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Elaeophorbia grandifolia (Haw.) Croizat

Bull. Jard. Bot. Etat 15: 109 (1938).
Origin and geographic distribution
Elaeophorbia grandifolia occurs from Senegal east to Benin and also in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Gabon.
The latex is used as a drastic purgative and is only used in serious situations, such as food poisoning and severe constipation. In Senegal and Sierra Leone the latex is applied to the gums to assist tooth extraction. In Côte d’Ivoire a leaf extract is taken to treat angina and chest complaints. Dried powdered leaves in water are also taken to treat chest complaints. A bark or leaf decoction is applied to guinea worm sores to assist extraction of the worms, and the pulped bark is applied as a dressing. The latex has been applied to relieve the pain of scorpion stings and to remove warts. In Ghana a leaf decoction is used as a contraceptive, and it is externally applied to heal boils, ringworm and warts. In Togo the latex in water is taken to treat haemorrhoids.
The latex is used in arrow and fish poisons in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Gabon, whereas in Burkina Faso the roots are used in the preparation of arrow poison. In Côte d’Ivoire suspected criminals have the latex applied to the eye as an ordeal-poison. A herbal antidote is applied quickly if the suspect admits to the crime, but cases of permanent eye damage have been recorded.
In West Africa Elaeophorbia grandifolia is widely planted to protect against lightning and to keep away ghosts and evil spirits. In Sierra Leone it is planted as a hedgerow.
The latex contains 0.3–0.5% of the diterpene alcohol ingenol and several ingenol diterpene esters. Ingenol is also present in Euphorbia spp. The esters are toxic and co-carcinogens. The triterpenes euphol, tirucallol and euphorbol have also been isolated. The latex also contains the lectins euphorbain d1 and euphorbain d2, which agglutinate erythrocytes in vitro. The latex was found to be highly irritant in mouse ear tests.
Monoecious, glabrous small tree up to 15(–25) m tall, with copious white latex; bole stout, up to 80 cm in diameter, often low-branching; bark grey, rough; branches spreading, forming a large rounded crown, branchlets obtusely 5-angled, becoming cylindrical, with conspicuous leaf scars. Leaves arranged spirally, crowded at branch apex, simple and entire; stipules soon falling; petiole up to 3 cm long, subtended by a pair of prickles up to 3 mm long; blade ovate to oblanceolate, 8–30(–40) cm × 4–12 cm, base cuneate, apex rounded to emarginate, fleshy, pinnately veined. Inflorescence an axillary cyme, usually 3 together, consisting of cyathia; peduncle up to 4.5 cm long and branches up to 2.5 cm long; bracts broadly deltoid, c. 7 mm long, paired, persistent; cyathia sessile, c. 15 mm in diameter, involucre widely funnel-shaped, 5-lobed, with large glands c. 2.5 mm × 6 mm, brownish yellow, each cyathium containing 1 female flower surrounded by many male flowers. Flowers unisexual, perianth absent; male flowers with fan-shaped bracteoles, consisting of a single stamen c. 4 mm long; female flowers consisting of a superior, 3-celled, smooth ovary merging into the pedicel, styles 3, c. 1.5 mm long, fused, stigmas flattened, reflexed. Fruit an almost sessile, obovoid, slightly 3-lobed, fleshy drupe up to 3.5 cm × 2.5 cm, green becoming yellow; stone grooved, 1–3-seeded. Seeds ovoid, c. 8 mm × 4.5–5 mm, with 2 ridges, smooth, greyish brown.
Elaeophorbia comprises 3–5 species in tropical Africa. It is sometimes included in Euphorbia, from which it differs in lacking a perianth in the female flowers, in the ovary merging into the pedicel, and in its large indehiscent drupe-like fruits in contrast to the dry dehiscent fruits of Euphorbia. Elaeophorbia grandifolia and Elaeophorbia drupifera (Thonn.) Stapf are closely related and the common occurrence of intermediate specimens, e.g. in Ghana, indicates that they could represent a single variable species.
Elaeophorbia grandifolia occurs in dry forest, on rocky slopes, from sea-level up to 800 m altitude. It sometimes also occurs in moist lowland forest.
Elaeophorbia grandifolia can be easily propagated by stem cuttings, which should be at least 20 cm long. After cutting they should be allowed to lie in a shaded place for at least a week to develop a callus on the cut end. Elaeophorbia grandifolia can also be grown from seed.
Genetic resources and breeding
Elaeophorbia grandifolia is widespread and relatively common, and therefore not likely threatened by genetic erosion.
The latex of Elaeophorbia grandifolia is caustic and co-carcinogenic, and it should therefore be used with extreme care in local medicine. Biosystematic studies are needed to clarify the status of Elaeophorbia grandifolia and Elaeophorbia drupifera.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
• Eggli, U. (Editor), 2002. Illustrated handbook of succulent plants: Dicotyledons. Springer, Berlin, Germany. 554 pp.
• Keay, R.W.J., 1958. Euphorbiaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 364–423.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
Other references
• Abo, K.A., 1994. Characterisation of ingenol: an inflammatory diterpene from some Nigerian Euphorbia and Elaeophorbia species. African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences 23(2): 161–163.
• Bruyns, P.V., Mapaya, R.J. & Hedderson, T., 2006. A new subgeneric classification for Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae) in southern Africa based on ITS and psbA-trnH sequence data. Taxon 55(2): 397–420.
• Dalziel, J.M., 1937. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. Crown Agents for Overseas Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 612 pp.
• Eggli, U. (Editor), 2002. Illustrated handbook of succulent plants: Dicotyledons. Springer, Berlin, Germany. 554 pp.
• Evans, F.J. & Kinghorn, A.D., 1977. A comparative phytochemical study of the diterpenes of some species of the genera Euphorbia and Elaeophorbia. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 74: 23–35.
• Hall, J.B. & Swaine, M.D., 1981. Distribution and ecology of vascular plants in a tropical rain forest: forest vegetation of Ghana. W. Junk Publishers, the Hague, Netherlands. 383 pp.
• Hawthorne, W. & Jongkind, C., 2006. Woody plants of western African forests: a guide to the forest trees, shrubs and lianes from Senegal to Ghana. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 1023 pp.
• Mshana, N.R., Abbiw, D.K., Addore-Mensah, I., Ekpere, J.A., Enow-Orock, E.G., Gbile, Z.O., Noamessi, G.K., Odei, M.A., Odunlami, H., Oteng-Yeboah, A.A., Sarpong, K., Sofowora, A. & Tackie, A.N., 2000. Traditional medicine and pharmacopoeia. Contribution to the revision of ethnobotanical and floristic studies in Ghana. Organisation of African Unity / Scientific, Technical and Research Commission. 920 pp.
L.E. Newton
Department of Biological Sciences, Kenyatta University, P.O. Box 43844, Nairobi 00100, Kenya

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
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Newton, L.E., 2008. Elaeophorbia grandifolia (Haw.) Croizat. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
plant habit

leafy branch