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Thevetia peruviana (Pers.) K.Schum.

Engl. & Prantl, Nat. Pflanzenfam. IV, 2: 159 (1895).
Chromosome number
2n = 20
Thevetia neriifolia Juss. ex Steud. (1841), Cascabela thevetia (L.) Lippold (1980).
Vernacular names
Yellow oleander, lucky nut tree, trumpet flower, milk bush, exile tree, be-still tree (En). Laurier jaune des Indes, laurier à fleurs jaunes, chapeau de Napoleon, bois à lait (Fr). Loendro amarelo, chapéu de Napoleão (Po). Mbagi (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Thevetia peruviana originates from tropical America and is widely cultivated throughout the tropics as an ornamental, also in tropical Africa.
Thevetia peruviana is used medicinally throughout the tropics in spite of its toxicity. A bark or leaf decoction is taken to loosen the bowels, as an emetic, and is said to be an effective cure for intermittent fevers. In Senegal water in which leaves and bark were macerated is taken to cure amenorrhoea. In Mali the latex is applied to soften corns and calluses. In Côte d’Ivoire and Benin the leaf sap is used as eye drops and nose drops to cure violent headaches; the leaf sap is also dropped in the nostrils to revive people that have fainted and to cure colds. In Kenya the Luo people use water in which leaves have been crushed to treat colds. The seeds may be used as a purgative. The seed oil is applied externally in India to treat skin infections. Care should be taken in all medical applications, in particular those used internally, as toxic doses are only a little higher than therapeutic ones. In Benin and Uganda an infusion of the roots is taken to treat snakebites. In Ghana the leaves in decoction are taken to treat jaundice, fever and as a purgative for intestinal worms. The bark and seeds are used to poison rats, and also for criminal purposes. In southern Africa and Cameroon the seeds are used as an arrow or ordeal poison. In India and Sri Lanka, seeds have been used for committing suicide or homicide. Other reports state the use of the seeds as an abortifacient. The seeds act as a contact poison; mashed with a soap solution they are used as an insecticide.
In Ghana and Uganda the wood is used to make tool handles and building poles. It is also used as fuel. The fruit pulp is sometimes eaten. The foliage is not grazed by stock, and the plants make a useful live fence. Thevetia peruviana is widely planted as an ornamental in gardens, and also as a hedge. In cooler climates it can be grown in tubs in the glasshouse and outdoors in summer. It is also planted for shade or for soil conservation. After purification, the originally poisonous seed oil is suitable for consumption.
Production and international trade
Thevetia peruviana is usually cultivated in home gardens for use in local medicine and as an ornamental. The plants do not enter international trade in Africa.
Most parts of Thevetia peruviana, including the latex , are highly toxic; the seeds most highly so. The active principles are cardiac glycosides of the cardenolide type. The poison mainly affects the cardiovascular system (causing various types of arrhythmia, e.g. sinus bradycardia) and the gastro-intestinal tract. Vomiting is a common symptom of poisoning in about 30% of all cases; ischaemic changes (restrictions in the blood supply) occur in about 40%, and palpitations in about 10%. The most serious and immediate cause leading to death is peripheral vascular failure.
The cardiac glycosides of Thevetia peruviana are triosides or monosides, i.e. they contain an aglycone unit combined with 3 or 1 sugar moieties, respectively. These aglycones are either digitoxigenin or the related cannogenin or cannogenol. The trioside thevetin is the major component of the seeds. It is a mixture of cerberoside (thevetin B) and thevetin A in a 2:1 ratio. Monosides isolated from the seeds include neriifolin, cerberin (2’-O-acetylneriifolin), peruvoside (cannogenin-thevioside), ruvoside (cannogenol-thevioside) and perubosidic acid (perusitin).
Peruvoside has been investigated most thoroughly. Preliminary work on the cardiotonic effect showed that it exerts a quick and powerful positive inotropic effect in experimental animals, comparable to that of ouabain. In therapeutic doses, peruvoside produced a fall in right atrial pressure, and a rise in the cardiac output. Furthermore, it was found that peruvoside inhibited Na+,K+-ATPase activity and that it has a strong competitive inhibition on (3H)-ouabain binding to this enzyme. The inhibitory effects on the enzyme activity were stronger than the positive inotropic effect.
Large-scale clinical trials have shown that all forms of cardiac insufficiency can be successfully treated with peruvoside, and compensation can be maintained during continuous therapy in about 85% of the patients. However, peruvoside is no longer used in Western medicine because of the difficult dosage, small difference between therapeutic and toxic dosage, and poor bioavailability because of rapid breakdown. The use of peruvoside in anti-herpes drugs has been patented.
Of the other cardiac glycosides of Thevetia peruviana, the mixture thevetin is practically identical in effect with ouabain, but much less potent. It has been effectively used clinically in cases of cardiac decompensation, although its effective dose is rather close to its toxic dose. As a cardiac glycoside, cerberoside (thevetin B) is much more potent than thevetin A and the related monosides neriifolin and cerberin.
From the leaves, a range of flavanone glycosides and flavonol glycosides have been isolated, and several of them have shown inhibitory effects against HIV-1 reverse transcriptase and HIV-1 integrase.
The seed oil has shown strong antibacterial activity, especially against Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus. Different leaf extracts and seed extracts have shown strong antifeedant effects on slugs and insects (including termites) when sprayed on crops and also significant nematicidal activities. The leaf extract was also toxic to Rhizoctonia solani.
The seed contains 57–63% oil, which after purification consists mainly of oleic acid (60%), palmitic acid (16%), stearic acid (11%), linolenic acid (7%) and linoleic acid (5%). The oil can be detoxified and could serve as vegetable oil for domestic use.
Adulterations and substitutes
Cardiac glycosides are present in several other genera of Apocynaceae, e.g. Cerbera and Strophanthus. Cerberoside (thevetin B) is for instance found in Cerbera odollam Gaertn.
In current medicine, cardiac glycosides are only applied in special forms of heart disease. In the Western world, the drug of choice is in general digoxin from Digitalis lanata Ehrh., or in acute situations strophanthins (e.g. ouabain) from Strophanthus spp. Although peruvoside has similar effects, it does not play a significant role in medicine.
Shrub or small tree up to 8 m tall; branchlets glabrous, with grey bark and white latex. Leaves arranged spirally, simple and entire, almost sessile; stipules absent; blade linear-lanceolate, 6–15 cm × 0.5–1 cm, base decurrent into the short petiole, apex long-acuminate, leathery, lateral veins obscure. Inflorescence a terminal or seemingly axillary cyme, few-flowered; bracts small, linear. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, faintly fragrant; pedicel 1–2 cm long; sepals ovate, c. 1 cm long, acute, spreading; corolla tube trumpet-shaped, 35–45 cm long, corona lobes small, densely pubescent, alternating with the stamens, corolla lobes broadly oblong, c. 3 cm long, overlapping, yellow to peachy pink, rarely white; stamens inserted near apex of corolla tube, included, anthers almost sessile; ovary superior, consisting of 2 carpels fused in lower half, style long and slender, pistil head consisting of a 5-ridged basal part and a cone-shaped apex. Fruit a depressed-globose to turnip-shaped drupe 3–4 cm in diameter, yellowish green, ripening black, 2–4-seeded within the stony endocarp. Seeds obovoid, c. 2 cm × 1.5 cm, flattened. Seedling with epigeal germination.
Other botanical information
Thevetia comprises 8 species and is related to Cerbera, which also has spirally arranged leaves and drupe-like fruits, but differs in its fruit consisting of 2 free parts. In 1980 it was proposed to transfer all Thevetia species except Thevetia ahouai (L.) DC. to Cascabela and the name Cascabela thevetia (L.) Lippold was published for Thevetia peruviana. However, this concept has not been generally accepted.
Growth and development
In areas without a seasonal climate Thevetia peruviana flowers and fruits throughout the year, but with a peak in flowering during the rainy season. The ripe fruits remain on the plant for a long time. The plant coppices well. It shades out neighbouring plants and its litter is allelopathic.
In its native habitat, Thevetia peruviana is found in evergreen lowland or riparian forest, at 50–200 m altitude. It is tolerant of drought and moderately tolerant of salt.
Propagation and planting
Thevetia peruviana can be propagated by seed or cuttings. Cultivars are propagated by semi-ripe cuttings of terminal shoots or by stem sections. Seed can be stored for up to 3 months before sowing; the germination rate is about 80%. There are about 300 seeds/kg. In-vitro propagation by direct shoot morphogenesis without any intermediate callus phase is also possible. This method may be used for mass propagation of superior plant material.
Thevetia peruviana is grown in full sun or light shade, in fertile, well-drained loamy soils with additional leaf mould, but it will grow in rather poor and dry soils as well. The plants are shallow-rooted and should be protected from strong winds. Stem tips of young plants are pinched out to encourage a bushy habit, and established plants are pruned to shape and size after flowering or shortly before the growing season to induce profuse flowering.
Diseases and pests
In Ghana Thevetia peruviana is the preferred host of the parasitic weed Cuscuta sp . Under glass, scale insects, mealy bug, red spider mite and aphids may be pests.
The plant parts used can be harvested whenever the need arises.
One plant produces 400–800 fruits/year, depending on rainfall and plant age.
Handling after harvest
Ripe fruits of Thevetia peruviana are sun-dried and split to obtain the seeds.
Genetic resources
The widespread cultivation of Thevetia peruviana as an ornamental throughout the tropics minimizes the risk of genetic erosion.
A selection of ornamental Thevetia peruviana with white flowers is traded as cv. ‘Alba’.
As digitalis and ouabain are preferred to peruvoside in heart medicine, it is unlikely that Thevetia peruviana will become an important medicinal resource. Because of the toxicity of all parts of the plant, its use in traditional medicine should be discouraged. Its potential as an ornamental is brighter.
Major references
• Arbonnier, M., 2002. Arbres, arbustes et lianes des zones sèches d’Afrique de l’Ouest. CIRAD, MNHN, UICN. 573 pp.
• Gulati, A., Jain, S.K. & Srivastava, P.S., 2000. Experimental studies on Thevetia neriifolia Juss - a review. Indian Journal of Chemistry Section B, Organic including Medicinal 39(11): 808–812.
• Ibiyemi, S.A., Fadipe, V.O., Akinremi, O.O. & Bako, S.S., 2002. Variation in oil composition of Thevetia peruviana Juss. ‘Yellow Oleander’ fruit seeds. Journal of Applied Sciences & Environmental Management 6(2): 61–65.
• 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.
• Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. & Rudjiman, 2005. Apocynacées. In: Autry, J.C., Bosser, J. & Ferguson, I.K. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 121–126. Institut de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement, Paris, France, Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 31 pp.
• Lippold, H., 1980. Die Gattungen Thevetia L., Cerbera L. und Cascabela Rafin. (Apocynaceae). Feddes Repertorium 91(1–2): 45–55.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Horsten, S.F.A.J., 2001. Thevetia peruviana (Pers.) K. Schum. 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. 544–546.
Other references
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Floret, J.J., Guinko, S., Koumaré, M., Ahyi, M.R.A. & Raynal, J., 1979. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Mali. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 291 pp.
• Adjei, R., 2003. A survey of Apocynaceae in ethnomedicinal practices in some locations of southern Ghana. B.Sc. Biology Degree Thesis, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana. 71 pp.
• Bose, T.K., Basu, R.K., Biswas, B., De, J.N., Majumdar, B.C. & Datta, S., 1999. Cardiovascular effects of yellow oleander ingestion. Journal of the Indian Medical Association 97(10): 407–410.
• Damiano, C., Ferraiolo, G. & Baudoin, W.O., 2000. Ornamental plant propagation in the tropics. FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper 158. 79 pp.
• Geissler, P.W., Harris, S.A., Prince, R.J., Olsen, A., Achieng’ Odhiambo, R., Oketch-Rabah, H., Madiega, P.A., Andersen, A. & Mølgaard, P., 2002. Medicinal plants used by Luo mothers and children in Bondo district, Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 83: 39–54.
• Heloo, P.I.K., 2000. Preliminary studies on the distribution and haustorial anatomy of Cassytha filiformis L. and Cuscuta sinensis L. in three coastal regions of Ghana. B.Sc. Biology Degree Thesis, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana. 32 pp.
• Latham, P., 2004. Useful plants of Bas-Congo province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. DFID, London, United Kingdom. 320 pp.
• Saxena, V.K. & Jain, S.K., 1990. Thevetia peruviana kernel oil: a potential bactericidal agent. Fitoterapia 61(4): 348–349.
• Tabuti, J.R.S., Lye, K.A. & Dhillion, S.S., 2003. Traditional herbal drugs of Bulamogi, Uganda: plants, use and administration. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88: 19–44.
• van Wyk, B.E., van Heerden, F. & van Oudtshoorn, B., 2002. Poisonous plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 288 pp.
• Ye, Y.X. & Yang, X.R., 1990. Inhibitory action of peruvoside and neriifolin on sodium potassium ATPase. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica 11(6): 491–494.
Sources of illustration
• van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Horsten, S.F.A.J., 2001. Thevetia peruviana (Pers.) K. Schum. 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. 544–546.
G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Based on PROSEA 12(2): ‘Medicinal and poisonous plants 2’.

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., 2006. Thevetia peruviana (Pers.) K.Schum. 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 and fruiting branch; 2, frontal view of flower.
Source: PROSEA

plant habit

planted as a hedge


flower and fruit


sectioned fruit