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Cryptolepis decidua (Planch. ex Benth.) N.E.Br.

Fl. trop. Afr. 4(1): 243 (1904).
Asclepiadaceae (APG: Apocynaceae)
Chromosome number
2n = 22
Curroria decidua Planch. ex Hook.f. & Benth. (1849).
Vernacular names
Jackal plant (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Cryptolepis decidua occurs in Namibia, Botswana, and also in South Africa and Swaziland.
In Kaokoland in Namibia dried ground leaves are applied to the umbilical cord after child birth. The Damara people take a root decoction to treat stomach-ache, intestinal and liver pain, and also to treat constipation and vomiting. The Nama and the Himba people drink a root decoction to treat gastro-intestinal problems. The decoction also acts not only as a laxative, but also to treat diarrhoea. Food should be eaten after drinking the decoction so as to stimulate bowel cleaning. A root decoction is also taken to treat venereal diseases and to expel afterbirth after delivery. The Damara people also put root powder in incisions in the lower abdomen and back. The Topnaar people chew a piece of the root or drink a decoction of the plant to treat constipation, menstrual pain, stomach-ache, common cold and tuberculosis symptoms. The root decoction is also given to donkeys to treat constipation. The Himba people give a root decoction to cattle to stimulate milk production.
The plant is heavily browsed by goats and to a lesser extent by other livestock. Poisoning in sheep has been reported, manifesting itself by accelerated breathing and pulse rate, weakness, loss of appetite, cyanosis and cramps, followed by death. A strong root decoction is given to rabid dogs, presumably to kill them.
The Damara people use the stem bark as perfume.
An autopsy performed on sheep that died from poisoning, showed all the symptoms of cyanosis i.e. inflammation of stomach and intestines, blood in the lungs, liver and under the skin, and general cyanosis.
Deciduous, many-stemmed, latex-bearing shrub up to 1.5 m tall; young stems reddish brown, older stems greyish. Leaves opposite or clustered on short lateral shoots, simple and entire, almost sessile; stipules absent; blade linear to linear-spoon-shaped, up to c. 2.5 cm × 0.4 cm, base cuneate, apex rounded, pale green, glabrous. Flowers axillary, solitary or 2 together, bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant; pedicel 6–15 mm long; small bract at middle; sepals lanceolate, c. 2 mm long, acuminate; corolla tube campanulate, c. 2 mm long, lobes lanceolate to linear-lanceolate, c. 6 mm long, purple, pale violet to white; corona lobes 3–4 mm long, filiform or spoon-shaped; stamens with free filaments, anthers triangular, acuminate, fused to stigmatic head, pollen carrier spoon-shaped; ovary semi-inferior, 2-celled, style columnar, conical. Fruit a pair of spreading follicles, each cylindrical, 7–10 cm × 6–9 mm, pale green to purple, many-seeded. Seeds narrowly ovoid, smooth, brown, with a coma of whitish hairs.
Cryptolepis belongs to subfamily Periplocoideae. It comprises about 30 species in Africa, Asia and Australia. The majority of the species occur in East Africa and on Socotra (Yemen).
Cryptolepis decidua occurs in shrub land and grassland, on plains and hillsides, often on well-drained, rocky to sandy soils, but also on alluvial soils, from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude. It grows in hot and arid localities, with a dry season of 6–11 months.
Genetic resources and breeding
There are no signs that Cryptolepis decidua is threatened by genetic erosion.
Cryptolepis decidua will remain of local importance as a medicinal plant, unless phytochemical analyses show interesting results. As the plant is toxic to sheep, care should be taken when using the plant for medicinal purposes.
Major references
• Brown, N.E., 1902–1904. Asclepiadaceae. In: Thiselton-Dyer, W.T. (Editor). Flora of tropical Africa. Volume 4(1). Lovell Reeve & Co, London, United Kingdom. pp. 231–503.
• SEPASAL, 2009. Cryptolepis decidua. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. ceb/sepasal/. Accessed April 2009.
• von Koenen, E., 2001. Medicinal, poisonous and edible plants in Namibia. Klaus Hess Verlag, Göttingen, Germany. 336 pp.
Other references
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Paulo, A. & Houghton, P.J., 2003. Chemotaxonomic analysis of the genus Cryptolepis. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 31: 155–166.
• Van den Eynden, V., Vernemmen, P. & Van Damme, P., 1992. The ethnobotany of the Topnaar. University of Gent, Belgium. 145 pp.
• van der Walt, S.J. & Steyn, D.G., 1940. Recent investigations into the toxicity of known and unknown poisonous plants in the Union of South Africa, X. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Science and Animal Industry 15: 261–277.
G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom

Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2010. Cryptolepis decidua (Planch. ex Benth.) N.E.Br. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.