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Acokanthera - Dyera

(Dogbane or Vinca family)


This large family of some 1500 species in 180 genera is of considerable economic and medicinal importance. Most of the species occur in the tropics, but a few are of common occurrence in temperate regions.

Some species are cultivated as house or greenhouse plants, for example, the oleanders (Tabernaemontana panamensis Leeuwenb.) and allamandas (Allamanda L. species). Others are grown as garden plants (for example Vinca L. species).

The family yields many useful timbers, and also a variety of medicinally useful indole alkaloids and cardiac glycosides.

Many plants in this family appear to be capable of inducing contact dermatitis. The cardiac glycosides present in some species may contribute to primary skin irritant effects, as may the proteolytic enzyme that has been found in at least one species. Some of the alkaloids present in other species have been demonstrated to have contact allergenic activity. In most cases, however, the identity of the dermatologically active agent is not known. Certain species are also thorny.

Acokanthera oblongifolia Codd
[syns Acokanthera spectabilis Hook.f., Carissa oblongifolia Hochst., Carissa spectabilis Pichon, Toxicophlaea spectabilis Sond.]
Bushman's Poison, Wintersweet

Gardner & Bennetts (1956) include Acokanthera spectabilis in a list of plants known or suspected of causing urticaria or skin irritation. Morton (1977), citing Hurst (1942), noted that contact with Acokanthera spectabilis may cause smarting of the eyes and skin, and throat irritation.

According to Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk (1962), an ointment made from the fine scrapings of the root of Acokanthera spectabilis is used by the Mpondo for the relief of itchy conditions. The application is said to be violently irritant.

Acokanthera oppositifolia Codd
[syns Acokanthera venenata G.Don, Cestrum oppositifolium Lam.]
Bushman's Poison, Common Poison Bush, Hottentot's Poison Bush, Wintersweet

Contact with Acokanthera venenata may cause smarting of the eyes and skin, and throat irritation (Hurst 1942, Morton 1977).

Acokanthera ouabaio Cathelineau
Ouabai, Wabai

The wood of this tree, which is found in tropical East Africa, is the source of an extremely potent arrow poison. The poisonous principle is ouabain, a cardiac glycoside otherwise known as G-strophanthin, which is used clinically by intravenous injection. The compound is also present in Acokanthera longiflora Stapf, Acokanthera schimperi Oliver, and Acokanthera venenata G.Don, as well as Strophanthus gratus Baill. (Wade 1977, Hausen 1970).

Adenium obesum (Forssk.) Roem. & Schult.
[syns Cameraria obesa (Forssk.) Spreng., Nerium obesum Forssk.]
Desert Rose, Impala Lily, Baobab des Chacals, Faux Baobab, Rose du Désert

Adenium Obesum Leaf Extract, Adenium Obesum Leaf Cell Extract, & Adenium Obesum Callus Cuture Extract [INCI; of uncertain composition (see Schmidt 2017)] are recognised cosmetic product ingredients purported variously to have skin conditioning, skin protecting, fragrancing, humectant, hair conditioning, and antioxidant properties (Standing Committee on Cosmetic Products 2019, CosIng 2023).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Allamanda cathartica L.
[syns Allamanda cathartica L. var. grandiflora L.H. Bailey & Raffill, Allamanda grandiflora Lam., Orelia grandiflora Aubl.]
Yellow Allamanda, Allamanda, Allemanda, Golden Trumpet

This climbing plant is a native of tropical South America, but is widely cultivated as an ornamental species for its flowers. Several authors, including Allen (1943), Blohm (1962), Morton (1971), and Hardin & Arena (1974) refer to the capacity of this plant to cause irritant dermatitis.

The orthographic variant name Allemanda cathartica is also encountered in the literature.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Alstonia boonei De Wild.


Alstonia congensis Engl.

The wood of these species is said in the trade to be irritant (von Wendorff 1964).

Ambelania lopezii Woodson

South American Indians of the north-west Amazon have applied the latex of this species to the scalp as a treatment for ringworm (Schultes 1979).

Aspidosperma Mart. & Zucc.

The 80 species in this genus are natives of tropical South America and the West Indies. Many species provide durable timber, resistant to fungal decay and weathering. These include (Hausen 1973, 1981):

Aspidosperma desmanthum Benth. — provides araracanga
Aspidosperma eburneum Allemāo — provides pequiá and marfim
Aspidosperma excelsum Benth. — provides carapanaúba
Aspidosperma gomezianum A.DC. — provides peroba de campo
Aspidosperma inundatum Ducke — provides maparana
Aspidosperma macrocarpon Mart. — provides guatambú
Aspidosperma peroba Allemāo ex Saldanha — provides peroba rosa
Aspidosperma polyneuron Müll.Arg. — provides peroba graúda
Aspidosperma quebracho Griseb. — provides quebracho
[syn. Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco Schldl.]
Aspidosperma sessiliflorum Müll.Arg. — provides peroba amarella
Aspidosperma vargassii A.DC. — provides amarillo and pau marfim 

The terms peroba da campos and peroba amarella are also applied to the somewhat similar but botanically distinct timber from Paratecoma peroba Kuhlm. (syn. Tecoma peroba Rec.) in the family Bignoniaceae.

The freshly cut wood and sap of Aspidosperma species causes irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, with general malaise. The sawdust, on contact with abraded skin, produces local burning and a vesicular eruption with general symptoms of muscular weakness and cramps, sweating, dryness of the mouth, and faintness. Once the wood is thoroughly dry it loses its toxicity unless polishes or dyes in organic solvents are used on it (Freise 1932, 1937). Orsler (1969) received trade reports of irritation of the skin and respiratory tract in England from peroba rosa.

Aspidosperma species contain a wide variety of indole alkaloids which, on the basis of pharmacological studies carried out on the alkaloids of Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco bark (Dixon & Ransom 1924), are responsible for toxic effects on the nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems.

A recent report of eczema of the hands in a young female manicurist (Brun 1978) was ascribed to "orange wood" cuticle sticks following epicutaneous testing of various products used at her place of work. The wood was subsequently identified as pau marfim — an Aspidosperma species. According to Hausen (1981), sensitisation experiments on guinea pigs revealed a strong sensitising capacity, but the quebrachine-type alkaloids in the wood do not appear to be the allergens.

Aspidosperma megalocarpon Müll.Arg.

Schultes (1979) reports that the fruits of this species, when reduced to ashes and mixed with oil of patabá from Jessenia polycarpa H.Karst. (fam. Palmae), may be used to lighten dark skin.

Aspidosperma parvifolium A.DC.

The wood dust has caused dermatitis in sawyers (Peckholt 1909).

Cameraria belizensis Standley
White Poison Wood, Savanna White Poison


Cameraria latifolia L.
White Poison Wood, Bastard Manchineel, Chechém de Caballo, Maboa, Laitier

Both of these tropical American species are irritant and toxic (Standley 1927, Schwartz et al. 1957, Hausen 1973). Record & Hess (1943) refer to the reputed burning and inflammation of the skin from contact with the sap of C. latifolia and also C. angustifolia L. Dahlgren & Standley (1944) note that the blistering sap of C. latifolia causes severe inflammation.

von Reis Altschul (1973), referring to C. belizensis, states that the plant is seldom collected probably because people are afraid of it, and with good reason.

Carissa L.

This genus comprises some 35 species of shrubs with branch thorns. They occur in warm regions of Africa and Asia, and are occasionally cultivated as greenhouse shrubs. Some bear edible fruit.

Carissa carandas L.
Christ's Thorn, Carunda

This thorny shrub has irritant latex (Burkill 1935).

Catharanthus roseus Don
[syn. Vinca rosea L.]
Madagascar Periwinkle

This plant is a common weed throughout the tropics. It is the source of the so-called vinca alkaloids, vincristine and vinblastine, used in cancer chemotherapy.

Patch tests carried out using the leaves of this species crushed in a small quantity of normal saline elicited no positive reactions in 11 contact dermatitis patients tested in New Delhi, India (Singh et al. 1978).

A case has been described where a solution of vinblastine intended for intravenous injection was accidentally squirted in the eye. This caused epiphora associated with diffuse keratitis epithelialis (Grant 1974).

Cerbera manghas L.
[syn. Cerbera odollam Gaertn.]
Pink-Eyed Cerbera, Yellow-Eyed Cerbera, Pong Pong, Buta Buta, Nyan, Odallum Tree

Corner (1952) believed that C. manghas and C. odollam were distinct species that were easily distinguished by the shape and colour of the flowers and the structure of the seeds, the former being the pink-eyed cerbera and the latter the yellow-eyed cerbera.

The use of the colloquial name buta buta for both Excoecaria L. (fam. Euphorbiaceae) and some Cerbera species has led to the latter being falsely associated with the intensely irritant and blinding properties of the former (Burkill 1935, Corner 1952). This error may have been made by von Reis Altschul (1973) who noted that the white latex causes blindness if allowed to come into contact with the eyes.

Chloropetalum denticulatum (Vahl) Morillo
[syns Cynanchum denticulatum Vahl, Gonolobus denticulatus (Vahl) W.D.Stevens, Matelea denticulata (Vahl) Fontella & E.A.Schwarz, Matelea viridiflora (Standl.) Woodson]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Dyera costulata Hook.f.


Dyera lowii Hook.f.

The sap and wood produced positive patch test reactions in six forest workers; the leaves produced negative reactions (Siregar 1975).

Richard J. Schmidt

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