Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Peters, Naturw. Reise Mossambique Vol. 6, Botanik 1: 99, t. 17 (1861).
Origin and geographic distribution
Cephalocroton mollis occurs from Tanzania south throughout southern Africa, including eastern South Africa.
In Namibia the Heikum Bushmen use the dried powdered root in food as criminal poison, causing bloody diarrhoea. The aerial parts are browsed by cattle.
Monoecious, rarely dioecious, perennial herb or shrub up to 2(–3.5) m tall; rootstock woody; bark pale grey; all parts covered with stellate hairs, with or without long glandular hairs, later almost glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules subulate-filiform, 1–4 mm long; petiole 1–7 mm long; blade ovate-oblong to oblong-lanceolate, 1–10.5 cm × 0.5–5 cm, base rounded or truncate, apex obtuse to acute, margins entire to sinuate, leathery. Inflorescence a terminal raceme, with male flowers in a dense terminal globose cluster and 1–4 female flowers at base of peduncle; peduncle 1–10 cm long; bracts minute. Flowers unisexual, sweetly scented; pedicel 3–4(–7) mm long; petals absent; male flowers with 4 glabrous, ovate to elliptical-ovate sepals c. 2 mm long, pale yellowish green, stamens 6–8, free, 5–6 mm long; female flowers with 6 sepals, pinnately lobed, c. 4 mm × 2 mm, enlarging in fruit, lobes linear, with side lobes, stellately hairy, green, disk annular, ovary superior, c. 1.5 mm in diameter, densely hairy, 3-celled, styles 3, fused at base, 4–8 mm long, stigma multifid, orange-yellow. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 1 cm × 1.5 cm, hairy, 3-seeded. Seeds ovoid, 6–8 mm long, smooth, pale to pinkish brown, slightly mottled, dull.
Cephalocroton comprises 3–4 species in tropical and southern Africa. It is closely related to Adenochlaena (1 species from Madagascar and the Comoros and 1 from Sri Lanka) and Cephalocrotonopsis (1 species from Socotra), both formerly included in Cephalocroton.
Cephalocroton mollis occurs on clayey soils (including black cotton soil) but usually on sandy soils in dried-out depressions and seasonal swamps, in open grassland and mixed open bushland, at 500–1500 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Cephalocroton mollis is relatively common in southern Africa and therefore not likely to be threatened by genetic erosion.
Research on the phytochemistry of Cephalocroton mollis is warranted in the light of the uses as a plant poison and of browse for cattle.
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Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Cephalocroton mollis Klotzsch. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.