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Euphorbia candelabrum Trémaux ex Kotschy

Mitt. Geogr. Ges. Wien 1: 169 (1857).
Chromosome number
2n = 56
Euphorbia reinhartii Volk. (1899).
Vernacular names
Candelabra tree, tree euphorbia (En). Euphorbe candélabre (Fr). Mtungutungii, mtongotongo, mtupa, mtomwu (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Euphorbia candelabrum occurs from Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia south to DR Congo and Zimbabwe.
The latex is very toxic and may cause blindness when it comes into contact with the eyes. It is also blistering and irritating to the skin and mucous membranes. In Central Africa several drops of latex diluted in water are taken to treat coughs and tuberculosis, or as an emetic and abortifacient. The latex is also applied to wounds, sores and warts. The Loita Maasai people mix the latex with fat, which is rubbed on the body to treat malaria. A decoction of the pith of the branches is given to women just after childbirth to expel the placenta. In Kenya and Tanzania roots are boiled with chicken or meat, or with stomach fluids from a slaughtered goat or cow, and the liquid is drunk as a strong emetic to treat stomach-ache, severe constipation and infertility. Latex is taken in porridge as a strong purgative, and to treat HIV infection. In Kenya the latex is also applied to wounds and sores of cattle. Stem ash is powdered and used to treat eye infections. The latex is an ingredient of arrow poison. Fresh, pounded branches are thrown into watering holes and streams as a fish poison and to poison wild animals.
The stems can be used as firewood, although the smoke is irritant. The light, durable wood is used to make roofing, tables, doors, matches, boxes, mortars, musical instruments and saddles. The trunk split into halves is hollowed and re-joined to make beehives. Cut branches are used as fencing and planted for shade. The flowers of Euphorbia candelabrum produce much nectar, but the honey causes a burning sensation in the mouth, which is intensified by drinking water. The sticky latex is used as birdlime.
The latex of Euphorbia candelabrum contains highly irritant ingenol diterpene esters. Ingenol and its derivatives show tumour-promoting activity, but also anti-HIV and anti-leukaemia activities. Much research is directed toward synthesis and biological evaluation of ingenol analogs and derivatives. The latex also contains about 12.5% rubber. Latex from cultivated plants in the United Kingdom was moderately irritant in the mouse ear test, with an ID50 = 1.6 μg / 5 ml after 4 hours, which is similar to the latex of Euphorbia tirucalli L., and much less irritant than the latex of Euphorbia ingens E.Mey. ex Boiss. An ethanol extract of the stem showed low toxicity in the brine-shrimp test.
Monoecious, succulent small tree up to 12(–20) m tall with abundant latex; bole up to 90 cm in diameter; bark grey, roughly fissured; branches persistent from c. 3 m upwards, almost erect, rebranching, forming a large, broadly rounded crown, terminal branches fleshy, 5–10 cm in diameter, constricted at irregular intervals into oblong segments 15–25 cm long, usually 4-angled, with wings up to 2.5 cm wide, margins of angles entire to toothed, with shallow teeth 1–1.5 cm apart; spine shields obtusely triangular, c. 8 mm × 7 mm, soon becoming corky, with 2 pairs of spines, 1 pair stout, c. 5 mm long, 1 (stipular) pair triangular, c. 1.5 mm long, flexible, soon falling. Leaves at the end of branches, in 4 rows, sessile; stipules transformed into small spines; blade deltoid, c. 5 mm × 5 mm, soon falling, in young plants up to c. 7 cm × 1.5 cm. Inflorescence an axillary cyme, 1–6 crowded together at the end of branches, consisting of clusters of flowers, each cluster called a ‘cyathium’; peduncle 5–20 mm long, branches 2, c. 5 mm long; bracts 2, c. 5 mm long; cyathia c. 4 mm × 9 mm, with a cup-shaped involucre, lobes c. 2.5 mm long, glands 5, transversely elliptical, c. 2 mm × 4 mm, golden-yellow, each involucre containing 1 female flower surrounded by many male flowers. Flowers unisexual; male flowers sessile, perianth absent, stamen c. 6 mm long; female flowers with pedicel c. 5 mm long in fruit, perianth irregularly 3-lobed, lobes filiform, 2–4 mm long, ovary superior, glabrous, (2–)3-celled, styles (2–)3, c. 3 mm long, fused at base, apex 2-fid. Fruit an almost globose, shallowly (2–) 3-lobed capsule c. 8 mm × 12 mm, fleshy, green becoming red, hardening before dehiscence, (2–) 3-seeded. Seeds almost globose, c. 3 mm in diameter, greyish brown speckled with pale brown, smooth.
Other botanical information
Euphorbia comprises about 2000 species and has a worldwide distribution, with at least 750 species occurring in continental Africa and about 150 in Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands. Euphorbia candelabrum belongs to subgenus Euphorbia, section Euphorbia, a large group which is characterized by succulent, usually angular stems, stipules modified into small spines (or absent), a spine shield with an additional pair of spines (sometimes fused into a single spine), axillary inflorescences and seeds without a caruncle. Euphorbia candelabrum comprises 2 varieties; var. bilocularis (N.E.Br.) S.Carter has 2-celled fruits instead of 3-celled fruits of var. candelabrum.
Euphorbia candelabrum is very similar to Euphorbia ingens from southern Africa, and may be conspecific. The branches of Euphorbia ingens are usually more distinctly and shortly segmented, the teeth along the angles are usually further apart and the branch tips bear fewer inflorescences. Euphorbia conspicua N.E.Br. (synonym: Euphorbia candelabrum Welw. non Kotschy), a tree up to 15 m tall endemic to western Angola, is also very similar to Euphorbia candelabrum, as is Euphorbia abyssinica J.F.Gmel. (synonym: Euphorbia obovalifolia A.Rich.), which occurs from Sudan east to Djibouti and Somalia. In Ethiopia a stem bark decoction of Euphorbia abyssinica is taken to treat gastro-intestinal complaints. Latex is taken in milk or eaten with bread to treat gonorrhoea or ascariasis. Latex is applied to wounds to accelerate healing. The latex is applied to ticks of cattle. The soft, yellow wood is used as firewood and for roofing, matches, boxes, tables and saddles. Euphorbia ampliphylla Pax (synonym: Euphorbia obovalifolia auct. non A.Rich.) is a montane forest tree and occurs from Ethiopia and Somalia south to Malawi and Zambia. In Ethiopia a little latex, probably in water, is taken orally to treat rabies. In Kenya a wood decoction is given to treat stomach-ache during childbirth.
Euphorbia candelabrum is a striking tree, growing in dry deciduous and evergreen open wooded grasslands, on rocky slopes, sometimes on termite mounds, from sea-level up to 2200 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Euphorbia candelabrum can be propagated by seed or by stem cuttings. Seeds germinate readily after they have fallen from the trees. Stem cuttings need to be stored for a few days to dry before planted or else they will rot. It is best to plant the cuttings when the rain is about to stop, in a well-drained soil.
If grown as a live fence Euphorbia candelabrum needs continuous reinforcement planting.
The latex or branches can be harvested whenever the need arises.
Genetic resources
Euphorbia candelabrum is relatively common in its large area of distribution and is therefore not at risk of genetic erosion. As a succulent Euphorbia species, its trade is controlled under CITES appendix 2.
Despite the many traditional medicinal uses, not much is known concerning the chemistry and pharmacology of Euphorbia candelabrum. It contains carcinogenic ingenol diterpene esters and the latex should therefore be used with care.
Several tree-sized Euphorbia spp. occurring in tropical Africa are very similar to Euphorbia candelabrum. They may be conspecific and detailed fieldwork is needed to establish their status.
Major references
• Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
• Bekele-Tesemma, A., 2007. Useful trees and shrubs for Ethiopia: identification, propagation and management for 17 agroclimatic zones. Technical Manual No 6. RELMA in ICRAF Project, Nairobi, Kenya. 552 pp.
• Carter, S. & Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1988. Euphorbiaceae (part 2). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. pp. 409–597.
• Evans, F.J. & Soper, C.J., 1978. The tigliane, daphnane and ingenane diterpenes. Their chemistry, distribution and biological activities. Lloydia 41: 193–233.
• ITDG & IIRR, 1996. Ethnoveterinary medicine in Kenya. A field manual of traditional animal health care practice. Intermediate Technology Development Group and International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Nairobi, Kenya. 226 pp.
• Maundu, P., Berger, D., Saitabau, C., Nasieku, J., Kipelian, M., Mathenge, S., Morimoto, Y. & Höft, R., 2001. Ethnobotany of the Loita Maasai. Towards community management of the forest of the Lost Child. Experiences from the Loita Ethnobotany Project. UNESCO People and Plants Working Paper 8, Paris, France. 34 pp.
• 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.
• Uzabakiliho, B., Largeau, C. & Casadevall, E., 1987. Latex constituents of Euphorbia candelabrum, Euphorbia grantii, Euphorbia tirucalli and Synadenium grantii. Phytochemistry 26(1): 3041–3046.
Other references
• Carter, S., 1985. Euphorbia candelabrum, a question of validity (Euphorbiaceae). Taxon 34(4): 699–701.
• Giday, M., Teklehaymanot, T., Animut, A. & Mekonnen, Y., 2007. Medicinal plants of the Shinasha, Agew-awi and Amhara peoples in northwest Ethiopia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 110: 516–525.
• Gilbert, M.G., 1990. The true identity of Euphorbia obovalifolia A.Rich. Kew Bulletin 45(1): 195–1973.
• Heine, B. & Heine, I., 1988. Plant concepts and plant use; an ethnobotanical survey of the semi-arid and arid lands of East Africa. Part 3. Rendille plants (Kenya). Cologne Development Studies 8. Breitenbach, Saarbrücken, Germany. 120 pp.
• Ichikawa, M., 1987. A preliminary report on the ethnobotany of the Suiei Dorobo in northern Kenya. African Study Monographs, Supplement 7: 1–52.
• Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1995. Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 10. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 710 pp.
• Moshi, M.J., Cosam, J.C., Mbwambo, Z.H., Kapingu, M. & Nkunya, M.H.H., 2004. Testing beyond ethnomedical claims: brine shrimp lethality of some Tanzanian plants. Pharmaceutical Biology 42(7): 547–551.
• SEPASAL, 2008. Euphorbia candelabrum. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. ceb/sepasal/. Accessed February 2008.
• Teklehaymanot, T., Giday, M., Medhin, G. & Mekonnen, Y., 2007. Knowledge and use of medicinal plants by people around Debre Libanos monastery in Ethiopia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 111: 271–283.
• Yamada, T., 1999. A report of the ethnobotany of the Nyindu in the eastern part of the former Zaire. African Study Monographs 20(1): 1–72.
Sources of illustration
• Bekele-Tesemma, A., 2007. Useful trees and shrubs for Ethiopia: identification, propagation and management for 17 agroclimatic zones. Technical Manual No 6. RELMA in ICRAF Project, Nairobi, Kenya. 552 pp.
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
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:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2008. Euphorbia candelabrum Trémaux ex Kotschy. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, habit; 2, top of branch.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

tree habit CopyLeft EcoPort

tree habit CopyLeft EcoPort

top of branches CopyLeft EcoPort