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Shirakiopsis elliptica (Hochst.) Esser

Kew Bull. 56: 1018 (2001).
Sapium ellipticum (Hochst.) Pax & K.Hoffm. (1912), Shirakia elliptica (Hochst.) Kruijt (1996).
Origin and geographic distribution
Shirakiopsis elliptica occurs from Senegal east to Ethiopia and Kenya, and south to South Africa.
In Côte d’Ivoire and Congo Shirakiopsis elliptica is considered very poisonous and a very drastic purgative. A decoction of the leafy twigs is only occasionally taken orally to treat leprosy and ascites, in a similar way as extracts of Excoecaria grahamii Stapf. Externally, the extract is applied against Guinea worm sores. A leaf decoction is taken to treat elephantiasis. A leaf extract is applied to abdominal swellings and used as eye drops to treat eye diseases. In Tanzania the Shambaa people apply a paste made from powdered dried twigs with water to wounds infested with maggots. Leaf preparations are applied to treat pain in the chest, shoulders, back and head. In the Central African Republic the Lissongo people use a bark decoction as a mouthwash to treat stomatitis and scurvy. In DR Congo a bark decoction is used as a strong enema to treat abdominal pain. A stem bark infusion is taken to treat scabies and eczema. In Burundi a leaf or stem bark decoction is taken to treat anaemia and persistent headache, and also as an emetic. The bark latex is added to arrow poison based on Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf. A root decoction is drunk to mature abscesses. The pulped roots in water are taken as a cure for stammering. The leaf or root juice is taken to treat fever, cough and colds; a leaf or root bark decoction or infusion is taken to treat colic. A decoction of leaves or roots, or the ash is applied to rheumatic parts of the body. In Kenya a root decoction is taken to treat cough. In Uganda crushed leaves and roots are applied to mumps. A root decoction is laxative and drunk to cure malaria and intestinal worms. In Zambia the grated roots are boiled and applied as a hot poultice on enlarged spleen in small children.
The sweet fruits are eaten in Nigeria and Tanzania. As the latex of the plant is considered poisonous, the consumption of the fruits merits caution. The white wood is tough. It is used for construction purposes, but not for roofs as it is not durable and easily damaged by borers and fungi. It is also used to make tool handles, farm implements, maize storage huts, mortars, spoons, bowls, cups and drums, and as firewood and to make charcoal. The leaves are rich in protein and are used as fodder for livestock, especially in East Africa. Shirakiopsis elliptica is occasionally used as shade tree and ornamental. In DR Congo an edible mushroom grows from the rotting trunk. The latex from the young twigs is sticky and caustic. It is used as bird lime and to create body markings.
Almost nothing is known concerning the chemistry and pharmacology of Shirakiopsis elliptica. Preliminary tests on whole plants showed the presence of tannins and alkaloids. Crude bark extracts showed moderate bactericidal activity in vitro against Campylobacter jejuni.
The fruits contain carotenes and ascorbic acid.
Monoecious, much-branched shrub or small tree up to 15(–40) m tall; bole up to 100 cm in diameter, branchless for up to 12 m, often fluted; bark surface pale brown, reddish to almost black, smooth to rough, inner bark dirty yellow to orange or brown; young twigs sparsely hairy, soon glabrous, with milky latex. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules triangular-ovate, c. 2.5 mm long, soon falling; petiole up to 1.5 cm long, channeled above; blade elliptical, elliptical-oblong to oblanceolate, 4–17 cm × 1.5–7.5 cm, base cuneate to rounded with 2–4 glands, apex rounded to acute or acuminate, margin shallowly toothed, glossy and dark green above, reddish brown when young, turning red on falling, glabrous or sparsely hairy on veins beneath. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal spike-like raceme on lateral shoots, up to 12 cm long, with numerous male flowers and 1–3 female flowers at base. Flowers unisexual, regular, petals absent, disk absent; male flowers with pedicel 1–1.5 mm long, sepals 2–3, broadly ovate, c. 0.5 mm long, pale green, stamens 2(–3), free, shortly exserted; female flowers with pedicel 1.5–4 mm long, extending in fruit to 1–2 cm, sepals 2–3, triangular-ovate, 1–1.5 mm long, yellowish, ovary superior, 2-lobed, c. 1.5 mm long, smooth, 2-celled, styles 2(–4), 2–3 mm long, fused at base, coiled, green, persistent. Fruit a 2-lobed and laterally compressed drupe 8–15 mm × 6–8 mm, topped by the styles, smooth, green, turning yellowish then purple or black, slightly fleshy, 2-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid to almost globose, 5–5.5 mm in diameter, smooth, yellowish brown.
Other botanical information
Shirakiopsis belongs to the tribe Hippomaneae and comprises 6 species, 3 in South-East Asia and 3 in tropical Africa. It is based on species formerly included in Sapium and later transferred to Shirakia. A few African Shirakia spp. were found to be congeneric with the Asian Shirakiopsis species. The African species mainly differ from the Asian ones in usually having much smaller and 2-celled fruits. Shirakiopsis aubrevillei (Leandri) Esser (synonyms: Sapium aubrevillei Leandri, Shirakia aubrevillei (Leandri) Kruijt) occurs from Sierra Leone to Ghana. It is listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of threatened species, because of habitat loss. A root decoction is taken in Côte d’Ivoire as an aphrodisiac. The third African species, Shirakiopsis trilocularis (Pax & K.Hoffm.) Esser is endemic to Kenya and also listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
Wood-anatomical description (IAWA hardwood codes):
Growth rings: 2: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent. Vessels: 5: wood diffuse-porous; 13: simple perforation plates; 22: intervessel pits alternate; (23: shape of alternate pits polygonal); 27: intervessel pits large ( 10 μm); 30: vessel-ray pits with distinct borders; similar to intervessel pits in size and shape throughout the ray cell; 31: vessel-ray pits with much reduced borders to apparently simple: pits rounded or angular; 41: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 50–100 μm; 42: mean tangential diameter of vessel lumina 100–200 μm; 46: 5 vessels per square millimetre; (56: tyloses common). Tracheids and fibres: 61: fibres with simple to minutely bordered pits; 66: non-septate fibres present; (68: fibres very thin-walled); 69: fibres thin- to thick-walled. Axial parenchyma: 76: axial parenchyma diffuse; 77: axial parenchyma diffuse-in-aggregates; 78: axial parenchyma scanty paratracheal; 93: eight (5–8) cells per parenchyma strand. Rays: 96: rays exclusively uniseriate; 105: all ray cells upright and/or square; 109: rays with procumbent, square and upright cells mixed throughout the ray; 115: 4–12 rays per mm; 116: 12 rays per mm. Mineral inclusions: 159: silica bodies present; 160: silica bodies in ray cells.
(D. Louppe, P. Détienne & E.A. Wheeler)
Growth and development
In the Sahel region Shirakiopsis elliptica flowers at the beginning of the dry season; in East Africa it flowers in April and May and fruits from July to September.
Shirakiopsis elliptica occurs in savanna and secondary open forest, evergreen forest, fringing forest and swamp forest, from sea-level up to 2200 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Shirakiopsis elliptica can be multiplied by wildlings and seed. The ripe fruits are collected and cracked to release the seeds. The seed is sown directly in the field as transplanting is difficult; pre-treatment is not necessary. The seeds can be stored for a long period in a container in a cool and dry room without loss of viability.
Shirakiopsis elliptica can be managed by coppicing, pollarding and lopping.
Diseases and pests
The seeds in the fruits of Shirakiopsis elliptica are often damaged by insects. The fruits are sometimes galled.
Genetic resources
Shirakiopsis elliptica has a scattered, irregular distribution in tropical Africa, and has become rare in some areas as a result of habitat degradation, but there are no indications that it is threatened by genetic erosion.
Despite its toxicity, Shirakiopsis elliptica has numerous local medicinal uses throughout its distribution area. As virtually nothing is known concerning its chemistry and pharmacology, research seems warranted to evaluate its potential. More research needs to be effected as well concerning the toxicity or palatability of the fruits, as its consumption by humans could be hazardous.
Major 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.
• Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
• Esser, H.-J., 2001. New combinations in African Shirakiopsis (Euphorbiaceae). Kew Bulletin 56: 1017–1018.
• Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1995. Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 10. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 710 pp.
• Lovett, J.C., Ruffo, C.K., Gereau, R.E. & Taplin, J.R.D., 2006. Field guide to the moist forest trees of Tanzania. [Internet] Centre for Ecology Law and Policy, Environment Department, University of York, York, United Kingdom. res/celp/webpages/projects/ecology/ tree%20guide/guide.htm. Accessed February 2007.
• Maundu, P. & Tengnäs, B. (Editors), 2005. Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre - East and Central Africa Regional Programme (ICRAF-ECA), Technical Handbook 35, Nairobi, Kenya. 484 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 1998. Afrikanische Arzneipflanzen und Jagdgifte. Chemie, Pharmakologie, Toxikologie. 2nd Edition. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Stuttgart, Germany. 960 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1987. Euphorbiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 407 pp.
• Udoessien, E.I. & Ifon, E.T., 1992. Chemical evaluation of the nutritive value of the fruit of Sapium ellipticum (Hochst.) Pax. Tropical Science 32(2): 109–113.
Other references
• Arbonnier, M., 2002. Arbres, arbustes et lianes des zones sèches d’Afrique de l’Ouest. CIRAD, MNHN, UICN. 573 pp.
• InsideWood, undated. [Internet] Accessed May 2007.
• Léonard, J., 1962. Euphorbiaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 8, 1. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. 214 pp.
• Roothaert, R.L., 2000. The potential of indigenous and naturalized fodder trees and shrubs for intensive use in central Kenya. PhD thesis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 168 pp.
• Sekatuba, J., Kugonza, J., Wafula, D., Musukwe, W. & Okorio, J., 2004. Identification of indigenous tree and shrub fodder species in lake Victoria shore region of Uganda. Uganda Journal of Agricultural Sciences 9: 372–378.
• Tan, P.V., Boda, M., Sonké, B., Etoa, F.-X. & Nyasse, B., 2006. Susceptibility of Helicobacter and Campylobacter to crude extracts prepared from plants used in Cameroonian folk medicine. Pharmacology Online 3: 877–891.
• Yamada, T., 1999. A report of the ethnobotany of the Nyindu in the eastern part of the former Zaire. African Study Monographs 20(1): 1–72.
G.H. Schmelzer
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
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Shirakiopsis elliptica (Hochst.) Esser. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

tree habit

leafy branches

flowering branch
obtained from
B. Wursten

flowering branches
obtained from
B. Wursten