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Ricinus - Sphaerostylis

(Spurge family)


Ricinus communis L.
Castor Oil Plant, Palma Christi

The seeds from this plant, known as castor beans, yield the well known castor oil; the residual meal or pomace which is left after extraction of the oil is used as a fertiliser. The pomace contains ricin, a highly toxic protein, and a water-soluble, carbohydrate-free allergenic protein substance. There is great variation in toxicity from plant to plant. The pomace, used in a dry dust state, can produce asthma and urticaria (Brugsch 1960, Wolfromm et al. 1967). These authors reviewed the literature concerning Type I hypersensitivity reactions to the pomace. Anaphylaxis has resulted from biting into a bean (Arnold 1968) and from contact with a crumbled seed from a necklace (Lockey & Dunkelberger 1968). Family members at home can develop Type I hypersensitivity reactions from dust carried on worker's clothing (Zerbst 1944). Panzani (1962) reported cross-sensitivity between bean dust and a mould (Spondylocladium Mart. ex Corda). Topping et al. (1982) reported castor bean allergy, confirmed by RAST experiments, among workers in the felt industry.

According to Wren (1975), the oil expressed from the seeds, used externally, has been recommended for itch, ringworm and cutaneous complaints. He also notes that the Canary Island women have traditionally used the fresh leaves as an application to the breasts in order to increase milk secretion.

At any time of the year, dermatitis results when juice from the leaves or stems gets on the hands or when the beans are held in the hand (Dorsey 1962, Souder 1963, Behl et al. 1966). Crushed castor oil seeds and ricin powder are both severely irritating to the eye (Grant 1974). Workers in the castor oil industry, during pressing and extracting the oil from the seed, have developed severe conjunctivitis, acute dermatitis and eczema, and attacks of bronchial asthma (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962). The pomace was found to be a contact allergen by Klauder (1962). Dermatological effects apart from urticaria and conjunctivitis appear to be rare (Key 1961). Szegő (1965) observed positive patch test reactions to the leaf in a patch test study of hospitalised patients from an agricultural region. Patch tests carried out using the leaves crushed in a small quantity of normal saline elicited positive reactions in 3 of 15 contact dermatitis patients tested in New Delhi, India (Singh et al. 1978).

Castor oil is said to produce contact dermatitis (Karabow 1927, Coca et al. 1931). Castor oil in lipstick has caused dry, cracking, painful lips (Sai & Nagai 1982, Sai 1983a), apparently from the free ricinoleic acid present in the oil (Sai 1983b). Make-up remover containing the oil has also caused dermatitis (Brandle et al. 1983). Contact dermatitis from castor oil and vitamin B was attributed to pyridine derivatives (Kadlec & Hanslian 1965).

Fischer & Berman (1981) reported contact allergy from sulfonated castor oil; sulfonated castor oil used as a fabric finish for stockings had irritant effects (Schwartz 1934b). Methyl heptine carbonate, a semi-synthetic chemical derived from the beans and used for the production of artificial violet and jasmine odours can produce contact dermatitis (Tulipan 1938, Klarmann 1962).

Two to four seeds poison man, eight usually being fatal. Because of the hard seed coat, poisoning is unlikely unless the seed is chewed (Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977).

Sapium P.Browne
Palode la Flecha, Arrow-Wood

About 120 species are found in tropical and subtropical regions and in America south to Patagonia.

Members of this genus are not invariably hazardous. In Mexico, the milky sap is reputed to be harmful and it is reported on good authority that the Indians utilised it for poisoning their arrows. In Salvador, the sap is claimed to be poisonous and blistering in effect if in contact with the skin for which reason the trees are often left standing when the land is cleared. A colloquial name in Salvador is "chile", the common hot pepper, a name used to express the idea of burning or smarting. In Costa Rica, where the sapiums are called "yos", they are not reported poisonous and the same is true in Panama where the name "olivo" is usually applied to the trees. It seems probable that the species of Sapium differ in their properties and that while some may be harmful, others are innocuous (Standley 1927, Dahlgren & Standley 1944).

The seed of certain species, when it has within it a living grub, is occasionally sold as a curiosity known as a "jumping bean" because it hops about, when warmed, as a result of the activities of the grub (Burkill 1935, Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962, Usher 1974).

Sapium appendiculatum Pax & K.Hoffm.

Pennington (1958) and von Reis Altschul (1973) note that the bark is used to poison fish.

Sapium aubletianum Huber

The latex is irritant and the skin of the hands may be made painful and swollen by grasping the fresh leaves (Burkill 1935).

Sapium biloculare Pax
Hierbe de Flecha

North American Indians of southern California claimed that this, their arrow tree, was dangerous and warned travellers that if they fell asleep under it they would wake up blind (Menninger 1967). The bark of young trees has piscicidal activity but must be handled carefully as the milky juice it exudes irritates the hands and eyes (Pennington 1958).

Sapium eglandulosum Ule

This species has been found to be inhabited by stinging ants (Ule 1906).

Sapium glandulosum Morong
[syns Sapium biglandulosum Müll.Arg., Sapium aucuparium Jacq.]

The white latex is caustic (von Reis Altschul 1973). The hollow stems have been found to be inhabited by ants (Wheeler 1942).

Sapium insigne Trimen

The tree yields an acrid, vesicant milky juice (Chopra & Badhwar 1940, Behl et al. 1966, Nadkarni 1976). Pammel (1911) also referred to its irritant properties.

Taylor et al. (1983) reported the presence of an irritant 4-deoxy-16-hydroxyphorbol esters and related compounds in this species.

Sapium japonicum Pax & K.Hoffm.

Ohigashi & Mitsui (1972) and Ohigashi et al. (1972) reported the isolation of a phorbol diester from this species.

Sapium laurocerasum Desf.

von Reis & Lipp (1982) recorded that although the sap of the tree is reputed to be poisonous, one plant collector felt no discomfort when sap touched his own skin but others reported to be subjected to terrible itching when exposed.

Sapium macrocarpum Müll.Arg.

The plant is reputed to be very poisonous to the skin (von Reis Altschul 1973).

Sapium madagascariense Pax
[syn. Conosapium madagascariense Müll.Arg.]

The milky juice of the plant is vesicant to the skin and smoke from the burning of leaves can produce blindness (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Sapium myrmecophilum Croizat

The specific epithet suggests that the plant harbours ants.

Sapium sebiferum Roxb.
Tallow Tree

The native tallow tree of southern China is now naturalised in many parts of the world. The plant has a waxy covering yielding a tallow-like substance which is used for making candles. The tree yields an acrid vesicant milky juice (Behl et al. 1966).

The leaves have been reported to contain esters of phorbol and 12-deoxyphorbol (Ohigashi et al. 1983, Seip et al. 1983).

Sapium taburu Ule

Ule (1906) recorded that this species was inhabited by stinging ants.

Sebastiania Spreng.

Ninety-five species are found in tropical America and the Atlantic United States. One species is found in tropical West Africa and from India to southern China and Australia. Three species are found in western Malaysia.

In Belize, the plants are known to cause dermatitis (Towers 1978).

Sebastiania obtusifolia Pax & K.Hoffm.

The juice of the plant can cause blindness (von Reis & Lipp 1982).

Sebastiania pringlei S.Watson

The bark of young trees has piscicidal activity but must be handled carefully as the milky juice it exudes irritates the hands and eyes (Pennington 1958, von Reis Altschul 1973).

Sebastiania ramirezii Maury

This species has piscicidal activity (von Reis Altschul 1973).

Securinega tinctoria Rothm.

This is a spiny shrub found in Spain and Portugal.

Sphaerostylis Baill.
[syn. Tragiella Pax & K.Hoffm.]

Eight species are found in tropical East Africa, Madagascar and western Malaysia.

Stinging hairs are known in members of this genus (Thurston & Lersten 1969).

Richard J. Schmidt

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