Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Linnaea 32: 78 (1863).
Euphorbiaceae (APG: Phyllanthaceae)
False lightning bush (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Andrachne ovalis occurs in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland.
The strong-smelling roots of Andrachne ovalis are used in medicine. A decoction of the root is given orally to humans and animals as an anthelmintic by the Swazi people, whilst an infusion of the root is externally applied as a wash by the Zulu people to treat head lice and fleas. Burned roots are sniffed to treat headache or taken as an emetic to treat chest complaints. Snakebites are treated with an emetic prepared from burned roots, or with powdered root bark applied to incisions in the skin. Powdered stem bark is reported to be effective against epilepsy. The roots are inserted in holes to repel snakes. Powdered root bark in milk is used to trap flies, which are said to die soon after eating the mixture.
Methanol extracts of the bark and leaves showed strong molluscicidal activity against the snail Bulinus africanus, and some antibacterial activity against the bacterial wilt disease Ralstonia solanacearum (synonym: Pseudonomas solanacearum). Bioactivity has been attributed to anthraquinones and their glycosides, saponins, flavonoids and steroids.
Monoecious or dioecious, rather lax, slender, almost glabrous shrub or small tree up to 3(–6) m tall; bark grey, smooth; young twigs terete, greenish. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules triangular-ovate, c. 1 mm long; petiole 2–5(–7) mm long, slender, sparingly pubescent when young; blade ovate to elliptical-ovate, 1–4(–6) cm × 0.5–2(–3) cm, base cuneate to rounded, apex obtuse to almost acute, deep glossy green above, paler beneath, smelling of cyanide when crushed. Inflorescence axillary; male inflorescence a few-flowered fascicle, female flowers solitary. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5(–6)-merous; male flowers with pedicel 2–3(–5) mm long, sepals almost orbicular to obovate, c. 1.5 mm × 1.5 mm, fused at base, obtuse, greenish yellow, petals almost orbicular, c. 1 mm long, white, disk cup-shaped, c. 1.5 mm in diameter, with 10 triangular teeth, stamens c. 1.5 mm long, fused in the lower third; female flowers with pedicel 4–8 mm long, extending up to 1.5 cm in fruit, apically enlarged, sepals ovate, c. 2 mm long, greenish, becoming hardened and persistent in fruit, petals almost orbicular to obovate, c. 1 mm long, disk cup-shaped, 1–2 mm in diameter, margin irregularly lobed or toothed, orange, ovary superior, c. 1 mm in diameter, globose, sparingly hairy, styles 3, c. 0.5 mm long, apex 2-fid. Fruit a rounded, 3-lobed capsule, 5–6 mm × 8–10 mm, reticulately veined, short-hairy at apex, green, 6-seeded. Seeds irregularly compressed-trigonous, c. 3.5 mm × 3 mm × 1.5 mm, dorsally irregularly ridged, dark greyish brown.
Andrachne comprises about 45 species and occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics; 2 species occur in Madagascar and 6 in continental Africa, 2 of which extend their distribution area to Pakistan. Clutia pulchella L. is found in a similar habitat and may be confused with Andrachne ovalis.
Andrachne ovalis occurs in evergreen forest, forest margins, grassy and stony slopes and ravines, at 650–1700 m altitude. Andrachne ovalis flowers from November–January and fruits from January–March.
Genetic resources and breeding
There are no signs that Andrachne ovalis is threatened by genetic erosion.
The roots and stem bark of Andrachne ovalis have several medicinal uses, but their chemistry or pharmacology are not well documented. Additional research is therefore warranted.
• Amusan, O.O.G., Msonthi, J.D. & Makhubu, L.P., 1995. Molluscicidal activity of Spathodea campanulata, Andrachne ovalis, Phytolacca dodecandra and Hypoxis rooperi. Fitoterapia 66: 113–116.
• Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1996. Euphorbiaceae, subfamilies Phyllantoideae, Oldfieldioideae, Acalyphoideae, Crotonoideae and Euphorbioideae, tribe Hippomaneae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 1–337.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
• Amusan, O., Bhembe, F.N., Mkhatshwa, F.T. & Thwala, E.Z., 1994. Antibacterial activity of Annona senegalensis, Andrachne ovalis and Spathodea campanulata against Pseudonomas solanecearum. UNISWA Journal of Agriculture 3: 62–66.
• Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
• Govaerts, R., Frodin, D.G. & Radcliffe-Smith, A., 2000. World checklist and bibliography of Euphorbiaceae (with Pandaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 1620 pp.
• Hoffmann, P., 2000. Revision of Andrachne sect. Pseudophyllanthus (Euphorbiaceae), with the description of two new species from Madagascar. Adansonia, séries 3, 22: 123–133.
• Hutchings, A., Haxton Scott, A., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A., 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. 450 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Grace, O.M., 2008. Andrachne ovalis (E.Mey. ex Sond.) Müll.Arg. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.