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(Gentian family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: Occasional references to the traditional use of various species in the treatment of skin ailments appear in the literature, with boils and infected lesions being mentioned most commonly. •
• Adverse effects: Several members of the genus Anthocleista Afzel. ex R.Br. bear thorns that are capable of causing mechanical injury. The bark or sapwood of certain Fagraea Thunb. species is reportedly irritant and may cause occupational dermatitis in the lumber trade. •
• Veterinary aspects: •

Following a reorganisation by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2003), the family now includes about 1740 species in 99 genera (Stevens 2001-2019), incorporating species previously classified in the Chironiaceae, Coutoubeaceae, Loganiaceae, Obolariaceae, Potaliaceae, and Saccifoliaceae. Mabberley (2008) recognised only 1600 species in 85 genera. The plants are of worldwide distribution, but are especially numerous in temperate and sub-tropical regions. The principal genera are Exacum L. [69 spp.], Fagraea Thunb. [60 spp.], Gentiana L. [361 spp.], Gentianella Moench [200 spp.], Halenia Borkh. [70 spp.], Macrocarpaea [106 spp.], Sebaea Sol. ex R.Br. [60 spp.], and Swertia L. [150 spp.].

The dried fermented underground parts of the great yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea L.) and closely related species are the source of the crude drug Gentianae Radix, which is official in several pharmacopoeias. It is used as a bitter (Trease & Evans 1966, Reynolds 1996). In traditional Chinese medicine, the crude drug is known as long dan cao, but will be more usually derived from the scabrous gentian (Gentiana scabra Bunge).

Many are to be found in cultivation as ornamentals, members of the genera Centaurium Hill, Chironia L., Eustoma Salisb., Exacum L., and Gentiana L. being most widely grown (Hunt 1968/70).

Anthocleista Afzel. ex R.Br.
Cabbage Tree, Fever Tree, Forest Big-Leaf, Murderer's Mat

According to Mabberley (2008), the genus comprises about 50 species of trees found in tropical Africa, Madagascar, and the Mascarene Islands. The genus has in the past been classified in the Potaliaceae and in the Loganiaceae. The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2003) has now placed the genus in the Gentianaceae.

Menninger (1967) asserted that nearly all have vicious forking thorns, adding that at a certain stage in their development, they lose their bark and leaves but retain their thorns on the trunk and come to resemble a thorny naked pole. The following species are representative (Sonibare et al. 2007); the wider literature suggests that the thorns are not always present:

Anthocleista djalonensis A.Chev.
Anthocleista nobilis G.Don
[syns Anthocleista macrophylla G.Don, Anthocleista nigrescens Afzel. ex Gilg, Anthocleista parviflora Baker]
Anthocleista schweinfurthii Gilg
[syns Anthocleista kamerunensis Gilg, Anthocleista magnifica Gilg, Anthocleista oubanguiensis Aubrév. & Pellegr.]
Anthocleista vogelii Planch.
[syns Anthocleista auriculata De Wild., Anthocleista lanceolata Gilg, Anthocleista zenkeri Gilg] 

Canscora andrographioides Griffith ex C.B.Clarke
[syn. Canscora melastomacea Hand.-Mazz.]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Chironia baccifera L.
Christmas Berry, Wild Gentian

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Eustoma exaltatum Salisb. ex G.Don subsp. russellianum Kartesz
[syns Bilamista grandiflora Raf., Eustoma grandiflorum Shinners, Eustoma russellianum G.Don, Lisianthius russellianus Hook.]
Lisianthus, Prairie Gentian, Texas Bluebell, Tulip Gentian, Bauchblume, Großblütiger Prärieenzian

Foti et al. (2014) reported a case of occupational hand dermatitis and a faint scaling erythema on the forearms and face in a 50-year old retail floriculturalist. The patient's work involved the culture and arranging of only one particular kind of flower, namely the lisianthus. His eczema started in the year in which he started to work with the flower. Patch tests with the flower, leaf and stalk "as is" showed positive results. No reactions were observed in 10 healthy control subjects.

Fagraea fragrans Roxb. ex Carey & Wall.
[syns Cyrtophyllum fragrans DC., Cyrtophyllum giganteum Ridl., Cyrtophyllum peregrinum Reinw. ex Blume, Fagraea peregrina Blume]
Common Tembusu

This tree provides a commercial timber known variously as anan, Burma yellowheart, dolo, ironwood, kingwood, tembusu, temesu, and by many other names.

Kochummen (1972) noted that the tree is known to produce dermatitis in Malaya. He may have been referring to a report by Hon (1967) that described how several men suffered recurrent irritation of exposed skin when sawing a recently cut log with its bark on; the heartwood, when sawed, caused no irritation. Woods & Calnan (1976) citing Großmann (1920) noted that an irritating alkaloid has reportedly been extracted from the wood.

Fagraea racemosa Jack ex Wall.
[syns Fagraea morindifolia Blume, Fagraea thwaitesii F.Muell.]
False Coffee Plant, Forest Coffee Plant, Kabal

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Fagraea schlechteri Gilg & C.Benedict

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Faroa chalcophila P.Taylor

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gentiana chinensis Kusn.
[syn. Gentianodes chinensis Á.Löve & D.Löve]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gentiana loureiroi Griseb.
[syn. Ericala loureiroi G.Don]
Southern Gentian, Tulip Gentian

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gentiana macrophylla Pallas
[syn. Dasystephana macrophylla Zuev]
Large-Leaf Gentian

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gentiana scabra Bunge
[syn. Dasystephana scabra (Bunge) J.Sojak]
Border Gentian, Japanese Gentian, Scabrous Gentian

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Swertia chirayita (Roxb.) H.Karst.
[syns Agathotes chirayta D.Don, Ophelia chirayita (Roxb.) Griseb., Gentiana chirayita Roxb., Swertia chirata Buch.-Ham. ex Wall.]
Chireta, Chirayata, East Indian Balmony, Indian Gentian, Swertie de l'Inde

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Tachia guianensis Aubl.
[syns Myrmecia scandens Willd., Myrmecia tachia J.Gmelin]

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2003) An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141(4): 399-436 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Foti C, Romita P, Filoni A, Antelmi A, Bonamonte D, Angelini G (2014) Occupational allergic contact dermatitis caused by Eustoma exaltatum russellianum (lisianthus). Contact Dermatitis 71(1): 59-60 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Großmann J (1920) Gesundheitsschädliche Holzarten. Der Holzkäufer 17(100,101,102,103): 529-530, 535-536, 540-541, 545-546
  • Hon LY (1967) Skin irritation caused by tembusu (Fagraea fragrans). Malayan Forester 30(3): 234
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Kochummen KM (1972) Personal communication to Mitchell JC from the Forest Research Institute, Kepong, Selangor, Malaya. In: Mitchell J, Rook A (1979). Botanical Dermatology. Plants and plant products injurious to the skin. Vancouver: Greengrass, p. 544 [WorldCat]
  • Mabberley DJ (2008) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Menninger EA (1967) Fantastic Trees. New York: Viking Press [WorldCat] [url]
  • Reynolds JEF (Ed.) (1996) Martindale. The Extra Pharmacopoeia. 31st edn. London: Royal Pharmaceutical Society [WorldCat]
  • Sonibare MA, Soladoye MO, Ekine-Ogunlana Y (2007) A chemotaxonomic approach to the alkane content of three species of Anthocleista Afzel. (Loganiaceae). African Journal of Biotechnology 6(13): 1516-1520 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Stevens PF (2001-2019) Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 14. Gentianales. [online article]: https://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/APweb/orders/gentianalesweb.htm#Gentianales ; accessed April 2019 [url] [url-2]
  • Trease GE, Evans WC (1966) A Textbook of Pharmacognosy, 9th edn. London: Baillière, Tindall and Cassell [WorldCat]
  • Woods B, Calnan CD (1976) Toxic woods. British Journal of Dermatology 95(Suppl 13): 1-97 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • [ + 17 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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