Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Engl. & Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. 4(2): 156 (1895).
2n = 22
Ochrosia parviflora (Forst.f.) G.Don (1837).
Bois chauve-souris (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Ochrosia oppositifolia is widely distributed on the coasts of the islands throughout South-East Asia and the Pacific. In Africa it is restricted to the Seychelles.
In the Seychelles a bitter bark decoction is taken to purify the blood, as an appetizer, purgative and carminative, and in high doses as an abortifacient. A leaf decoction is used to wash the abdomen of women after childbirth. Ochrosia oppositifolia has similar uses in South-East Asia. The wood was formerly used for construction.
Research on active constituents in Ochrosia has focused on anticancer compounds following the isolation of the indole alkaloids ellipticine, elliptinine, 9-methoxy-ellipticine and isoreserpiline from the Asian Ochrosia elliptica Labill. Many Ochrosia spp. have since been subject to investigation of their alkaloid content.
The main compounds present in the bark of Ochrosia oppositifolia are reserpiline, isoreserpiline and ochropposine. Numerous other indole alkaloids have been recorded in the bark, including epi-rauvanine, bleekerine, ochropposinine, reserpinine and isoreserpinine, but no ellipticine or derivatives. The principal constituent of the leaves is isoreserpiline, with 10-hydroxy-apparicine and 10-methoxy-apparicine as minor compounds.
The wood is yellowish white and hard.
Small to medium-sized tree up to 25 m tall, glabrous except for the corolla tube inside, with white latex; bole up to 50 cm in diameter; bark pale grey, rough; branches with ring-shaped leaf scars. Leaves in whorls of 4, sometimes opposite near the inflorescence, simple and entire; petiole 1–6.5 cm long, not widened into a stipule at base; blade obovate to elliptical, 8–35 cm × 3–15 cm, base decurrent into the petiole, apex rounded, retuse or obtuse, pinnately veined with numerous lateral veins at right angles to the midrib. Inflorescence a terminal cyme, but often seemingly axillary, many-flowered; peduncle 2–14 cm long; lower bracts leafy, broadly ovate, others scale- or sepal-like. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, almost sessile; sepals connate at base, ovate, 1–2 mm long, thick; corolla creamy to white, tube 4–10 mm long, cylindrical, slightly widened around the stamens, lobes elliptical, 5–9 mm × 2–3 mm, apex rounded, spreading; stamens inserted c. 2 mm below the mouth of the corolla tube, included, sessile; ovary superior, consisting of 2 free carpels, style 1–4.5 mm long, ending in an ovoid pistil head, with a basal ring and a 2-lobed apex. Fruit consisting of 2 free ovoid to ellipsoid drupes 5–8 cm × 3–5.5 cm, apex rounded or apiculate, indehiscent, smooth, mesocarp fibrous, each drupe 1–2-seeded. Seeds elliptical, flattened, 1.5–2.5 cm long, winged.
Ochrosia comprises about 30 species and occurs from the Mascarene Islands and Seychelles to South-East Asia, the Pacific and northern Australia. New Caledonia is particularly rich in endemic species. Ochrosia belongs to the tribe Rauvolfieae, together with the well-known genus Rauvolfia.
The fruits float with their thick fibrous mesocarp and are dispersed by sea currents. Ochrosia oppositifolia fruits planted without removal of the pulp germinate poorly and only after about 8 months.
Ochrosia oppositifolia occurs in coastal forest, bush or open localities, only occasionally far inland, often on limestone, up to 100 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
The widespread natural distribution of Ochrosia oppositifolia and its tolerance of disturbed habitats limit the risk of genetic erosion. In the Seychelles, it has become rare because of overharvesting of the bark, but it is still relatively abundant on some of the outer islands.
Several indole alkaloids isolated from Ochrosia species show interesting anti-cancer activity, especially ellipticine and derivatives of it. So far, no ellipticine-based alkaloids have been isolated from Ochrosia oppositifolia, and the species is therefore likely to remain of local importance only.
• Gurib-Fakim, A. & Brendler, T., 2004. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mascarenes. Medpharm, Stuttgart, Germany. 568 pp.
• Leeuwenberg, A.J.M., 1988. The African species of Ochrosia Juss. In: Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. (Editor). Series of revisions of Apocynaceae 23. Agricultural University Wageningen Papers 87–5. pp. 45–53.
• Pheube-Locou, N., Koch, M., Plat, M. & Potier, P., 1972. Plants de Nouvelle-Caledonie. 14. Alcaloides des écorces de tronc d’Ochrosia oppositifolia (Lmk) K.Schum. (Apocynacées). Annales Pharmaceutiques Françaises 30(12): 821–826.
• van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Hendrian, R., 2001. Ochrosia A.L. Juss. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 386–389.
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Abel, A., Aké Assi, L., Brown, D., Chetty, K.S., Chong-Seng, L., Eymé, J., Friedman, F., Gassita, J.N., Goudoté, E.N., Govinden, P., Keita, A., Koudogbo, B., Lai-Lam, G., Landreau, D., Lionnet, G. & Soopramanien, A., 1983. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques aux Seychelles. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 170 pp.
• Friedmann, F., 1994. Flore des Seychelles: Dicotylédones. Editions de l’ORSTOM, Paris, France. 663 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2006. Ochrosia oppositifolia (Lam.) K.Schum. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.