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(Spindle-Tree family)


Some 850 species in 55 genera of trees and shrubs are found in tropical and temperate regions.

The root of Tripterygium wilfordi Hook.f. has insecticidal properties.

Berries of the spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus L., and of the climbing bittersweet, Celastrus scandens L., are poisonous on ingestion (North 1967, Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977). Such toxicity is doubtless not restricted to these two species. The plant family elaborates a variety of secondary metabolites including steroids, triterpenoids, sesquiterpene, peptide, and other alkaloids, etc., many of which are known to have cytotoxic activity.

A few species appear to be capable of inducing dermatitis. The thorns of Gymnosporia Benth. & Hook.f. are a hazard.

Celastrus paniculatus Willd.
[syns Celastrus multiflorus Roxb., Celastrus nutans Roxb.]

Oil from the seeds is rubefacient (Nadkarni 1976).

Elaeodendron australe Vent.
Olive Wood


Elaeodendron orientale Jacq.
Olive Plum

"Olive wood" noted as a cause of irritation by Legge (1907) was identified by Philip Smith (1920b) as being derived from Elaeodendron australe Vent. or from Elaeodendron orientale Jacq., possibly incorrectly. According to Woods & Calnan (1976), the olive wood referred to may have been derived from Olea europaea L. fam. Oleaceae.

Gymnosporia Benth. & Hook f.

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gymnosporia buxifolia Szyszyl.
[syn. Celastrus buxifolius L.]

The spines, which are used as needles and for extracting the thorns of other plants from the skin, are said to have an irritant and toxic effect (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Gymnosporia montana Benth.
[syn. Celastrus montanus Roth]

The bark has been used in Indian indigenous medicine as an application to destroy pediculi (Nadkarni 1976).

Gymnosporia spinosa Merr. & Rolfe
[syn. Cupania spinosa Blanco]

This, and other, species has many branches modified into thorns (Willis 1973).

Hippocratea indica Willd.

The roots, chewed with hot oil and blown on the skin, act as a counter-irritant (Harley 1941).

Kokoona zeylanica Thwaites
Kokoon, Kokun

Mabberley (1997) notes that the seed oil from this plant, which grows naturally in Sri Lanka, is effective as a leech deterrent. The inner bark has been used by jewellers for polishing (Howes 1974).

The genus was formerly classified in the family Hippocrateaceae.

Maytenus senegalensis Exell
[syns Gymnosporia senegalensis Loes., Celastrus senegalensis Lam.]

Thorns of this tree are used by shrikes, otherwise known as butcher birds (fam. Laniidae), to impale their insect victims (Irvine 1961).

Maytenus thompsonii Fosb.
[syn. Gymnosporia thomsoni Kurz]

Souder (1963) erroneously lists this species among members of the family Anacardiaceae on Guam that can cause dermatitis and may also, therefore, have erroneously ascribed dermatitic properties to it.


  • Harley GW (1941) Native African Medicine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
  • Howes FN (1974) A Dictionary of Useful and Everyday Plants and their Common Names. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Irvine FR (1961) Woody Plants of Ghana. With special reference to their uses. London: Oxford University Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Legge TM (1908) Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops for the year 1907. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office
  • Lewis WH, Elvin-Lewis MPF (1977) Medical Botany. Plants affecting man's health. New York: John Wiley [WorldCat]
  • Mabberley DJ (1997) The Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of the vascular plants. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Nadkarni AK (1976) Dr. K. M. Nadkarni's Indian Materia Medica. With ayurvedic, unani-tibbi, siddha, allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic & home remedies, appendices & indexes, Revised enlarged and reprinted 3rd edn, Vols 1 & 2. Bombay: Popular Prakashan [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • North PM (1967) Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Colour. London: Blandford Press [WorldCat]
  • Philip Smith E (1920b) Plant dermatitis.—II. Journal of Botany, British and Foreign 58(691): 173-176 [url] [url-2]
  • 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 [WorldCat] [url]
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Willis JC (1973) A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns, 8th edn. (Revised by Airy Shaw HK). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Woods B, Calnan CD (1976) Toxic woods. British Journal of Dermatology 95(Suppl 13): 1-97 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]

Richard J. Schmidt

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