borrowed from French antjar
, borrowed from Javanese ancar
Probably first used in Western sources by the French botanist Louis Auguste Deschamps (1765-1842), in “Notice sur le Pohon Upas ou Arbre à Poisson; Extrait d’un Voyage inédit dans l’intérieur de l’Ile de Java,” published in Annales des Voyages de la Géographie et de l’Histoire, vol. 1 (Paris, 1807), p. 69. Exaggerated reports of a poisonous tree in the Indonesian archipelago have a much earlier history, however; they are summarized under the entry upas in Yule and Burnell’s Hobson-Jobson. According to such an account in the London Magazine (December, 1783), pp. 512-17, attributed to one N. P. Foersch, an area of ten or twelve miles around the upas tree was “intirely barren … Not a tree, not a shrub, nor even the least plant or grass is to be seen.” Deschamps pointedly rejected these descriptions: “Le fait est que cet arbre, connu dans le pays sous le nom d’Antjar, croît, comme tant d’autres, dans les forêts de la province de Balanbonang, et que son voisinage n’a rien de plus dangereux que celui des autres végétaux connus pour être vénéneux” (“The fact is that this tree, known in the country under the name antjar, grows, like so many others, in the forests of the province of Balanbonang, and that in its vicinity there is nothing more dangerous than in that of any other plant known to be poisonous”). The legend of the tree became the basis of a trope in European literature, and the word antjar was well enough known to figure as the title of a lyric poem (“Ančar”) by the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin, written in 1828.