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Excoecaria - Hevea

(Spurge family)


Excoecaria agallocha L.
Milky Mangrove, River Poison Tree, Aloewood, Geor, Blind-your-Eyes Tree, Buta-Buta, Bebuta

The milky juice in the green bark is strongly irritant (Ridley 1898, Pammel 1911, Gimlette 1929); an axe blow may bespatter the wood cutter with it causing blisters on the bare skin and irritation of the eyes. Experienced wood cutters remove the bark before felling a tree so that no harm results (Burkill 1935). Because of its irritancy, the tree is rarely cut in Sabah (Burgess 1966). The sap is known to be irritant in Australia (Cleland 1914, Logan 1925, Maiden 1904a, Maiden 1909b, Gardner & Bennetts 1956, Hurst 1942, Cleland & Lee 1963, Francis & Southcott 1967), in Thailand (Smitinand & Scheible 1966), in India (Chopra & Badhwar 1940, Behl et al. 1966), in Samoa (Gimlette 1929), and on Guam Island (Souder 1963). Volatile emanations from the tree are also said to be irritant. A single drop of sap getting into the eye can produce severe irritation; the eye may be completely destroyed (Gimlette 1929).

Diseased wood is fragrant and aromatic, and is sold as bastard aloeswood; it burns with a scent that is stronger than benzoin. The wood loses its fragrance in a few years (Burkill 1935). Burgess (1966) also refers to its use as an incense wood and notes that in areas where other wood is in short supply, that of Excoecaria agallocha is used for making packing cases, clogs, matches, toys, and furniture.

The wood is said to irritate the skin and eyes even when it is dry (Lewin 1928). The smoke from the burning wood is very irritating so the wood is little used for firewood; workmen making charcoal from it are said to suffer (Burkill 1935, Souder 1963).

The sap has been used in folk medicine as a caustic application for chronic ulcers in Australia (Cleland 1914), Malaysia (Burkill 1935) and in India where it is known as tiger's milk (Behl et al. 1966).

Children in Queensland have used the sap of this species for chewing gum in mistake for the sap of the Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla Desf., fam. Moraceae) with fatal results (Logan 1925, Cleland & Lee 1963, Francis & Southcott 1967).

Ohigashi et al. (1974) isolated and characterised a piscicidal daphnane polyol orthoester from the latex, to which the irritant properties may be ascribed.

Excoecaria bantamensis Müll.Arg.
[syn. Excoecaria macrophylla J.J.Sm. ex Koord. & Valeton]

Excoecaria macrophylla is dreaded by natives of the Philippine Islands because it is strongly irritant to the skin (Burkill 1935).

Excoecaria cochinchinensis Lour.

Burkill (1935) notes that the latex kills fish more readily than that of Excoecaria agallocha L. von Reis Altschul (1973) noted from an herbarium specimen of Excoecaria cochinchinensis var. viridis that the latex provokes itching.

Excoecaria dallachyana Benth.
Bush Poison Tree

The milky sap is irritant to the skin and erosive to the cornea (Burkill 1935, Hurst 1942, Everist 1972).

Excoecaria grahami Stapf
[syn. Sapium grahami Prain]

This species is irritant (Burkill 1935). The latex of the root has vesicant and escharotic properties (Dalziel 1937); when ground with a little water, it produces red or black marks on the face, causing swelling and ultimately tattoo-like marks. When applied to fresh tribal markings, it ensures scarification. The juice from the crushed leaves is less irritant but is used by small boys to raise blisters (Irvine 1961).

Excoecaria indica Müll.Arg.
[syns Sapium indicum Willd., Stillingia indica Baill.]

The fruits are used by Malay children to play "marbles". The seeds can be eaten when quite ripe but care should be taken to put nothing more than the seed into the mouth, as the latex which is in the fruit-wall, is caustic (Burkill 1935, Irvine 1961). The latex blisters the skin (Perry & Metzger 1980, Burkill 1935).

Irritant esters of phorbol and related polyols have been reported from this species (Evans & Taylor 1983).

Excoecaria oppositifolia Griffith

This tree of upper Burma is probably irritant (Burkill 1935).

Excoecaria parvifolia Müll.Arg.
Gutta Percha Tree

The sap [= latex] is acrid and drastically irritant to the human skin and eye and to the mouths of humans and sheep (Maiden 1904a, Maiden 1909b, Logan 1925, Hurst 1942, Cleland & Lee 1963). Cleland (1914) alludes to the fact that the irritant compounds present in the latex may volatilise.

Excoecaria venenifera Pax

The milky juice is very poisonous (e.g. to camels) and particularly injurious to the eyes (Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977).

Fahrenheitia pendula Airy Shaw
[syn. Croton pendulus Hassk.]

The sap is irritating and painful (Airy Shaw 1975).

Fontainea pancheri Heckel

The tree contains a remarkable poison, and is used for poisoning fish (von Reis Altschul 1973).

Glochidion marianum Müll.Arg.

Souder (1963) lists this species among spurges that cause an acute dermatitis on contact with their sap or latex.

Glochidion magnificum K.Schum.

von Reis Altschul (1973) noted from an herbarium specimen that this species is myrmecophilous.

Grimmeodendron Urb.

Two species are found in the West Indies. Kinghorn (1979a) reported skin irritancy from a Grimmeodendron species.

Grimmeodendron jamaicense Urb.

von Reis & Lipp (1982) note from an herbarium specimen that this plant is known locally as "burn-eye".

Gymnanthes lucida Sw.
[syns Excoecaria lucida Sw., Sebastiania lucida Müll.Arg.]
West Indian Poison Tree, Crab Wood

The wood is listed by Hausen (1970), who cites Bernhard-Smith (1923) and Pennington (1958), as being injurious.

Hevea brasiliensis Müll.Arg.
Pará Rubber

This tree is the source of the best rubber which is the coagulated milky latex. Pirilä (1947) recorded a case in which there was simultaneous sensitivity to caoutchouc (rubber), Swedish turpentine and cymene.

Contact dermatitis to rubber is common and is usually due to substances used in its manufacture (Wilson 1960). Weinstein & Fellner (1979), for instance, report a case of sensitivity to rubber bands, with a positive patch test reaction to tetramethylthiuram. Cronin (1980) provides a recent review of such "rubber" dermatitis. Sensitivity to natural, unprocessed rubber latex is rare. Nutter (1979) described a case of contact urticaria elicited by natural rubber. This was confirmed by testing with a finely cut leaf sample of Hevea brasiliensis. Meding & Fregert (1984), Galinsky & Kleinhans (1982), and Förström (1980) described contact urticaria to natural rubber gloves.

Souder (1963) lists this species among spurges that cause an acute dermatitis on contact with their sap or latex.

Richard J. Schmidt

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