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Spondianthus preussii Engl.

Bot. Jahrb. 36: 216 (1905).
Chromosome number
2n = 26, 52
Origin and geographic distribution
Spondianthus preussii occurs from Guinea east to Sudan, and south to Angola and Mozambique.
All parts of Spondianthus preussii are extremely poisonous, and medicinal uses are scarce. A strongly diluted leaf decoction is sometimes drunk to treat fever. A bark decoction is used as mouthwash to treat toothache. It is also taken to treat stomach-ache and pains during pregnancy. A bark maceration is applied to snakebites. Rice, meat or fish cooked with the bark, bark sap or pulverized seeds are widely used in baits to kill rodents and stray dogs. The plant is considered too poisonous to use as arrow poison as the poison spreads too easily through the meat; however, in Côte d’Ivoire it has sometimes been used in hunting elephants. Pulverized twig bark and seeds are added to drinks for criminal purposes. The bark sap is also used as fish poison. The poisonous leaves are particularly dangerous to cattle; the animals may die suddenly several hours later without any symptoms. Drying the leaves removes the toxicity. In southern Nigeria the Yoruba people use the fruit in a ceremony to cure certain cough ailments.
The heartwood is brownish, strongly speckled, hard and heavy. The wood is used for construction and implements. In Uganda the trunk is used to make dugout canoes. As the wood is dense and slow burning, the charcoal is popular with blacksmiths in southern Nigeria.
Production and international trade
Stem bark of Spondianthus preussi is traded at a local level in Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon, where it is commonly in stock in local markets. Its main use is as a rodenticide. The price per kg of bark is US$ 1.20–1.50. The quantity traded is not known.
The leaves and stem bark contain the extremely hazardous, very toxic and volatile monofluoroacetic acid, as well as saponins, flavonoids and tannins. From the stem bark several toxic tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins were isolated, including cucurbitacin L, A2 and E. From an alcoholic extract of the stem bark the lupane-type triterpene betulinic acid (3β-hydroxy-lup-20(29)-en-28-oic acid) and several derivatives, as well as oxalic acid were isolated. An ethyl acetate extract of the stem bark exhibited selective in-vitro antitumour activity against human melanoma. The active compound was found to be betulinic acid. This compound has a range of biological activities including in-vivo and in-vitro antitumour and antiplasmodial activity, it is not toxic and plays an important role in pharmacological research. It is commercially extracted from Betula pubescens Ehrh.
Adulterations and substitutes
The stem bark of Erythrophleum suaveolens (Guill. & Perr.) Brenan is sometimes used as a substitute for the stem bark of Spondianthus preussii.
Dioecious medium-sized tree up 30(–60) m tall; bole up to 150 cm in diameter, low-branching, with or without stilt-roots; bark surface smooth or slightly scaly, dark brown, inner bark reddish, exuding red sap. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules small; petiole 0.5–11.5 cm long; blade elliptical to broadly elliptical-ovate, 3–35 cm × 1.5–18 cm, base cuneate to rounded, apex obtuse to acute, glabrous, reddish when young. Inflorescence an erect, terminal or axillary panicle up to 10 cm long; bracts elliptical-ovate to lanceolate, 2–5 mm long. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5-merous, sepals broadly ovate, c. 1 mm long, whitish, pinkish tinged, petals elliptical-ovate, c. 0.5 mm long, 2–3-toothed; male flowers almost sessile, stamens 1.5 mm long; female flowers with pedicel 1–10 mm long, ovary superior, c. 2 mm long, 3-celled, styles 3, c. 1 mm long. Fruit an ovoid to ellipsoid capsule 1.5–2 cm × 1–1.5 cm, smooth, greenish becoming purplish black, 3-seeded. Seeds compressed ovoid-ellipsoid, c. 1 cm long, smooth, bright red, often remaining attached to the central axis after dehiscence.
Other botanical information
Spondianthus comprises a single species, in which 2 widely distributed varieties with different ecological preferences are recognized, var. preussii with hairy inflorescences, occurring in humid rainforest, swamp forest and lagoon forest at low altitudes from Liberia east to DR Congo, and var. glaber (Engl.) Engl. with glabrous inflorescences, mainly occurring in drier areas, often in fringing forest and swamp forest, from Guinea east to Sudan and Uganda and south to Angola and Mozambique.
Spondianthus preussii occurs in humid rainforest, riverine forest, swamp forest and fringing forest, from sea-level up to 1800 m altitude. It prefers sandy-loamy soils and an annual rainfall of 1000–1600 mm.
Propagation and planting
Spondianthus preussii is propagated by seed. As the number of seeds available for propagation is limited, work is in progress at CENRAD, Nigeria to find good methods of vegetative propagation.
For medicinal purposes, bark is harvested in strips or in patches.
Handling after harvest
The bark is thoroughly sun-dried before storing in a dry and cool place. The bark needs to be checked regularly because it is liable to fungal attack.
Genetic resources
Spondianthus preussii is probably liable to genetic erosion in West Africa due to deforestation.
Spondianthus preussii will remain locally important as a source of rodenticide for use in rural and urban environments. Much work is being done on the pharmacological properties of betulinic acid and derivatives from it. Although betulinic acid is not rare in plants, further research into the chemical compounds of Spondianthus preussii seems worthwile.
Major references
• Abo, K.A. & Kinghorn, A.D., 2003. Isolation of an anti-tumour terpenoid from stem bark of Spondianthus preussii var. preussii Engl. African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences 32(2): 179–182.
• 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.
• Léonard, J. & Nkounkou, J., 1989. Révision du genre Spondianthus Engl. (Euphorbiacée africaine). Bulletin du Jardin Botanique National de Belgique 59: 133–149.
• 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.
• Séré, A., Kamgué, R.T., Aké Assi, L. & Ba, A.C., 1982. Spondianthus preussii Engl. var. preussii, plante toxique pour le bétail africain. Extraction et dosage de l’acide monofluoroacétique, principe actif. Revue d’Elevage et de Médecine vétérinaire des Pays tropicaux 35(1): 73–82.
Other references
• Adebisi, A.A. & Ladipo, D.O., 2000. Market survey of the barks of forest trees of phytomedicinal importance in southern Nigeria. Journal of Tropical Ethnoforestry 3(1): 107–122.
• 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.
• Gassita, J.N., Nze Ekekang, L., De Vecchy, H., Louis, A.M., Koudogbo, B. & Ekomié, R. (Editors), 1982. Les plantes médicinales du Gabon. CENAREST, IPHAMETRA, mission ethnobotanique de l’ACCT au Gabon, 10–31 juillet 1982. 26 pp.
• Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.
• Kamgue, R.T., Sylla, O., Pousset, J.L., Laurens, A., Brunet, J.C. & Séré, A., 1979. Isolation and characterization of toxic principles from Spondianthus preussii var. glaber Engler. Plantes Médicinales et Phytothérapie 13(4): 252–259.
• 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.
• Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
• Sandberg, F., Dutschewska, H., Christov, V. & Spassov, S., 1987. Spondianthus preussii var. glaber Engler: pharmacological screening and occurrence of triterpenes. Acta Pharmaceutica Suecica 24(5): 253–256.
• Tessier, A.M. & Paris, R.R., 1978. Study of some African toxic Euphorbiaceae containing cucurbitacins. Toxicological European Research 1(5): 329–336.
Sources of illustration
• Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1987. Euphorbiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 407 pp.
M.O. Soladoye
P.O. Box 2029, Dugbe, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria
A.A. Adebisi
Centre for Environment, Renewable Natural Resources Management, Research and Development (CENRAD), P.M.B. 5052, Jericho Hills, Ibadan, Nigeria

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:
Soladoye, M.O. & Adebisi, A.A., 2008. Spondianthus preussii Engl. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, flowering branch; 2, fruit; 3, seed.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman