Articles

Pedilanthus tithymaloides (L.) Poit.

Botanical Name

Pedilanthus tithymaloides (L.) Poit. [5]

Synonyms

Euphorbia tithymaloides Linn. [5]

Family

Euphorbiaceae [5]

Vernacular Names

Malaysia Lelipan
Indonesia Penawar lipan, Penawar lilin, Pohon sig-sag
India Vilaayati-sher, Naagaphani, Naagadaman
China Yu dai gen
English Christmas candle, Fiddle flower, Devil’s backbone, Slipper flower, Japanese poinsettia, Redbird flower, Redbird cactus, Ipecacuanha.  [1] [2] [3] [4] [6]

Description

Pedilanthus tithymaloides is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family. The plant has abundance of milky white sap throughout. It is perennial shrub that can reach up to 2m tall. The stem is green, fleshy, erect and zigzag. The leaves are alternate, almost without petiole, green or green and white, oblong, measuring 10 cm x 5 cm with a keeled midrib. The flowers are small and borne terminally in clusters enclosed by red slipper-shaped bracts. The fruits are oval, trilobed seed capsule containing gray-brown seeds. [1]

Distribution

The plant is native to the West Indies, now distributed globally as ornamental. [2] [4]

Plant Use

The milky white sap is used to treat warts, leucoderma and venereal diseases in India. The root has emetic properties and in the West Indies it is used as an alternative to ipecacuanha. In Malaysia and Indonesia this plant is used to treat contusions, fracture and venomous bites especially centipede and scorpions. It is interesting to note that while the sap can cause irritation in the eye, a decoction of the plant is given orally as a remedy for conjunctivitis. [2] [6]

Toxic Parts

Milky juice from roots, stems and leaves. [1] [3] [4]

Toxin

Euphorbol and other diterpenes which are irritants and cocarcinogens. [1] [3]

Risk Management

The Euphorbiaceae in general seem to be a much feared plant in the west because of the irritation Caucasians experience when they come in contact with the latex. However, in the east these plants are known to have medicinal values and are planted in the village homes for the very purpose. People with sensitivity to this plant should avoid handling the plant. [1] [2] [3] [4] [6]

Clinical Findings

Upon ingestion, the juice produces irritation of the mouth and throat, vomiting and diarrhoea. Skin lesions in the form of irritation, inflammation and blistering can occur when coming in contact with the sap. In the eyes the sap can cause intensely painful irritation often followed by keratoconjunctivitis and temporary reduced visual acuity. The seeds on the other hand, can cause violent, persistent vomiting and drastic diarrhoea. [1] [3]

Management

Skin contact requires thorough washing with soap and water followed by application of mild steroid cream would suffice. In cases of eye contact continuous irrigation with clean water is important to reduce the irritation. It is advisable to seek medical attention immediately. Acute cases of ingestion of the plant may require fluid replacement therapy.[1] [3]

References

1. Nellis DW. Poisonous Plants & Animals of Florida and the Caribbean, Pineapple Press, Sarasota 1996 pg. 42, 182
2. Khare CP. Indian Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Dictionary, Springer, Berlin 2007 pg. 469
3. Lewis N, Richard DS, Michael JB, Kenneth FL. Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants. New York: New York Botanical Garden; 2007 pg. 231 – 232
4. Oakes AJ, Butcher JO. Poisonous and Injurous Plants of the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Washington DC 1962 pg. 80 – 81
5. Hanelt P. Mansfeld’s Encyclopedia of Agricultural anr Horticultural Crops, Springer, Berlin 2001, pg. 1236
6. Hariana HA. Tumbuhan Obat dan Khasiatnya Volume 2, Niaga Swadaya, Jakarta 2008 pg. 186 - 187