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Plumbago zeylanica L.

Sp. pl. 1: 151 (1753).
Chromosome number
2n = 28
Vernacular names
Ceylon leadwort, wild leadwort, wild white plumbago (En). Dentelaire de Ceylan (Fr). Joelho de cabra, kadinga puna (Po). Mwambula (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Plumbago zeylanica occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics. It possibly originates from South-East Asia, from where it may have been distributed as a medicinal plant and ornamental. It occurs throughout most of tropical Africa.
Plumbago zeylanica is very popular throughout Africa and Asia as a remedy for skin diseases, infections and intestinal worms, especially leprosy, scabies, ringworm, dermatitis, acne, sores, ulcers of the leg, haemorrhoids and hookworm. All parts of the plant are used, but the root is considered to have the highest activity. In West Africa the root, or the leaves crushed with lemon juice, are used as a counter-irritant and vesicant. The pulped roots or aerial parts are inserted into the vagina as an abortifacient. This is a dangerous practice as it sometimes results in death. In Nigeria the roots pounded with vegetable oil are applied to rheumatic swellings. In Ethiopia powdered bark, root or leaves are used to treat gonorrhoea, syphilis, tuberculosis, rheumatic pain, swellings and wounds. In DR Congo and Gabon the pounded root is applied to treat itch. In East Africa pounded roots are applied to swollen legs. In Zambia a root decoction with boiled milk is swallowed to treat inflammation in the mouth, throat and chest. In southern Africa a paste of the root in vinegar, milk and water is used to treat influenza and blackwater fever. Plumbago zeylanica root cooked with meat in soup is eaten in Zimbabwe as an aphrodisiac, and it also helps digestion. A root infusion is taken orally to treat shortness of breath. In Madagascar the roots are applied as a vesicant, while in Mauritius and Rodrigues a root decoction is used to treat diarrhoea and dyspepsia.
A paste of powdered root or the root sap is used for tattooing by different tribes in eastern Africa. The paste or sap causes blisters and the new skin has a darker colour. The long white inflorescence of Plumbago zeylanica makes it attractive as an ornamental. Despite the plant being poisonous, it is readily eaten by goats and sheep in West Africa.
Production and international trade
In Africa Plumbago zeylanica is only locally used. Herbalists collect the plants from the wild or cultivate them in their backyard for personal use and to supply the local markets. Plumbago zeylanica is sometimes cultivated and traded as ornamental. Plumbago zeylanica products are traded worldwide as Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicine.
The root and leaves of Plumbago zeylanica contain the naphthoquinone plumbagin. Other compounds that have been isolated are mainly plumbagin-derivatives, biplumbagin-derivatives and coumarins.
Plumbagin possesses several pharmacological activities, e.g. antimicrobial, antiplasmodial, anticancer and antifertility actions. It is also a powerful irritant. In small doses, it is a sudorific and stimulates the central nervous system; large doses may cause death from respiratory failure and paralysis. Plumbagin showed anti-implantation and abortifacient activities in rats and produced testicular lesions and testis-weight reduction in dogs. Because of its toxicity, the use of plumbagin in traditional medicine is a dangerous practice, and casualties have been recorded. In low concentrations, plumbagin has an antimitotic activity comparable to that of colchicine. In larger doses, it also has nucleotoxic and cytotoxic effects. Plumbagin significantly suppresses growth of several tumour cell lines in vitro and in vivo in mice, especially in combination with gamma-irradiation.
Plumbagin has shown antibacterial activity against both gram-positive (e.g. Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pneumococcus spp.) and gram-negative (e.g. Salmonella, Neisseria) bacteria, whereas it is also active against certain yeasts and fungi (Candida, Trichophyton, Epidermophyton and Microsporum spp.) and protozoa (Leishmania). It has been found to prevent Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus developing resistance to antibiotics. Plumbagin also has strong antifeedant and moulting inhibiting effects on insects and has nematicidal and acaricidal activities.
An ethanolic extract of Plumbago zeylanica stems inhibited immediate allergic reactions in tests with mice and rats. The ethanol extract of the root showed significant antioxidant activities in vitro. It also caused significant hyperglycaemia in rats.
Adulterations and substitutes
At present, the most exploited source of plumbagin is the root of Plumbago spp., but the compound also occurs in Drosera spp.
Straggling shrub up to 3 m tall; stems erect, trailing or climbing, wiry, diffusely branched, glabrous, with prominent longitudinal ridges and often with white waxy dots. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 0–5 mm long with small auricles present in young leaves; blade ovate, ovate-lanceolate, elliptical or oblong, 2.5–13 cm Χ 1–6 cm, base cuneate, apex acute, acuminate or obtuse, with white waxy dots underneath. Inflorescence a terminal raceme, 6–30 cm long, sometimes paniculate, many-flowered; bracts ovate to lanceolate, 3–7 mm long; peduncle 1–1.5 cm long, with prominent sessile glands. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, sweet-scented; pedicel 1–2 mm long; calyx tubular, 7–11 mm long, 5-ribbed, with stalked glands along ribs, lobes up to 1.5 mm long; corolla tube 15–30 mm long, lobes oblong to ovate, 5–12 mm long, spreading, mucronate, white; stamens free, included; ovary superior, 1-celled, style filiform, with 5 elongated stigma lobes. Fruit an oblong capsule 7.5–8 mm long, apex acute with 5 furrows, 1-seeded. Seed oblong, 5–6 mm long, reddish brown to dark brown.
Other botanical information
Plumbago comprises about 25 species and occurs almost throughout the world. In tropical Africa about 10 species can be found. The sap of Plumbago spp. causes discoloration of the skin resembling the colour of lead, from which the Latin name Plumbago and the popular name leadwort are derived. Plumbago dawei Rolfe occurs naturally in East Africa from Ethiopia to Tanzania and in Madagascar. It is a laxly branched, creeping or scandent herb or shrub. In Madagascar a leaf decoction of the leaves is drunk as a purgative, and a root decoction is taken to treat bacterial infections of urethra and bladder.
Growth and development
Plumbago zeylanica flowers throughout the year. The flowers are produced in profusion on the shoots of the current year, and are insect pollinated. The fruits are easily dispersed by animals because of the sticky glands on the persistent calyx.
Plumbago zeylanica occurs in deciduous woodland, savanna and scrubland, often near rivers and on lake margins or on termite mounds, from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Plumbago zeylanica can be propagated by seeds, rooted shoots from the base of the plant or by semi-ripe cuttings, treated with a growth hormone. Germination is almost 100% if both ends of the seed are cut before sowing. Seeds germinate in 21–30 days at 21°C. After 3 months storage, germination decreased to 40%. In Assam, India sowing Plumbago zeylanica seeds in a nursery and transplanting into the field at a density of 60 Χ 60 cm has given good results. Plumbago zeylanica can be mass-produced using in vitro cultivation of nodal explants, axillary buds, leaf or root explants and callus cultures. The roots of the plants produced this way have a significantly higher content of plumbagin than control plants, and there is potential for commercial cultivation.
Plumbago zeylanica needs full sun to partial shade with intermediate to warm temperatures. The plants needs a slightly acidic potting mix. The plants are kept moist for optimum growth and flower production. They are fertilized weekly, which also helps flower production. After flowering, the plants should be cut back to keep them growing vigorously.
Diseases and pests
Plumbago zeylanica contains plumbagin, a natural insect antifeedant and growth inhibitor and is quite resistant to insect pests.
The yield of plumbagin from the root is variable, with an average of 4%. In Indian experiments, the largest and heaviest roots were obtained from 12–18-month-old plants grown in loamy soils, but in Assam the highest yield (7 t dry root/ha) was obtained when plants were harvested when 3 years old.
Handling after harvest
Leaf poultices of Plumbago zeylanica can be dried and stored for several weeks only, before they lose their vesicant properties. Dried roots contain less plumbagin and show less activity than fresh ones. Plumbagin is obtained from the roots by steam distillation and shaking the distillate with ether. Fine, bright orange tufts of plumbagin crystals are obtained after evaporating the ether. The crystals have a peculiar odour and a very acrid taste.
Genetic resources
Plumbago zeylanica has a wide distribution and is not in danger of genetic erosion. No germplasm collections or breeding programmes are known to exist.
Plumbago zeylanica is widely used for its medicinal properties in Africa, and many uses are being confirmed by scientific research. Although plumbagin may have medicinal potential, e.g. for its antimicrobial and antitumour activity, the use of plumbagin or plumbagin-containing plant material as medicine for humans is dangerous because of the high toxicity. Plumbagin may have potential as a compound in synthetic insecticides.
Major references
• Abebe, D. & Hagos, E., 1991. Plants as a primary source of drugs in the traditional health practices of Ethiopia. In: Engels, J.M.M., Hawkes, J.G. & Worede, M. (Editors). Plant genetic resources of Ethiopia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. pp. 101–113.
• Beg, A.Z. & Ahmad, I., 2000. Effect of Plumbago zeylanica extract and certain curing agents on multidrug resistant bacteria of clinical origin. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 16(8–9): 841–844.
• Bopaiah, C.P. & Pradhan, N., 2001. Central nervous system stimulatory action from the root extract of Plumbago zeylanica in rats. Phytotherapy Research 15(2): 153–156.
• Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Dhar, S.K. & Rao, P.G., 1995. Hormonal profile of plumbagin. Fitoterapia 66(5): 442–446.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nguyen, A.T., Malonne, H., Duez, P., Vanhaelen-Fastre, R., Vanhaelen, M. & Fontaine, J., 2004. Cytotoxic constituents from Plumbago zeylanica. Fitoterapia 75(5): 500–504.
• Ram, A.J., Bhakshu, L.M. & Raju, R.R.V., 2004. In vitro antimicrobial activity of certain medicinal plants from Eastern Ghats, India, used for skin diseases. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90(2–3): 353–357.
• Verma, P.C., Singh, D., Rahman, L.U., Gupta M.M. & Banerjee, S., 2002. In vitro-studies in Plumbago zeylanica: rapid micropropagation and establishment of higher plumbagin yielding hairy root cultures. Journal of Plant Physiology 159(5): 547–552.
• Wongsatit Chuakul, Noppamas Soonthornchareonnon & Promjit Saralamp, 1999. Plumbago L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 409–413.
Other references
• Ahmad, I., Mehmood, Z., Mohammad, F. & Ahmad, S., 2000-2001. Antimicrobial potency and synergistic activity of five traditionally used medicinal plants. Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Sciences 22–23: 173–176.
• Dai, Y., Hou, L.F., Chan, Y.P., Cheng, L. & But, P.H., 2004. Inhibition of immediate allergic reactions by ethanol extract from Plumbago zeylanica stems. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 27(3): 429–432.
• Gelfand, M., Mavi, S., Drummond, R.B. & Ndemera, B., 1985. The traditional medical practitioner in Zimbabwe: his principles of practice and pharmacopoeia. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe. 411 pp.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Sewraj, M., Guιho, J. & Dulloo, E., 1993. Medical ethnobotany of some weeds of Mauritius and Rodrigues. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 39(3): 177–185.
• Heine, B. & Heine, I., 1988. Plant concepts and plant use; an ethnobotanical survey of the semi-arid and arid lands of East Africa. Part 1. Plants of the Chamus (Kenya). Cologne Development Studies 6. Breitenbach, Saarbrόcken, Germany. 103 pp.
• Kanjilal, P.B., Jinu Devi, Rumi Kotoky & Singh, R.S., 2004. Production potential of Plumbago zeylanica L. under different harvest schedules and crop geometry. Journal of Spices and Aromatic Crops 13(2): 140–142.
• Karnick, C.R., Tiwari, K.C. & Majumber, R., 1982. Cultivation trials, pharmacognosy and ethnobotanical investigations of Plumbago zeylanica L. (chitraka) of the Indian system of medicine. International Journal of Crude Drug Research 20: 193–199.
• Kavimani, S., Ilango, R., Madheswaran, M., Jayakar, B., Gupta, M. & Majumdar, U.K., 1996. Antitumour activity of plumbagin against Dalton’s ascitic lymphoma. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 58(5): 194–196.
• Kini, D.P., Pandey, S., Shenoy, B.D., Singh, U.V., Udupa, N., Umadevi, P., Kamath, R., Nagarajkumari, Ramanarayan, K., 1997. Antitumor and antifertility activities of plumbagin controlled release formulations. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 35(4): 374–379.
• Kumar, M.S. & Banerji, A., 2002. Growth disruption in Opisina arenosella Walker by plumbagin, a natural occurring insect growth regulator. Insect Science and its Application 22(4): 321–323.
• Lemma, H., Debella, A., Addis, G., Kunert, O., Geyid, A., Teka, F. & Yersaw, K., 2002. Anti-bacterial activity of Plumbago zeylanica L. roots on some pneumonia causing pathogens. Ethiopian Journal of Science 25(2): 285–294.
• Lin, L.C., Yang, L.L. & Chou, C.J., 2003. Cytotoxic naphthoquinones and plumbagic acid glucosides from Plumbago zeylanica. Phytochemistry 62(4): 619–622.
• Menon, J.S., Amma, S.P. & Nybe, E.V., 2001. Analysis of growth and yield in Plumbago spp. Journal of Tropical Agriculture (India) 39(2): 114–119.
• Menon, J.S., Amma, S.P. & Nybe, E.V., 2001. Stimulation of seed germination in white flowered leadwort (Plumbago zeylanica L.). Journal of Tropical Agriculture (India) 39(2): 180–181.
• Olagunju, J.A., Kazeem, O.W. & Oyedapo, O.O., 2000. Further studies on the mechanism of carbohydrate intolerance induced in the rat by an ethanolic extract of Plumbago zeylanica. Pharmaceutical Biology 38(5): 362–366.
• Pernet, R. & Meyer, G., 1957. Pharmacopeι de Madagascar. Publications de l’Institut de Recherche Scientifique Tananarive-Tsimbazaza. Pierre Andrι Impr., Paris, France. 86 pp.
• Rout, G.R., 2002. Direct plant regeneration from leaf explants of Plumbago species and its genetic fidelity through RAPD markers. Annals of Applied Biology 140(3): 305–313.
• Tilak, J.C., Adhikari, S. & Devesagayam, T.P., 2004. Antioxidant properties of Plumbago zeylanica, an Indian medicinal plants and its active ingredient, plumbagin. Redox Report 9(4): 219–227.
• 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.
• Wilmot-Dear, C.M., 1976. Plumbaginaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 12 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Hepper, F.N., 1963. Plumbaginaceae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 305–306.
• Y. Mungwini
National Herbarium and Botanic Garden, Box A889, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe

• 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, Rιduit, 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:
Mungwini, Y., 2006. Plumbago zeylanica L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes mιdicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map planted and naturalized

flowering branch.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman