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DRACAENACEAE

(Dragon Tree family)

 

• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: Some traditional dermatologic and ophthalmic uses have been documented, but with no clear pattern of usage across traditions. •
• Adverse effects: The presence of minute calcium oxalate raphide crystals as well as saponins in many species renders them potentially capable of causing irritation (micro-trauma resembling glass-fibre-induced dermatitis) when brought into contact with the skin or eyes. However, the dermatologic hazard presented by these plants is evidently low as judged by the scarcity of case reports to be found in the literature. Several Dasylirion species have dangerously sharp spines on their leaves, which are capable of inflicting mechanical injury. •
• Veterinary aspects: The flowering and fruiting stems of certain Nolina species growing in southern North America have caused a severe hepatotoxicosis in grazing animals, which is characterised by icterus, an itching photodermatitis, and swelling of the skin. •

Until recently, the 220 species in 6 genera that now comprise the Dracaenaceae were considered to belong in the Agavaceae family. They occur naturally in south-western North America and throughout the tropics, being particularly well represented in Africa. The principal genera are Sansevieria Thunb. and Dracaena Vand. ex L., which account for 100+ and 60 species respectively (Mabberley 1997). Some authorities place the genus Cordyline Comm. ex R. Br. in the Asteliaceae and Dracaena in the Xanthorrhoeaceae.

Representatives from all 6 genera are to be found in cultivation, being grown as indoor or outdoor ornamentals. Many are popular houseplants (Hunt 1968/70).



Cordyline cannifolia R. Br.
(syns Cordyline terminalis Kunth var cannifolia Baker, Sansevieria cannifolia Sprengel)
Palm Lily

Griffin & Maunwongyathi (1969) observed bundles of calcium oxalate needle-crystals (raphides) in the leaves of this species. The dimensions of the raphides were not reported (see also Cordyline fruticosa below).



Cordyline fruticosa Goeppert
(syns Cordyline terminalis Kunth, Dracaena terminalis L., Asparagus terminalis L.)
Goodluck Plant, Polynesian Ti Plant, Tree of Kings, Red Dracaena

This commonly grown house plant is known to contain saponin. Its fresh juice is said to successfully treat skin ailments, eye strain, and particularly eye inflammation (Griffin & Maunwongyathi 1969). Perry & Metzger (1980) document a number of other folk-medicinal uses of this plant. For example, in Sumatra, the leaves warmed over a fire were placed on wounds inflicted by stinging fish; and on Tami Island in Oceania, the juice was dripped on cuts and bruises.

The leaves of this species contain bundles of calcium oxalate raphides, the individual crystals of which being sharply pointed at both ends, and measuring 40–50 μm in length and about 2 μm in diameter (Schmidt RJ 1981 — unpublished observation). Heisel & Hunt (1968), in a study of cutaneous reactions to glass fibres of different diameters, noted that fibres less than 18.0 x 10⁻⁵ in [= 4.5 μm) in diameter are not irritating to the skin, whilst Sakai et al. (1984) noted that raphides cause irritation only when they exceed 180 μm in length.

Lynne-Davies & Mitchell (1974) applied portions of the fresh leaf of Cordyline terminalis to the backs of 2 males for 48 hours under occlusion. Neither irritant reactions nor delayed flares occurred.



Cordyline rubra Huegel
Red-Fruited Palm Lily

Griffin & Maunwongyathi (1969) observed bundles of calcium oxalate needle-crystals (raphides) in the leaves of this species. The dimensions of the raphides were not reported (see also Cordyline fruticosa above).



Cordyline stricta Endl.
(syn. Dracaena stricta Sims)
Narrow-Leaved Palm Lily

Souder (1963) listed Cordyline stricta as a plant that contains saponin and minute stinging crystals of calcium oxalate. Griffin & Maunwongyathi (1969) observed that the leaves of this species do contain bundles of calcium oxalate raphides. The dimensions of the raphides were not reported (see also Cordyline fruticosa above).



Dasylirion Zucc.

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Dracaena angustifolia Roxb.
(syn. Pleomele angustifolia N.E. Br.)
Narrow-Leaved Pleomele

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Dracaena cochinchinensis S.C. Chen
(syns Aletris cochinchinensis Lour., Dracaena loureiroi Gagnep., Pleomele cochinchinensis Merr. ex Gagnep.)
Dragon's Blood Tree, Thai Dragon Tree

The dried resin from this species provides the crude drug Xue Jie, also known as Dragon's Blood, used in traditional Chinese medicine. There is potential for confusion because resins of similar appearance and also named dragon's blood are also sourced from other species not only of Dracaena L. but of various botanically-unrelated plants including species of Daemonorops Blume in the plant family Palmae.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]



Dracaena fragrans Ker-Gawler
(syn. Aletris fragrans L., Pleomele fragrans Salisb.)
Fragrant Dracaena, Massangana, Corn Plant

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Dracaena surculosa Lindl.
(syn. Dracaena godseffiana hort. ex Baker)
Gold-Dust Dracaena

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Nolina microcarpa S. Watson
Sacahuísta

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Nolina texana S. Watson
(syn. Nolina affinis Trel.)
Bunch Grass, Bear Grass, Sacahuísta, Texas Sacahuista

When the flower buds, blooms and fruits are grazed by cattle, goats or sheep, hepatotoxicosis accompanied by icterus, an itching photodermatitis with associated swelling of the skin and subcutaneous tissues of the head, and renal damage may develop. Almost all animals developing signs of hepatotoxicity will eventually die. Goats seem to be more susceptible than sheep. The foliage is also grazed, but appears not to be poisonous. Saponins present in the plant are believed to be the toxic agents (Mathews 1940).

The common name sacahuista is also applied to Nolina microcarpa S. Watson (see above) and to Nolina nelsonii Rose.

Muenscher (1951) notes that this plant has caused irritant dermatitis.



Sansevieria cylindrica Bojer
Spear Sansevieria, Snake Plant

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Sansevieria pearsonii N.E. Br.
(syn. Sansevieria desertii N.E. Br.)
Rhino Grass, Spiky Mother-in-Law's Tongue

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Sansevieria roxburghiana Schult. & Schult. f.
(syn. Cordyline roxburghiana Merr.)
Indian Bowstring Hemp, Tigre

[Information available but not yet included in database]



Sansevieria trifasciata Prain
Mother-in-Law's Tongue, Viper's Bowstring Hemp, Snake Plant

Many cultivars derived from this species are grown commercially for sale as house plants and as indoor foliage plants, including the very popular upright "goldband sansevieria" or "good luck plant" (Sansevieria trifasciata var laurentii N.E. Br., syn. Sansevieria laurentii De Wild.) and the squat "birdnest sansevieria" or "dwarf snake plant" (Sansevieria trifasciata cv Hahnii, syn. Sansevieria hahnii hort.). Both of these were listed by Souder (1963) as agaves that contain saponin and stinging crystals of calcium oxalate.

According to McCord (1962), who referred to the mother-in-law's tongue as a Sanseverinia species, the plants may cause dermatitis. He may not have been referring to Sansevieria trifasciata Prain. Lynne-Davies & Mitchell (1974) applied portions of the fresh leaf of Sansevieria trifasciata cv Hahnii to the backs of 2 males for 48 hours under occlusion. Neither irritant reactions nor delayed flares occurred.



Sansevieria zeylanica Willd.
Snake Plant, Devil's Tongue, Ceylon Bowstring Hemp

[Information available but not yet included in database]


References

  • Griffin WJ, Maunwongyathi P (1969) A comparison of four species of Cordyline. Planta Medica — Zeitschrift für Arzneipflanzenforschung 17(4): 346-360
  • Heisel EB, Hunt FE (1968) Further studies in cutaneous reactions to glass fibers. Archives of Environmental Health 17(5): 705-711
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Lynne-Davies G, Mitchell JC (1974) Patch tests for irritancy – some common house plants. Contact Dermatitis Newsletter (16): 501-502
  • Mabberley DJ (1997) The Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of the vascular plants. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Mathews FP (1940) Poisoning in sheep and goats by sacahuiste (Nolina texana) buds and blooms. Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin (585)
  • McCord CP (1962) The occupational toxicity of cultivated flowers. Industrial Medicine and Surgery 31(Aug): 365-368
  • Muenscher WCL (1951) Poisonous Plants of the United States. 2nd edn. New York: Macmillan Company
  • Perry LM, Metzger J (1980) Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia: Attributed Properties and Uses. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
  • Sakai WS, Shiroma SS, Nagao MA (1984) A study of raphide microstructure in relation to irritation. Scanning Electron Microscopy (Pt 2): 979-986
  • Souder P (1963) Poisonous plants on Guam. In: Keegan HL, Macfarlane WV (Eds) Venomous and Poisonous Animals and Noxious Plants of the Pacific Region, pp. 15-29. New York: Pergamon Press
  • [ + 4 further references not yet included in database]



Richard J. Schmidt [Valid HTML 4.01!]



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