acute acid injury and Stage 2: stage of toxicity.

  • The quoted articles seem to suggest permanent vision loss. You are saying it's temporary. – Dudey Aug 28 '16 at 22:00
  • The articles says some endothelial cells were permanently lost (these are the cells which keep the cornea in a slightly dehydrated state for optical transparency), but the remaining endothelial cells recover and the subject regains full visual acuity in 7 days. So I guess only if the liquid damages all cells then the person might have blurry vision permanently. – Nav Aug 29 '16 at 4:39

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