Constraints on effectiveness of cyanogenic glycosides in herbivore defense

J Chem Ecol. 2002 Jul;28(7):1301-13. doi: 10.1023/a:1016298100201.


Cyanogenesis is the process by which hydrogen cyanide is released from endogenous cyanide containing compounds. Many cyanogenic plants release HCN in sufficient quantities to be toxic and, as a result, tend to be avoided by herbivores. However, there are many exceptions with some herbivores either immune to the cyanogenic status of the plant, or in some cases attracted to cyanogenic plants. This has led to a certain degree of scepticism regarding the role of cyanogenic glycosides as defense compounds. In this review, we examine evidence showing that differences in the effectiveness of cyanogenic glycosides in deterring herbivory can usually be reconciled when the morphology, physiology, and behavior of the animals, together with the concentration of cyanogenic glycosides in the host plant, are taken into account. Cyanogenic glycosides are not effective against all herbivores, and not all cyanogenic plants release enough cyanide to be considered toxic. Nevertheless, they do form part of the broad spectrum of toxic and distasteful compounds that herbivores must accommodate if they are to feed on cyanogenic plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Glycosides / adverse effects
  • Glycosides / chemistry*
  • Hydrogen Cyanide / chemistry*
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Taste


  • Glycosides
  • Hydrogen Cyanide