[BoDD logo]


Google uses cookies
to display context-
sensitive ads on this
page. Learn how to
manage Google cookies
by visiting the

Google Technologies Centre

 ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼


 ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲

[BBEdit logo]




(Quassia family)


120 species in 20 genera are found in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Many species of the family contain bitter principles such as quassine. Quassia (Surinam quassia) and Aeschrion (syns Picraena, Picrasma) (Jamaica quassia) have been used medicinally.

[Summary yet to be added]

Ailanthus altissima Swingle var. altissima
[syns Ailanthus glandulosa Desf., Pongelion glandulosum Pierre]
Tree of Heaven, Chinese Sumac, Stink Tree

Ellis (1756/7) referring to a tree later identified by Swingle (1916) as the tree of heaven, observed that the odour of the foliage is intensely disagreeable and can cause headache and nausea. Rhinitis and conjunctivitis may also ensue (Blumstein 1943). The disagreeable odour of the male flowers is said to be carried by the pollen but the leaves and twigs are malodorous if rubbed or bruised only slightly (Swingle 1916).

Stuart (1911), referring to Ailanthus glandulosa, noted that in Chinese traditional medicine, the leaves of the plant are used to prepare a wash to promote the growth of hair and to treat parasitic ulcers and eruptions. The bark and root, known as chun pi, chun gen pi or as chuen gen bi, may be similarly used. Huang (1993) states that chun pi has haemostatic properties.

White (1887) remembered a case report of dermatitis of the face from the plant but he could not find the reference. He also received a personal communication of the case of a lady who was poisoned by contact with the tree. Various authors, including Pammel (1911), Webb (1948a), and Muenscher (1951) have recorded or added to these notes but there is a conspicuous paucity of further case reports. Gardner & Bennetts (1956) simply include Ailanthus glandulosa in a list of plants known or suspected of causing dermatitis. White (1887) may have been referring to a report of Cornevin (1887) that gardeners pruning the tree of heaven may get vesicular eruptions on the face and hands. It is possible that these reports from the 19th century related to contact with Toxicodendron vernicifluum F.A.Barkley, fam. Anacardiaceae misidentified as Ailanthus glandulosa (Remington et al. 1918). Referring to A. glandulosa and noting a report that this species should be regarded with suspicion, Coulter (1904) claimed that he had handled the tree of heaven for years, and had encouraged others to do so, but that he had failed utterly to find it at all poisonous or irritating. The recent literature provides a single case report (Derrick & Darley 1994) of an urticarial eruption followed by widespread dermatitis in an agricultural student who came into contact with the plant.

Ailanthus integrifolia Lam. subsp. integrifolia
Ferntop Ash, White Bean, White Siris

According to Conn & Damas (2005c), in their online Guide to Trees of Papua New Guinea, this species bears stinging hairs.

Ailanthus triphysa Alston
[syns Adenanthera triphysa Dennst., Ailanthus imberbiflora F.Muell., Ailanthus malabarica DC.]
Ferntop Ash, White Bean, White Siris

The various forms of Ailanthus malabarica furnish a quantity of resin which, according to Dr Lauterer, makes a good ointment for chronic ulcers. Fresh cuts and sores, however, should not be treated with this resin, on account of the acrid oil (Webb 1948a).

Picrasma excelsa Planch.
[syns Aeschrion excelsa Kuntze, Picraena excelsa Lindl., Quassia excelsa Sw., Simarouba excelsa DC.]
Bitterwood, Jamaica Quassia, Lofty Quassia, Peste à Poux

Barham (1794) said that workmen disliked working with Jamaica quassia because it "bittered" their mouths and throats; Stone (1921) quoted an account of temporary paralysis in a dog's legs after its ulcers had been bathed with a decoction of the wood. According to Woods and Calnan (1976) these reports hardly seem to justify Moll's (1950) claim that it is the "most feared" wood in South America for which he quotes no evidence.

The wood and bark are used as a substitute for Surinam quassia (Quassia amara L.). A benzoquinone is derived from the tree (Polonsky and Lederer 1959).

Quassia amara L.
[syn. Simarouba amara]
Surinam Quassia, Stave Wood

The bark of Simarouba amara and Khaya senegalensis and the wood of Picrasma crenata contain 2,6-dimethoxybenzoquinone (Polonsky and Lederer 1959). This was one of the quinones which produced positive patch test reactions in Heyl's (1966) case of dermatitis from Bowdichia. Woods and Calnan (1976) refer to a report of Prefontaine (1763) that negroes stripping the root-bark of simarouba (perhaps not S. amara) wore protective clothing because the sap would cause "gale" severe enough to prevent them working for some days.

Quassia amara yields Surinam quassia (Budavari 1996). An extract of quassia wood, used as an insecticide, caused dermatitis (Artom 1959, Semmola 1963).


  • Artom M (1959) Su alcune dermatosi professionali dei lavoratori agricoloi. [Some occupational dermatoses of agricultural workers]. Minerva Dermatologica 34(2): 77-79
  • Barham, H. (1794) Hortus Americanus. Kingston, Jamaica. Cited by Woods and Calnan (1976).
  • Blumstein, G.I. (1943) Sensitivity to Ailanthus pollen. J. Allergy 14: 329.
  • Budavari S (Ed.) (1996) The Merck Index. An Encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals. 12th edn. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck & Co., Inc.
  • Conn BJ, Damas KQ (2005c) PNGTreesKey — Ailanthus integrifolia Lam subsp. integrifolia. [online article]: http://www.pngplants.org/PNGtrees/TreeDescriptions/Ailanthus_integrifolia_Lam_subsp_integri.html; accessed June 2011 [url]
  • Cornevin, C. (1887) Des Plantes Venenueses et des Empoisonments qu'elles determinent. Paris: Firmin-Didot.
  • Coulter S (1904, published 1905) The poisonous plants of Indiana. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science: 51-63 [url] [url-2]
  • Derrick EK and Darley CR (1994) Contact reaction to the tree of heaven. Contact Dermatitis 30(3): 178
  • Ellis J (1755/6) A letter from Mr. John Ellis, F.R.S. to Philip Carteret Webb, Esq; F.R.S. attempting to ascertain the tree that yields the common varnish used in China and Japan; to promote its propagation in our American Colonies ; and to set right some mistakes botanists appear to have entertained concerning it. Philosophical Transactions 49: 806/866-876 [doi] [doi-2] [url] [url-2]
  • Gardner CA, Bennetts HW (1956) The Toxic Plants of Western Australia. Perth: West Australian Newspapers [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Hausen BM (1970) Untersuchungen über Gesundheitsschädigende Hölzer [Studies on Harmful Woods]. Doctoral Dissertation. Universität Hamburg, Germany [url] [url-2]
  • Heyl, V. (1966) Kontaktekzem bei Uberempfindlichkeit gegen Sucupira-und Palisanderholz. Berufsdermatosen 14: 239.
  • Huang KC (1993) The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press [WorldCat]
  • Moll, F. (1950) Giftiges Holz und Gewerbekrankheiten. Holz (München) 4: 76.
  • Muenscher WCL (1951) Poisonous Plants of the United States, 2nd edn. New York: Macmillan Company [WorldCat]
  • Pammel LH (1911) A Manual of Poisonous Plants. Chiefly of North America, with Brief Notes on Economic and Medicinal Plants, and Numerous Illustrations. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Polonsky J, Lederer E (1959) Note sur l'isolement de la dimethoxy-2,6-benzoquinone des ecorces et du bois de quelques Simarubacees et Meliacees. Bulletin de la Société Chimique de France (7-8): 1157-1158
  • Prefontaine, de (1763) Maison Rustique, a l'Usage de Cayenne. pp. 139, 152, 208-209. Paris, Bauche.
  • Remington JP, Wood HC, Sadtler SP, LaWall CH, Kraemer H, Anderson JF (Eds) (1918) The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 20th edn. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Semmola, L. (1963) The juridical limitations of the list of occupational risks and industrial dermatoses without protection by insurance. Rass. Derm. Sif. 16: 57.
  • Stone, H. (1921) A Textbook of Wood. London, Rider. Cited by Woods and Calnan (1976).
  • Stuart GA (1911) Chinese Materia Medica. Vegetable Kingdom. Extensively revised from Dr. F. Porter Smith's work. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Swingle, W.T. (1916) The early European history and the botanical name of the tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima. J. Washington Acad. Sci. 6: 490.
  • Webb LJ (1948a) Guide to Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Queensland. Bulletin No. 232. Melbourne, Victoria: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research [doi] [url]
  • White JC (1887) Dermatitis Venenata: an account of the action of external irritants upon the skin. Boston: Cupples and Hurd [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Woods B, Calnan CD (1976) Toxic woods. British Journal of Dermatology 95(Suppl 13): 1-97 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]

Richard J. Schmidt

[Valid HTML 4.01!]

[2D-QR coded email address]
[2D-QR coded url]