Role In The Plant
Between 10% and 15% of all plants contain some type of alkaloid. It is unclear why alkaloids are so common, and it is a matter of controversy among scientists. Some believe that plants rid themselves of excess nitrogen through the production of alkaloids just as humans and other mammals convert excess nitrogen into urea to be passed in the urine. Some modify this theory by suggesting that plants use alkaloids to temporarily store nitrogen for later use, instead of discarding altogether this difficult-to-obtain element.
Perhaps the most likely theory is that the presence of alkaloids discourages insects and animals from eating plants. The poisonous nature of most alkaloids supports this theory, although various alkaloids that are employed in small quantities for specific purposes can be useful to man.