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Maytenus heterophylla (Eckl. & Zeyh.) N.Robson

Bol. Soc. Brot., sér. 2, 39: 17 (1965).
Celastraceae (Hippocrateaceae)
Gymnosporia buxifolia (L.) Szyszyl. (1888).
Vernacular names
Common spike-thorn (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Maytenus heterophylla is distributed from eastern DR Congo, Sudan and Eritrea extending south to southern Africa, but it is not recorded from Namibia; it also occurs in Madagascar.
The roots of Maytenus heterophylla are boiled and eaten as a vegetable by the Maasai. The wood is very hard and heavy and resembles boxwood (Buxus). It is suitable for making small objects such as spoons and stools, for carving and for throwing sticks (‘knobkerries’). Medicinal uses are reported throughout its range. The leaves are used against painful menstruation, a bark infusion to treat diarrhoea and as an emetic, and roots as an anthelmintic, against hernia and as a cure for syphilis. Unspecified plant parts are used as a remedy for snakebite, epilepsy, abscesses and convulsions in children. A leaf and bark infusion is used against diarrhoea in cattle.
Antimicrobially active ethanol extracts of leaves and bark of Maytenus heterophylla yielded a dihydroagarofuran alkaloid, 1β-acetoxy-9α-benzoyloxy-2β,6α-dinicotinoyloxy-β-dihydroagarofuran. Various β-dihydroagarofuran sesquiterpene polyesters isolated from members of Celastraceae have been found to have insecticidal and/or insect antifeedant activities. Other compounds that have been isolated are β-amyrin, maytenfolic acid, 3α-hydroxy-2-oxofriedelane-20α-carboxylic acid, lup-20(29)-ene-1β,3β-diol, (–)-4’-methylepigallocatechin, and (–)-epicatechin. Maytenfolic acid has moderate antimicrobial activity; it showed growth inhibition of Candida albicans, Cryptococcus neoformans, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Dulcitol has been isolated from unspecified plant parts. Maytansinoids have been isolated from other Maytenus species, which have shown significant antitumour and antileukaemic activities.
Dioecious shrub or small tree, up to 6 m tall, with spines up to 3.5 cm long. Leaves alternate or fasciculate, simple; stipules free, somewhat persistent; petiole 1–4 mm long; blade elliptical, oblanceolate or spatulate, 1–6 cm × 0.5–2.5 cm, base cuneate, apex usually obtuse, margin serrulate to almost entire, glabrous on both sides. Inflorescence an axillary 3–12-flowered cyme, 0.5–2(–3.5) cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, up to 6 mm in diameter; sepals up to 2 mm long; petals up to 3 mm long, greenish white to yellow. Fruit an obovoid to globose capsule, brown when dry, 2–4-seeded. Seeds c. 3 mm × 2 mm, glossy, reddish brown, with yellow aril covering from one- to two-thirds of the length of the seed.
The generic limits of Maytenus are presently under review. It is likely that Maytenus heterophylla will be transfered to the genus Gymnosporia.
Maytenus heterophylla occurs in forest, forest margins and woodland, often on sandy and riverine localities at altitudes from sea-level to 3000 m.
Genetic resources and breeding
Maytenus heterophylla is widely distributed and not threatened. The variation in morphology is especially large in the southern part of its range. The variation in the content of maytansinoids in Maytenus is large and not fully understood; the variation is not documented for Maytenus heterophylla.
Interest in Maytenus heterophylla is likely to increase because of its medicinal properties. A definite taxonomic assessment of Maytenus and close relatives is indispensable for research into pharmacological properties of the genus and related species.
Major references
• Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
• Demissew Sebsebe, 1985. The genus Maytenus (Celastraceae) in NE tropical Africa and tropical Arabia. Symbolae Botanicae Upsaliensis 25(2): pp. 1–101.
• Jordaan, M. & van Wyk, A.E., 1999. Systematic studies in subfamily Celastroideae (Celastraceae) in southern Africa: reinstatement of the genus Gymnosporia. South African Journal of Botany 65(2): 177–181.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
Other references
• Orabi, K.Y., Al-Qasoumi, S.I., El-Olemy, M.M., Mossa, J.S. & Muhammad, I., 2001. Dihydroagarofuran alkaloid and triterpenes from Maytenus heterophylla and Maytenus arbutifolia. Phytochemistry 58(3): 475–480.
• Robson, N.K.B., 1989. Celastraceae (incl. Hippocrateaceae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3. Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 331–347.
• Robson, N.K.B., Hallé, N., Mathew, B. & Blakelock, R., 1994. Celastraceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 78 pp.
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate Editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, 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

Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Maytenus heterophylla (Eckl. & Zeyh.) N.Robson In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.