Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Notizbl. Bot. Gart. Berlin-Dahlem 2: 266 (1899).
Origin and geographic distribution
Euphorbia quinquecostata occurs in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.
In Tanzania a stem infusion is given to children to expel intestinal worms; it is also taken to treat stomach-ache and is externally applied to heal wounds. The latex is rubbed into the skin in case of pain in the ribs, but this should be done with caution as it causes blisters.
In the Tanga region of Tanzania the latex is used as bird lime.
An ethyl acetate extract of the wood of Euphorbia quinquecostata using a phorbol dibutyrate receptor-binding assay system as a monitor yielded 4 inhibitory compounds; 2 were ingenane ester derivatives, 17-hydroxyingenol 20-hexadecanoate and ingenol 20-hexadecanoate, and the other 2 were ent-atisane derivatives. Also isolated from this extract were constituents inactive in this bioassay, including xanthoxylin, 6-hydroxy-7-methoxycoumarin (isoscopoletin), lupeol acetate, β-sitosterol, sitosterol-β-D-glucopyranoside, 6,7,8-trimethoxycoumarin, 3,4-dimethoxycinnamaldehyde, N-butylaniline and vanillin. A later isolated ent-isopimarane-type diterpene and a dihydrobenzofuran neolignan were inactive in assays for the induction of quinone reductase in hepatoma cells and for the inhibition of the transformation of murine cells, but 3,4-dimethoxycinnamaldehyde was significantly active in these assays.
Monoecious, succulent small tree up to 10(–15) m tall with abundant latex; bole simple, up to 50 cm in diameter, with loosely spiraled rows of spines and scars of fallen branches; bark grey-brown, flaking; primary branches 2–4 m long, with whorls of secondary branches, directing upwards, forming a rounded crown; terminal branches fleshy, (3–)5(–6)-angled, 2–4(–7) cm in diameter, constricted at irregular intervals into oblong segments 5–15 cm long, margins of angles straight to toothed, with teeth 5–15 mm apart; spine shields oblong-triangular, c. 1.5 mm × 2 mm, with 1 pair of spines 2–8(–10) mm long. Leaves at the end of branches, in 4 rows, sessile; stipules absent; blade deltoid, c. 2 mm × 2 mm, soon falling. Inflorescence an axillary cyme, 1–3 together in a horizontal row, consisting of clusters of flowers, each cluster called a ‘cyathium’, crowded at the end of branches; peduncle 2–3 mm long, branches 2, short; bracts 2, c. 2 mm long; cyathia c. 2.5 mm × 4 mm, with a cup-shaped involucre, lobes c. 1 mm long, glands 5, transversely oblong, c. 1 mm × 2 mm, golden-yellow, each involucre containing 1 female flower surrounded by many male flowers. Flowers unisexual; male flowers sessile, perianth absent, stamen c. 4 mm long; female flowers with pedicel c. 7 mm long in fruit, perianth 3-lobed, ovary superior, glabrous, 3-celled, styles 3, c. 1 mm long, fused at base, apex 2-fid. Fruit a deeply 3-lobed capsule c. 4.5 mm × 7 mm, fleshy, 3-seeded. Seeds almost globose, c. 2.5 mm × 2 mm, grey-mottled, smooth.
Euphorbia comprises about 2000 species and has a worldwide distribution, with at least 750 species occurring in continental Africa and about 150 species in Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands. Euphorbia quinquecostata belongs to 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.
Some other species from this section are medicinally used in tropical Africa. Euphorbia robecchii Pax occurs in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. In Somalia the latex is widely used in the treatment of cattle diseases, including foot rot, foot abscesses, mange, ringworm and ticks. In Tanzania dried stem bark is boiled with butter and coffee beans, and the decoction is rubbed onto inflamed lymph nodes. The latex is applied to the skin of camels to treat contagious skin necrosis.
Euphorbia teke Schweinf. ex Pax (synonym: Euphorbia tisserantii A.Chev. & Sillans) occurs from the Central African Republic and southern Sudan south to Congo and DR Congo and east to Uganda and Tanzania. In the Central African Republic the latex is boiled with an egg and taken as a strong purgative to treat gonorrhoea.
Euphorbia quinquecostata occurs on rocky hillsides, and is usually the dominant tree in mixed deciduous woodland, at 600–1250 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
There are no signs that Euphorbia quinquecostata is threatened by genetic erosion. All succulent Euphorbia spp. are listed in CITES appendix 2.
Euphorbia quinquecostata yields several interesting compounds, which merit further research into their anticancer activities.
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• Su, B.N., Park, E.J., Mbwambo, Z.H., Santarsiero, B.D., Mesecar, A.D., Fong, H.H.S., Pezzuto, J.M. & Kinghorn, D.A., 2002. New chemical constituents of Euphorbia quinquecostata and absolute configuration assignment by a convenient Mosher ester procedure carried out in NMR tubes. Journal of Natural Products 65(9): 1278–1282.
Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2008. Euphorbia quinquecostata Volkens. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.