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Abrus - Acacia

(Pea or Bean family)


About 16,400 species in over 657 genera are of cosmopolitan distribution, living in every soil and climate. Trees, shrubs, water plants, xerophytes and climbers are represented. The roots of most species bear tubercles containing bacteria of the genus Rhizobium and plants provided with these tubercles are able to take up more atmospheric nitrogen. The plants appear to consume the nitrogen-rich bacteria which live in their cells. The family is also known by the name Fabaceae.

The family is divided into Mimosoideae and Caesalpinioideae which are mostly tropical and Lotoideae (Papilinioideae) which are both tropical and temperate (Harborne et al. 1971).

[Summary yet to be added]


12 species are found in tropical regions.

Abrin, a toxic principle of the seeds, is irritant to the mucous membranes. Ricin from Ricinus has similar but milder actions.

Abrus precatorius L.
Crab's Eyes, Jequirity, Prayer Bean

The juice of the plant is irritant to the mucous membranes (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

The hard red seeds with black tips (known as crab's eyes) are strung into necklaces and rosaries and are used as weights and tourist souvenirs and in "pea-shooters". Dermatitis can occur on the neck of persons who wear necklaces made by piercing the seeds and threading them on a string (Behl et al. 1966).

The seed material is irritant to the eye and has been used for the purpose of malingering (Burkill 1935, Somerset 1945, Somerville-Large 1947, Morton 1971). The seeds may be coated with lacquer (Rhus vernicifera).

Acacia Mill.
Thorn Tree

Perhaps 800 species are found in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Thorns capable of causing mechanical injury are a feature of these plants. The various thorn types and arrangements are used in the classification of plants in this genus (Codd 1951). The thorns of some house stinging ants. The common name, acacia, is applied also to Robinia species.

The tip of the thorn of "acacia", possibly of this genus, retained in the ciliary body produced severe recurrent iriodocylitis (Paufique and Hugonnier 1966). The pollen is suspected of causing hayfever (Wodehouse 1971). Contact with the pollen can cause dermatitis (Rowe 1931).

Acacia aneura F.Muell.

According to Gardner & Bennetts (1956), the common name mulga is used for a number of Acacia species. They also record that the wood of mulga species causes festering if the skin is scratched. Earlier, Cleland (1943) recorded that slivers of the wood are said to have a poisonous effect and can produce cutaneous granulomas.

Acacia catechu Willd.
[syns Acacia polyacantha Willd., Acacia wallichiana DC., Mimosa catechu L.f.]
Catechu Acacia, Khair Tree

The branches of this small tree are armed with stipulary thorns; the petioles are also sometimes armed with a row of prickles (Pereira 1842, Felter & Lloyd 1898, Stuart 1979). The heartwood yields a brown dye known as cutch, black catechu, or catechu nigrum, which may be used medicinally as an astringent and also in dyeing or tanning. Pale catechu, which has similar medicinal properties, is derived from the unrelated plant Uncaria gambir Roxb., fam. Rubiaceae (Trease & Evans 1966).

Black catechu is one of the original dyes used to produce khaki-coloured fabric for military uniforms. Dermatitis from khaki uniforms probably resulted from fabric finishes or chromate rather than from the dye itself (Peterkin 1948, Hellier 1960) although effects of the dye could not be excluded (Davies and Barker 1944).

Wren (1975) notes the use of an extract from leaves and young shoots to check haemorrhages, and as a local application in relaxed sore throat and sponginess of gums. Stuart (1979), on the other hand, refers to the use of the boiled and strained aqueous extract of the heartwood as an astringent for inflamed conditions of the throat, gums, and mouth and also externally for boils and chronic ulcers. These uses noted by Wren (1975) and Stuart (1979) were described in greater detail by Pereira (1842) and by Felter & Lloyd (1898). In traditional Chinese medicine, the dried extract from the peeled branches and stems of Acacia catechu provides er cha, which has haemostatic activity (Stuart 1911, Huang 1993).

Acacia cornigera Willd.
[syns Tauroceras cornigerum Britton & Rose, Mimosa cornigera L.]

A herbarium note found by von Reis Altschul (1973) on a specimen of this plant collected in El Salvador warned that the spines were inhabited by ants (see also The Super-Nettles).

Acacia cunninghamii Hook.

Gardner & Bennetts (1956) include this species in a list of plants known or suspected of causing urticaria or skin irritation.

Acacia cyperophylla F.Muell. ex Benth.
[syn. Racosperma cyperophyllum Pedley]
Red Mulga

Scratches from the wood are notable for festering (Cleland 1931).

Acacia dealbata Link
[syn. Racosperma dealbatum Pedley]
Blue Wattle, Silver Wattle

The familiar "mimosa" of florists is usually this species. Oil of Mimosa of perfumery is said to cause contact dermatitis (Greenberg and Lester 1954).

Acacia delibrata A.Cunn. ex Benth.
[syn. Racosperma delibratum Pedley]

Bancroft (1887) extracted a crude saponin from the seed pods of a tree thought to be this species and prepared a solution in water. A little of this solution applied to the conjunctiva of a dog was severely irritant, causing pain, conjunctivitis, and corneitis. After the inflammation subsided there were opacities of the cornea. Later authors recording mucous membrane irritancy of a saponin from this species, for example Hurst (1942), probably derived their information from this original publication.

Acacia greggii A.Gray
[syn. Senegalia greggii Britton & Rose]
Desert Catclaw

Mechanical injury can occur from the spines.

Acacia harpophylla F.Muell. ex Benth.
[syn. Racosperma harpophyllum Pedley]

A very fine, yellow powder thought to come from the bark of the brigalow tree caused itching and irritated the skin, producing an eruption known as "brigalow itch" (Maiden 1921a). According to Cleland (1943), the wood can cause eczema in wood-workers.

Acacia homalophylla A.Cunn. ex Benth.
Yarran Tree

A hairy grub which attacks yarran trees leaves behind a large bag which, when it comes into contact with the body, causes an intense irritation (Maiden 1921a).

Acacia implexa Benth.
[syn. Racosperma implexum Pedley]

Cattle who eat the plant are said to develop dermatitis (Hurst 1942).

Acacia jacquemontii Benth.

Patch tests carried out using the leaves of this species crushed in a small quantity of normal saline elicited positive reactions in 4 of 25 contact dermatitis patients tested in New Delhi, India (Singh et al. 1978).

Acacia karroo Hayne
Kangaroo Thorn, Camel Thornwood

This thorny South African species, which is used as a barrier or hedge (Willis 1973), is capable of causing mechanical injury (Aplin 1976).

Acacia melanoceras Beurl.
[syns Acacia multiglandulosa Schenck, Myrmecodendron melanoceras Britton & Rose]

A herbarium note found by von Reis Altschul (1973) on a specimen of this plant collected in Costa Rica warned that the hollow thorns were inhabited by ants … which sting severely (see also The Super-Nettles).

Acacia melanoxylon R.Br.
[syn. Racosperma melanoxylon Mart.]
Australian Blackwood

The wood can produce dermatitis and rhinorrhoea in woodworkers (Cleland 1925, Burry 1969). Patch tests produced negative results (Robertson 1926).

Acacia nilotica Willd. ex Delile
[syns Acacia arabica Willd., Mimosa arabica Lam., Mimosa nilotica L.]
Egyptian Thorn, Gum Arabic Tree, Prickly Acacia, Sant Tree, Scented Thorn, Thorn Mimosa

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Acacia nilotica Willd. ex Delile subsp. subalata Brenan
[syn. Acacia subalata Vatke]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Acacia pendula A.Cunn. ex G.Don
Myall, Weeping Myall

A hairy grub which attacks myall trees leaves behind a large bag which, when it comes into contact with the body, causes an intense irritation (Maiden 1921a).

Acacia propranolobium Harms ex Sjostedt
Black-Galled Acacia, Whistling Thorn

The branches of this small shrubby Kenyan tree bear straight, slender, white spines up to 3 inches long. On these thorns large galls are formed … hardening and turning black and becoming inhabited with ants in age (Menninger 1967).

Acacia pulchella R.Br.
[syn. Racosperma pulchellum Pedley]
Prickly Moses

Aplin (1976) includes this species in a list of spiny plants capable of causing mechanical injury.

Acacia senegal Willd.
[syns Mimosa senegal L., Senegalia senegal Britton]

This and other species furnish Gum Arabic otherwise known as Gum Acacia, which has been reported to cause respiratory allergy particularly in the printing trade, (Sprague 1942, Maytum and Magath 1932, Bohner et al. 1941). Dermatitis from Gum Arabic (Acacia) has also been reported (Greenberg and Lester 1954, Turiaf et al. 1959). A gum from cashew (Anacardium) may be used to adulterate Gum Arabic.

Acacia shirleyi Maiden
[syn. Racosperma shirleyi Pedley]

The bark or possibly caterpillars on the bark can produce irritation (Cleland 1931). Flavonols may be responsible (Hausen 1970).

Slivers of the wood, Australian lancewood, were said to cause painful wounds "like snake-bite" (Maiden 1919).

Acacia sieberiana DC.

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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