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Pycnocoma macrophylla Benth.

Hook., Niger Fl.: 508 (1849).
Origin and geographic distribution
Pycnocoma macrophylla is native from Sierra Leone and Liberia eastwards to Gabon and DR Congo.
All parts of Pycnocoma macrophylla are strongly purgative. Root bark, the most widely used plant part throughout West Africa, is not administered to children in Côte d’Ivoire because of its strong purgative action. In Ghana the stem bark is ground, mixed with water and lemon juice and drunk as an emetic. It is also used as a fish poison.
Highly active protein kinase C-agonizing compounds were isolated from the leaves and identified as esters of the diterpenoid 11,18-dehydro-phorbol and of 4,12-dideoxy-16-hydroxy-phorbol. These phorbol derivatives stimulated the central nervous system by markedly inhibiting amphetamine-induced locomotor activity in mice. A root extract exhibited antitumour activity in the P388 lymphocytic leukaemia test; scopoletin was found to be partly responsible for this effect.
Monoecious shrub up to 3 m tall; stems glabrous. Leaves alternate, clustered towards end of branches, simple; stipules falling early; petiole up to 1 cm long, glabrous; blade oblanceolate, 25–60 cm × 5–14 cm, base rounded to cordate, apex acuminate, margins entire, toothed or rarely lobed, glabrous, with 16–22 pairs of lateral veins, small pustules below and paired glands at lower surface towards the base. Inflorescence an axillary, solitary raceme 11–20 cm long with flowers in clusters of usually 3 male flowers and 1 terminal female flower; peduncle glabrous to densely short-hairy; bracts ovate, 4–8 mm long. Flowers unisexual, regular, with strong, repellent smell; petals absent; male flowers with pedicel 1.5–2.5 cm long, calyx lobes c. 6 mm long, stamens many, free, anthers small; female flowers with pedicel 2–7 mm long, calyx lobes 6–9 mm long, ovary superior, 2–3 mm in diameter, slightly 3-lobed, densely short-hairy, 3-celled, styles 3, fused below. Fruit a 3-lobed, 6-horned capsule c. 2 cm in diameter, glabrous to densely short-hairy, 3-seeded. Seeds globose, c. 13 mm in diameter, smooth, brown.
The growth of Pycnocoma macrophylla follows Corner’s architectural model implying that vegetative growth of a single meristem produces a single unbranched axis with lateral inflorescences.
Pycnocoma comprises about 18 species, all in tropical Africa. About 10 occur in DR Congo, several with a very localized distribution.
Pycnocoma angustifolia Prain occurs in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria and Pycnocoma cornuta Müll.Arg. occurs in Ghana and Nigeria. In Ghana intermediates between Pycnocoma macrophylla and these two species occur, indicating that they could well belong to a single species. Their medicinal uses are similar to those of Pycnocoma macrophylla.
Pycnocoma chevalieri Beille occurs in gallery forest in the Central African Republic, northern DR Congo, Sudan and Uganda. In DR Congo ground roots are added to wine and the mixture is drunk as an emetic. They are also eaten with palm nuts or rice as a purgative. In the Central African Republic the leaves are used as a cure for diabetes. Pycnocoma littoralis Pax is a vulnerable species restricted to the coastal belt of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. In Tanzania a root decoction is drunk to expel a retained placenta. Pycnocoma minor Müll.Arg. occurs in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. In Gabon the macerated roots are added to wine and the mixture is drunk as a diuretic. A root extract of Pycnocoma thonneri Pax, endemic to DR Congo, is drunk as an abortifacient, purgative and anthelmintic. Root scrapings are eaten to cure stomach-ache and to kill internal parasites. Root powder or leaf sap is applied as eye drops to stop convulsions in children. Root scrapings are applied as a dressing to counteract inflammation in the knee.
Pycnocoma macrophylla occurs in the undergrowth of forests. In DR Congo it is restricted to 500–750 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Pycnocoma macrophylla is widespread and not under serious threat.
More chemical and pharmacological research is needed to evaluate the potential of Pycnocoma macrophylla.
Major references
• Hawthorne, W. & Jongkind, C., 2006. Woody plants of western African forests: a guide to the forest trees, shrubs and lianes from Senegal to Ghana. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 1023 pp.
• Léonard, J., 1996. Euphorbiaceae (troisième partie). In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 74 pp.
Other references
• Adjanohoun, E.J. & Aké Assi, L., 1979. Contribution au recensement des plantes médicinales de Côte d’Ivoire. Centre National de Floristique, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. 358 pp.
• Apema, A.K.R., Abeye, J., Salamate, F.M.L. & Mozouloua, D., 2007. Contribution à l’inventaire des plantes médicinales utilisées dans le traitement du diabète par les tradipraticiens à Bangui. In: Achoundong, G. (Editor). Book of abstracts of the 18th AETFAT Congress, 26 February–2 March 2007, Yaoundé, Cameroon. p. 94.
• Bergquist, K.-E., Obianwu, H. & Wickberg, B., 1989. Isolation and structure determination of a novel phorbol derivative in an intramolecular diester macrolide. Journal of the Chemical Society: Chemical Communications 1989: 183–184.
• Hallé, F., Oldeman, R.A.A. & Tomlinson, P.B., 1978. Tropical trees and forests: an architectural analysis. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 441 pp.
• Hulstaert, G., 1966. Notes de Botanique Mongo. Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-mer, Classe des Sciences Naturelles et Médicales, N.S. 15–3, Bruxelles, Belgium. 213 pp.
• Léonard, J., 1996. Révision des espèces zaïroises du genre Pycnocoma Benth. (Euphorbiaceae). Bulletin du Jardin Botanique National de Belgique 65: 37–72.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2004. Plants used for poison fishing in tropical Africa. Toxicon 44(4): 417–430.
• Vergiat, A.M., 1970. Plantes magiques et médicinales des féticheurs de l’Oubangui (Région de Bangui). Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 17: 295–339.
C.H. Bosch
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

Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2008. Pycnocoma macrophylla Benth. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.