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(Madder family)


Comprising perhaps 12,000 species in about 600 genera, the Rubiaceae constitutes one of the largest of plant families. They are of cosmopolitan distribution but most occur in tropical and warm regions. Members of several genera are myrmecophytes [i.e. inhabited by possibly aggressive ants] (Mabberley 2017).

[Summary yet to be added]

Asperula L.

Over 200 species are found in Europe and Asia especially in the Mediterranean region; sixteen species are found in eastern Australia and Tasmania. Species of this genus have hooked fruits which attach themselves to animals (Howes 1974).

Bertiera racemosa (G.Don) K.Schum.
[syn. Wendlandia racemosa G.Don]

The leaves have styptic properties (Irvine 1961).

Carapichea ipecacuanha (Brot.) L.Andersson
[syns Callicocca ipecacuanha Brot., Cephaelis ipecacuanha (Brot.) Willd., Psychotria ipecacuanha (Brot.) Stokes]
Ipecacuanha, Brasilianische Brechwurzel

The root provides medicinal ipecacuanha. The dust or effluvium of the root produces inflammation of the air-passages and conjunctivitis, and applied to the skin in the form of an ointment, it excites a pustular eruption similar to that caused by tartar emetic (Dispensatory 1884).

Applied to the skin, ipecacuanha powder is intensely irritant, producing redness, vesication and sometimes pustulation, a reaction which hypersensitivity may accentuate (Duke-Elder & MacFaul 1972b).

Dermatitis from ipecacuanha was reported by Benjamin (1903), Robert (1922), Galewsky (1926), Hirszfeldowa and Prokopowicz-Wierzbowska (1924) and Lortat-Jakob et al. (1930). Erythema, papules and intensive pruritus leading to crusted excoriations followed topical exposure to the drug (Bazin cited by White 1887). Vesicular and pustular reactions have been observed following local application of the crude drug to healthy skin (Piffard 1881, White 1887).

The dried root contains two potent alkaloids, emetine and the more potent and irritant cephaeline. Emetine, the principal alkaloid of ipecacuanha, produced redness, papules, vesicles, pustules and urticaria on the forearms and arms of pharmacists (Peshkin 1924). A chemist, a boiler and a sorter developed eczematous dermatitis from contact with emetine, while making a preparation of ipecac (Schwartz et al. 1957). A congestive conjunctivitis results from the instillation of the alkaloid, and a keratitis, which progresses to opacification, vascularization, and ulceration can be produced in the eyes of rabbits by the repeated instillation of solutions of a concentration of 1 : 500, and a still more mutilating lesion with the powder of emetine hydrochloride. A somewhat similar result occurs in the human eye. An irritative conjunctivitis with intense photophobia and lachrymation develops after a latent period of a few hours with dilute (4%) solutions. The instillation of the powder results in the development of a violent keratoconjunctivitis with massive chemosis, epithelial denudation and ulceration of the cornea and usually a severe iritis; more chronic contamination may lead to the development of a granular conjunctivitis resembling trachoma. These reactions have in the past sometimes been seen in pharmacists who handled the powder either of ipecacuanha or emetine, but the most dramatic incidents have been self-inflicted, usually in malingerers using ipecacuanha powder with a view to escaping military service (Duke-Elder & MacFaul 1972b). The particles of ipecacuanha have a distinctive microscopical appearance which permits their identification if malingering is suspected (Grant 1962).

Catesbaea melanocarpa Krug & Urb.
Tropical Lilythorn

Native to Puerto Rico and the Leeward Islands,a where it it considered to be critically endangered because of habitat loss,b this thorny plantc is listed by Oakes and Butcher (1962) as a cause of mechanical injury.

Catunaregam spinosa (Thunb.) Tirveng.
[syns Gardenia spinosa Thunb., Randia dumetorum (Retz.) Poir., Randia spinosa (Thunb.) Poir., Xeromphis spinosa (Thunb.) Keay]
Emetic Nut, Malabar Randia, Spiny Randia, Thorn Randia

Referring to Randia dumetorum, Codd (1951) noted that this twiggy deciduous shrub bears short, stiff, spine-tipped branchlets. Corner (1952) described Randia spinosa as a small thorny bush. Henderson (1987), in a memoir describing species suitable for use as barrier plants or security hedges, provided a figure showing the hard and sharp-pointed woody spines on Catunaregam spinosa.

Catunaregam tomentosa (Blume ex DC.) Tirveng.
[syns Gardenia tomentosa Blume ex DC., Randia dasycarpa (Kurz) Bakh.f., Randia tomentosa (Blume ex DC.) Hook.f.]
Pinwheel Gardenia, White Thorn Randia

Corner (1952) described Randia tomentosa as a thorny shrub or small tree, adding that its habit is highly peculiar. The main stem of the sapling grows straight to a height of 6-7 ft. [= 2 m], when it sags and becomes a horizontal branch from which others break out to grow upward and sag in their turn, and so a crown of stiffly horizontal branches is built up.

Cinchona L.

40 species are found as trees in the Andes. Several species are cultivated for their bark which yields quinine and related alkaloids.

Stripping of cinchona bark and handling of the powdered bark and quinine produced dermatitis in pharmaceutical workers. The eyelids, face, neck, elbow flexures, genital area and upper thighs were principally affected (Chevallier 1852, Dold 1925, Blamoutier and Joannon 1922). Touton (1932) and Prosser White (1934) provide an extensive bibliography. Quinine can cause allergic contact dermatitis in factory workers (White 1887, Werz 1949) and when used in dandruff cream (Johnson 1935), hair tonic (Kissmeyer 1937, Peterkin 1953), aftershave lotion (Burgess and Usher 1930) and contraceptive pessaries (Danbolt 1931, Peterkin 1953, Zheltakov and Somov 1963, Guriev and Monakhova 1968). Ingestion of quinine, as in tonic water can produce a focal flare of dermatitis (Kissmeyer 1937, Sulzberger and Baer 1948). Cross-sensitivity to related alkaloids has been observed and appears to be dependent on a quinoline ring (Bloch 1924, Ford 1934, Dawson and Garbade 1930). Contact dermatitis from the isomer, quinidine (Frenstrom 1965), and from the synthetic antimalarial, chloroquin (Hermann and Schulz 1965) is rare. Immediate hypersensitivity was reported by Gray (1929). Quinine sulfate, 2% aqueous, is suitable for patch testing (Calnan and Caron 1961). In Denmark, the incidence of sensitivity to quinine steadily declined from 1938 to 1961 and at the latter date was distinctly rare (Hjorth, personal communication to Calnan and Caron 1961).

Coffea arabica L.
Arabian Coffee

Workers employed in sorting milling or roasting coffee beans developed dermatitis, urticaria, rhinitis and asthma. Patch tests to the chaff produced positive results (Chopra et al. 1949, Layton et al. 1966). A role of chlorogenic acid in the respiratory symptoms suggested by Freedman et al. (1962) was discounted by Layton et al. (1966). Employees in a coffee-roasting plant developed allergic manifestations from castor-bean dust (Ricinus communis, fam. Euphorbiaceae) which contaminated the burlap bags in which the coffee was transported (Figley and Rawling 1950). Cheilitis was attributed to coffee drinking; liquid coffee produced a positive patch test reaction but controls were not recorded (Lupton 1953). None of 691 persons patch tested to an ether extract of coffee showed positive reactions (Fregert and Hjorth 1969).

Inhalation of coffee bean dust can produce coffee worker's lung, a form of allergic alveolitis (Morgan and Seaton 1975).

Corynanthe johimbe K.Schum.
[syn. Pausinystalia johimbe Pierre ex Beille]
Yohimbe Tree, Yohimbé

The principal alkaloid found in the bark of this tree is yohimbine, an α-adrenergic blocking agent that has been used for its alleged aphrodisiac properties (Reynolds 1996). Four of 6 impotent diabetics with incapacitating paraesthesia of the lower limbs, noted prompt relief after the use or oral yohimbine, 6mg three times a day. The paraesthesia recurred when treatment was interrupted after eight weeks, then disappeared after reinitiation of therapy (Morales et al. 1981).

Corynanthe pachyceras K.Schum.
[syn. Pseudocinchona pachyceras (K.Schum.) A.Chev.]

The bitter, astringent bark has a local anaesthetic action from alkaloids related to yohimbine (Dalziel 1937, Irvine 1961).

Craterispermum laurinum (Poir.) Benth.
[syn. Coffea laurina Poir.]

The powdered root or bark is used as a rubefacient in Central Africa (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Cuviera DC.

The genus comprises 10 species found in tropical Africa, some of which are myrmecophilous (Mabberley 2017). Irvine (1961) lists the following species as being spiny:

Cuviera acutiflora DC.
Cuviera macroura K.Schum.
Cuviera subuliflora Benth. 

Hepper (1963) cautions that plant collectors should beware of the small biting ants that infest many Cuviera species, including Cuviera longiflora Hiern. Irvine (1961) notes that the nodes of Cuviera subuliflora Benth. harbour ants.

Cyclophyllum coprosmoides (F.Muell.) S.T.Reynolds & R.J.F.Hend.
[syns Canthium coprosmoides F.Muell., Plectronia coprosmoides K.Schum.]
Coast Canthium, Coprosma-Leaved Coffee

After grazing on this plant for three days, animals died in agony after the skin had blistered and the hair peeled off (Hurst 1942).

Duroia hirsuta (Poepp.) K.Schum.
[syn. Amaioua hirsuta Poepp.]

The bark, when tied on the arm, causes blisters to form (von Reis Altschul 1973). The swollen stem of the plant regularly houses ants (Willis 1973).

Galium L.

400 species are of cosmopolitan distribution.

Species of this genus have hooked fruits which attach themselves to animals (Howes 1974).

Galium aparine L.
[syns Asperula aparine (L.) Besser, Galium spurium var. echinospermon (Wallr.) Hayek, Rubia aparine (L.) Baill.]
Bedstraw, False Cleavers, Goosegrass, Stickywilly, Kleb-Labkraut, Kletten-Labkraut

A 46-year-old female housewife had contact dermatitis on her face and hands, caused by 八重むぐら [probably this taxon]a,b in her kitchen garden. A patch test produced a positive result (Fujita & Kobayashi 1966). Small reflexed hooks are present on the stem.

Galium triflorum Michx.
Sweet-Scented Bedstraw

For chest pains, this plant was rubbed on the skin, sometimes enough to draw blood, and then hellebore (Veratrum viride) was applied. North American Indians rub the body with the plant for its perfume, mash it and put it in the hair (Gunther 1945).

Galium verum L.
Lady's Bedstraw, Yellow Bedstraw, Maid's Hair, Cheese Rennet, Gailion, Pettimugget, Wild Rosemary

Stuart (1979) asserts that the dried plant is styptic and may be applied externally to wounds and some skin eruptions.

Gardenia J.Ellis

The genus comprises 128 species ranging from tropical and southern Africa to the Pacific.

The fruits are used for haemostasis, apparently by ingestion, and for dyeing. The flowers are used to flavour tea which is then known as jasmine tea (Smith 1969, Kariyone 1971).

The odour of gardenia can cause hayfever (Biederman 1937).

Gynochthodes officinalis (F.C.How) Razafim. & B.Bremer
[syn. Morinda officinalis F.C.How]
Indian Mulberry

The root is used to prepare a traditional Chinese medicine known as ba ji tian (巴戟天) or Radix Morindae Officinalis.a,b

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Haldina cordifolia Ridsdale
[syn. Adina cordifolia Hook.f.]

The wood of Adina cordifolia is said to be irritant to the respiratory tract (Orsler 1973).

Hexasepalum teres (Walter) J.H.Kirkbr.
[syns Diodella teres (Walter) Small, Diodia prostrata Sw., Diodia teres Walter]
Poor Joe, Rough Buttonweed

An extract of Diodia teres produced a positive patch test reaction in one of 50 patients who had "weed dermatitis" (Shelmire 1939a).

Hydnophytum Jack

Fifty two species are found in Indo-Malaysia, and especially in New Guinea. They are epiphytes, a number of which possess ant-inhabited swollen stems (Mabberley 2017), which render these plants potentially hazardous to those who collect them from their natural habitat (see Schmidt 1985). Merrill (1945) notes that the basal parts of these plants are sometimes armed with short spines.

Hydnophytum formicarum Jack
[syns Hydnophytum amboinense Becc., Hydnophytum andamanense Becc., Hydnophytum montanum Blume]
Ant Plant

Menninger (1967) provides a photograph of this "ant plant" clinging to a tree.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Meyna spinosa Roxb. ex Link
[syns Vangueria mollis Wall., Vangueria spinosa (Roxb. ex Link) Roxb.]

Corner (1952) described Vangueria spinosa as a straggling thorny bush or treelet, comapring it with Randia spinosa in general appearance [see Catunaregam spinosa above].

Mitragyna stipulosa (DC.) Kuntze
[syns Adina ledermannii K.Krause, Fleroya stipulosa (DC.) Y.F.Deng, Hallea ledermannii (K.Krause) Verdc., Hallea stipulosa (DC.) J.-F.Leroy, Mitragyna ledermannii (K.Krause) Ridsdale, Mitragyna macrophylla Hiern, Nauclea stipulosa DC.]
African Linden, Poplar, Tilleul d'Afrique

This tropical African species provides a commercially valuable timber known in the trade as abura or bahia but also known locally by numerous other names. However, these names may also be applied to timber from the closely-related Mitragyna ciliata Aubrév. & Pellegr. [formerly considered a synonym of Mitragyna ledermannii]a and Mitragyna rubrostipulata (K.Schum.) Havil.b,c,d,e Reports of dermatitis and other health problems caused by the wood have generally not included a formal botanical identification.

There have been occasional trade complaints of dermatitis and nasal irritation caused by abura wood in England (Orsler 1973) and in Nigeria (Woods and Calnan 1976). Wilkinson (1973) observed a case of dermatitis from the wood; a patch test produced a positive reaction. Bleumink & Nater (1974b) obtained 1 positive patch test reaction to an ethanolic extract of abura wood in 20 patients allergic to woods.

Myrmecodia Jack

Twenty six species are found from Malaysia to Fiji. They are epiphytes with swollen stems ("tubers") penetrated by numerous interconnecting galleries and inhabited by ants (Mabberley 2017).

Nauclea diderrichii (De Wild.) Merr.
[syns Nauclea trillesii Merr., Sarcocephalus badi Aubrév., Sarcocephalus diderrichii De Wild., Sarcocephalus trillesii Pierre ex De Wild.]
Bilinga, Opepe, Badi, Kusia, West African Boxwood

Harvey Gibson (1906) investigated illness amongst workmen handling "West African boxwood" during the manufacture of shuttles in Lancashire, England. Patients exhibited a pale yellowish or greenish colour of the face and body, running of the nose and eyes, chronic sneezing, headache, nausea, faintness, and breathing difficulties accompanied by a peculiar 'camphor' or 'Turkey rhubarb' odour of the breath and skin. He identified the botanical source of the wood as Sarcocephalus diderrichii De Wild., distinguishing it from East London (or South African) boxwood derived from Gonioma kamassi E.Mey., and from West Indian boxwood reputed to be derived from Tabebuia pentaphylla Hemsl. Harvey Gibson's investigation was subsequently referred to by Remington et al. (1918), by Prosser White (1934), and by others who failed to discover the erratum (Harvey-Gibson 1912) he published six years later. In this erratum, he admitted that the piece of wood provided to him as West African boxwood was in fact East London or Knysna boxwood imported from South Africa, which botanically proved to be Gonioma kamassi E.Mey. (fam. Apocynaceae) when compared with an authentic sample of this wood.

Woods & Calnan (1976) recorded that woodworkers at three factories in Ibadan, Nigeria reported that opepe irritated their skin producing craw-craw (dermatitis) in some men. Nasal irritation sometimes accompanied by fever and headache also occurred. The botanical identity of the wood was not established.

Nauclea latifolia Sm.
[syns Cephalina esculenta (Afzel. ex Sabine) Schumach. & Thonn., Nauclea esculenta (Afzel. ex Sabine) Merr., Sarcocephalus esculentus Afzel. ex Sabine, Sarcocephalus latifolius (Sm.) E.A.Bruce, Sarcocephalus russeggeri Kotschy ex Schweinf., Sarcocephalus sambucinus K.Schum.]
African Peach, Country Fig, Guinea Peach, Sierra Leone Peach, Strawberry Tree, Pêcher Africain, Liane à Fraise

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Nauclea subdita (Korth.) Steud.
[syns Nauclea junghuhnii (Miq.) Merr., Nauclea mitragyna (Miq.) Merr., Platanocarpum subditum Korth., Sarcocephalus subditus (Korth.) Miq.]
Bur Flower Bush, Southern Bangkal

The root bark yields an intensely yellow dye (Corner 1952).

Paederia foetida L.
[syns Paederia scandens (Lour.) Merr., Paederia tomentosa Blume]
Chinese Fever Vine, Field Basil, Lesser Malayan Stinkwort, Skunkvine, Stinkvine

The plant has an offensive odour when bruised or even if slightly disturbed (Pope 1968) and the foul-smelling stems and leaves are used to stimulate moribund persons (Smith 1969).

Pentanisia prunelloides (Klotzsch) Walp.
[syns Declieuxia prunelloides Klotzsch ex Eckl. & Zeyh., Diotocarpus prunelloides (Klotzsch) Hochst.]
Wild Verbena

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Rothmannia longiflora Salisb.
[syn. Randia maculata DC.]

The fruits yield a black dye which is used in Nigeria for making blue-black markings on the face or body (Oliver 1961).

Rubia tinctorum L.
[syn. Galium rubia E.H.L.Krause]
Dyer's Madder, Madder, Echter Krapp

The plant was formerly cultivated for its root which yields the dye alizarin. Alizarin is a sensitiser (Greenberg and Lester 1954) and on that account has been removed from certain brand-name cosmetics (Anon 1973).

Spermacoce chaetocephala DC.
[syns Borreria chaetocephala (DC.) Hepper, Borreria compacta (Hochst. ex Hiern) K.Schum., Spermacoce compacta Hochst. ex Hiern]

The use of a paste prepared from the leaves of Borreria compacta by the Ikizu [of northern Tanzania] as a counter-irritant in the way that a mustard leaf or plaster (Brassica) has been used by Europeans is noted by Bally (1937, 1938). There is a considerable degree of itch from the application which is followed by scaling (Bally 1938). In East Africa, the leaf of Spermacoce compacta is used as a rubefacient and for the treatment of skin rashes (Githens 1949, Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Uncaria gambir (W.Hunter) Roxb.
[syns Nauclea gambir W.Hunter, Ourouparia gambir (W.Hunter) Baill.]

The dried aqueous extract of the leaves and young twigs of this climbing shrub provides a medicinal product known as pale catechu, otherwise known as catechu pallidum, gambier, or gambir. Tanners refer to this as terra japonica. A similar material may also be derived from Uncaria acida Roxb. Pale catechu has properties and uses similar to those of black catechu derived from Acacia catechu Willd., fam. Leguminosae (Pereira 1842, Felter & Lloyd 1898, Trease & Evans 1966).


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Richard J. Schmidt

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