Cyanide in the chemical arsenal of garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata.
Cyanide production has been reported from over 2500 plant species, including some members of the Brassicaceae. We report that the important invasive plant, Alliaria petiolata, produces levels of cyanide in its tissues that can reach 100 ppm fresh weight (FW), a level considered toxic to many vertebrates. In a comparative study, levels of cyanide in leaves of young first-year plants were 25 times higher than in leaves of young Arabidopsis thaliana plants and over 150 times higher than in leaves of young Brassica kaber, B. rapa, and B. napus. In first-year plants, cyanide levels were highest in young leaves of seedlings and declined with leaf age on individual plants. Leaves of young plants infested with green peach aphids (Myzus persicae) produced just over half as much cyanide as leaves of healthy plants, suggesting that aphid feeding led to loss of cyanide from intact tissues before analysis, or that aphid feeding inhibited cyanide precursor production. In a developmental study, levels of cyanide in the youngest and oldest leaf of young garlic mustard plants were four times lower than in the youngest and oldest leaf of young Sorghum sudanense (cv. Cadan 97) plants, but cyanide levels did not decline in these leaves with plant age as in S. sudanense. Different populations of garlic mustard varied moderately in the constitutive and inducible expression of cyanide in leaves, but no populations studied were acyanogenic. Although cyanide production could result from breakdown products of glucosinolates, no cyanide was detected in vitro from decomposition of sinigrin, the major glucosinolate of garlic mustard. These studies indicate that cyanide produced from an as yet unidentified cyanogenic compound is a part of the battery of chemical defenses expressed by garlic mustard.