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(Sea Lavender family)


The Plumbaginaceae are split into two very distinct sub-families, the Plumbaginoideae (plants with monomorphic pollen; principal genera Plumbago Tourn. ex L. and Ceratostigma Bunge) and the Limonioideae or Staticoideae (plants with dimorphic pollen; principal genera Acantholimon Boiss., Armeria Willd., and Limonium Mill.) (Mabberley 2017).

Plumbagin, an orange-yellow naphthoquinone also known as 2-methyljuglone, was reported by Harborne (1967) to be present in the roots of all 10 taxa he examined from the Plumbaginoideae, but was absent from the roots of all 48 taxa examined from the Staticoideae. Harborne (1967) observed that since root tissue containing plumbagin is normally colourless, plumbagin evidently occurs mainly in a bound form, possibly as a plumbagin monoglycoside. Indeed, a plumbagin monoglucoside named plumbaside A, co-occurring with plumbagin, has been isolated and characterised from air-dried Ceratostigma minus Stapf (Yue et al. 1994). Harborne (1967) further noted that plumbagin is liberated from root tissue by acid treatment, perhaps alluding to a method involving boiling of coarsely pulverised roots in acidulated water (2% H2SO4) that was used by Salih Hisar (1954) to obtain crystalline plumbagin.

[Plumbagin; Plumbaside A]

Referencing earlier literature, Schulz et al. (1977) noted that plumbagin has a pungent smell and irritates mucosae, colours the skin pale yellow to black, and produces bullae. Salih Hisar (1954) carried out tests on his own arm using coarsely ground "Babink's" or "Babini" root (unidentified botanically) wetted with water when investigating the possibility that this material had been used to simulate bruising in a case of alleged violence involving assault and battery. A few minutes after applying the roots to the skin, a tingling sensation was felt, then local heat, the intensity of which gradually increased. This became very painful and almost unbearable after an hour and a half. On the third day, the spot becomes covered with small vesicles full of liquid, the heat and the local pain always remaining very acute. After removing the plant material from the skin, a very dark purple area was seen on the skin. The same bruise-like mark accompanied by considerable pain and followed later by vesication was produced by an orange-yellow crystalline material isolated from the Babini root. This crystalline material was later identified as plumbagin (Salih Hisar & Wolff 1955, Thomson 1971), a finding pointing to the possibility that the Babini root was the root from a species of Plumbago.

Further investigation of the effect on the skin of the crystalline material subsequently identified as plumbagin was described by Salih Hisar (1954) as follows: wet crystals, applied to the skin are absorbed in a few minutes and leave a dark yellow stain. The yellow colour slowly disappears. Five hours after application, a tingling sensation is felt then a local heat which continues all night. The next day, a dark purple coloration develops, similar to a bruise. Vesication and blistering follows, with crusting. As the lesion heals, the new skin beneath appears pinkish brown, the colour taking a month to disappear.

Plumbagin is also found in some species of the families Dionchophyllaceae, Droseraceae, Ebenaceae, and Peraceae. References can also be found in the literature and online to a substance named ophioxylin, a partially characterised crystalline substance resembling juglone, isolated from Ophioxylon serpentinum L., fam. Apocynaceae (Wefers Bettink 1888). It was quite quickly recognised that ophioxylin was in fact plumbagin, it having been determined that the plant material must have been misidentified: the roots investigated by Wefers Bettink where not of Ophioxylon serpentinum but [probably] of Plumbago rosea L. (see Greshoff 1890). Plumbago rosea L. is now regarded as a synonym of Plumbago indica L. [see below]. This provides an early example of the importance of proper botanical authentication when carrying out research involving plant material.

[Summary yet to be added]

Acantholimon Boiss.
Prickly Thrift

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Armeria alpina Willd.
[syns Armeria maritima subsp. alpina P.Silva, Statice armeria var. alpina DC.]
Alpine Thrift, Mountain Thrift, Armérie des Alpes, Alpengrasnelke

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Armeria maritima Willd.
[syns Armeria vulgaris Willd., Statice armeria L., Statice maritima Mill.]
Marsh Daisy, Armérie Maritime, Gewöhnliche Grasnelke

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides Bunge
[syns Plumbago larpentae Lindl., Valoradia plumbaginoides Boiss.]
Dwarf Plumbago, Hardy Blue-Flowered Leadwort, Hardy Plumbago, Plumbago, Leadwort

Plumbagin, a naphthoquinone with vesicant properties [see above], has been reported from this species (Thomson 1971).

Ceratostigma willmottianum Stapf
Chinese Plumbago, Hardy Plumbago

Plumbagin, a naphthoquinone with vesicant properties [see above], has been reported from this species (Thomson 1971).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Limonium carolinianum Britton
[syns Limonium angustatum Small, Limonium obtusilobum S.F.Blake, Limonium trichogonum S.F.Blake, Statice caroliniana Walter]
Carolina Sea Lavender, Ink Root, Lavender Thrift, Marsh Rosemary, Sea Lavender

Because of its astringent properties, the root has been used in external preparations for the treatment of haemorrhoids (Wren 1975).

Limonium narbonense Mill.
[syns Limonium angustifolium Turrill, Limonium serotinum Pignatti]
Narrow-Leaved Sea Lavender, Swamp Sea Lavender, Saladelle de Narbonne, Schmalblättriger Strandflieder

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Limonium platyphyllum Lincz.
[syns Limonium gerberi Soldano, Limonium latifolium Kuntze, Statice latifolia Sm.]
Broad Leaved Statice, Perennial Statice, Sea Lavender, Statice Vivace, Breitblättriger Steppenschleier

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Limonium tetragonum Bullock
[syns Limonium japonicum Kuntze, Statice japonica Siebold & Zucc., Statice tetragona Thunb.]
Autumn Statice, Sea Lavender, Square-Stem Statice, Statice

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Limonium vulgare Mill.
[syns Statice limonium L., Statice maritima Lam.]
Common Sea Lavender, Marsh Rosemary, Mediterranean Sea Lavender

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Plumbagella micrantha Spach
[syns Plumbago micrantha Ledeb., Plumbago spinosa K.S.Hao]

One species is found in Central Asia. This species yields plumbagin (Morton 1971, Shcherbanovskii 1974).

Plumbago L.

Twelve species are found in warm regions. One species was thought to be a remedy for lead poisoning, hence the scientific and common names.

Plants of this genus have vesicant properties (Burkill 1935).

Plumbago africana Christenh. & Byng
[syns Dyerophytum africanum Kuntze, Vogelia africana Lam.]

The presence of the vesicant naphthoquinone plumbagin in the roots and aerial parts of Dyerophytum africanum was reported by van der Vijver (1972).

Plumbago auriculata Lam.
[syns Plumbago alba Pasq., Plumbago capensis Thunb.]
Cape Plumbago, Cape Leadwort, Kap-Bleiwurz, Dentelaire du Cap

Lewis (1922) reported a case in which a woman giving birth was rubbed all over with the ground bark of an unidentified plumbago described only as "indigenous to the Eastern Cape", seemingly in the belief that this treatment would ensure the good health of the child, but with fatal results. It was further noted that the bark was found to contain the irritant principle plumbagin. Morton (1962a) asserted that contact with the roots, leaves and stems of Plumbago capensis Thunb., but especially the root, may blister the skin of sensitive individuals. The roots yield plumbagin (Thomson 1971, van der Vijver 1972).

Plumbago coerulea Kunth

This species yields plumbagin (Thomson 1971).

Plumbago europaea L.
Common Leadwort, European Plumbago, Europäischen Bleiwurz, Dentelaire d'Europe

The plant reddens and vesicates healthy skin (Piffard 1881) and has been used as a counter-irritant (Burkill 1935). The plant was formerly used by beggars in southern Europe to produce sores on the skin with the intention of inciting pity. The roots, leaves and flowers yield plumbagin (Harbourne 1966, Thomson 1971).

Plumbago indica L.
[syns Plumbago coccinea Salisb., Plumbago rosea L., Thela coccinea Lour.]
Indian Leadwort, Rose Leadwort, Rosy Flowered Leadwort, Scarlet Leadwort, Whorled Plantain

The plant is mentioned by Sanskrit writers as a vesicant. The root is used in several caustic preparations, particularly by malingerers (Behl et al. 1966, Quisumbing 1951). Waring (1883), to whom Piffard (1881) referred, noted that the bark from the fresh root of Plumbago rosea is of great value as a means of raising a blister. The chief objection … is the great pain it occasions. The dried roots are less active than the fresh root (Burkill 1935).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Plumbago pearsonii L.Bolus

The roots and aerial parts of this species yield plumbagin (van der Vijver 1972).

Plumbago pulchella Boiss.
Yerba del Diablo

The plant has a vesicant and caustic effect (Martínez 1969). This species yields plumbagin (Harborne 1967, Thomson 1971).

Plumbago zeylanica L.
[syns Findlaya alba Bowdich, Plumbagidium scandens Spach, Plumbago scandens L., Plumbago viscosa Blanco, Thela alba Lour.]
Ceylon Leadwort, Doctorbush, Summer Snow, White Desert Plumbago, White Leadwort, Wild Leadwort

In ancient Sanscrit and Mohammedan literature, this plant is described as vesicant for the skin. Piffard (1881) noted that the root of Plumbago scandens has a vesicant action on healthy skin.

The leaves and roots have a vesicant and caustic effect on the skin (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962, Irvine 1961, Chopra 1933, Quisumbing 1951). The plant is employed in the same manner as cantharides. The root is ground with a little flour and water and applied to the skin. In five minutes there is a pricking sensation; in 15 minutes pain and after 12 to 15 hours a bulla forms. The pain associated with the blistering is greater than that from application of cantharides (Burkill 1935). The plant is used as an abortefacient by introducing it into the vagina to produce an irritant action (Burkill 1935) and is used in India by malingerers (Chopra 1933). Masai girls of southern Africa use the irritant effect of the plant to produce postinflammatory hyperpigmentation for cosmetic purposes as did the natives of Hawai‘i (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

The plant yields plumbagin (Harborne 1967, Thomson 1971). The roots of Plumbago scandens yield plumbagin (de Paiva et al. 2004).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]


  • Behl PN, Captain RM, Bedi BMS, Gupta S (1966) Skin-Irritant and Sensitizing Plants Found in India. New Delhi: PN Behl [WorldCat]
  • Burkill IH (1935) A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, Vols 1 & 2. London: Crown Agents [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Chopra, R.N. (1933) Indigenous Plants of India: Their Medical and Economic Aspects. Calcutta. The Art Press.
  • de Paiva SR, Lima LA, Figueiredo MR, Kaplan MAC (2004) Plumbagin quantification in roots of Plumbago scandens L. obtained by different extraction techniques. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 76(3): 499-504 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Greshoff M (1890) Mittheilungen aus dem chemisch-pharmakologischen Laboratorium des Botanischen Gartens zu Buitenzorg (Java). [Communications from the chemical and pharmacological laboratory of the Botanical Garden at Buitenzorg (Java)]. Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 23(2): 3537-3550 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Harborne JB (1967) Comparative biochemistry of the flavonoids―IV. Correlations between chemistry, pollen morphology and systematics in the family Plumbaginaceae. Phytochemistry 6(10): 1415-1428 [doi] [url]
  • Irvine FR (1961) Woody Plants of Ghana. With special reference to their uses. London: Oxford University Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Lewis J (1922) Some observations on South African toxicology. South African Medical Record 20(18): 350-352 [url]
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  • Martínez M (1969) Las Plantas Medicinales de México. [The medicinal plants of Mexico], 5th edn. Mexico City: Ediciones Botas [WorldCat]
  • Morton JF (1962a) Ornamental plants with toxic and/or irritant properties. II. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 75: 484-491 [url] [url-2]
  • Morton, J.F. (1971) Plants Poisonous to People in Florida and other Warm Areas. Miami, Florida. Hurricane House Publishers Inc.
  • Piffard HG (1881) A Treatise on the Materia Medica and Therapeutics of the Skin. New York: William Wood & Company [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Quisumbing E (1951) Medicinal Plants of the Philippines. Technical Bulletin 16, Philippines Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Manila, Philippine Islands: Manila Bureau of Printing [WorldCat] [url]
  • Salih Hisar R (1954) Note sur l'isolement d'un composé cristallisé très vésicant à partir des racines de Babini. [Note on the isolation of a strongly vesicant crystalline compound from Babini roots]. Bulletin de la Société Chimique de France, 5e Série 21: 33-34 [url]
  • Salih Hisar R, Wolff RE (1955) Sur l'identification de cristaux vésicants extraits des racines de Babink. [On the identification of vesicant crystals extracted from Babink root]. Bulletin de la Société Chimique de France, 5e Série 21: 507 [url]
  • Schulz KH, Garbe I, Hausen BM, Simatupang MH (1977) The sensitizing capacity of naturally occurring quinones. — Experimental studies in guinea pigs. I. Naphthoquinones and related compounds. Archives of Dermatological Research 258(1): 41-52 [doi] [url] [pmid]
  • Shcherbanovskii LR (1974) PLUMBAGIN FROM Plumbagella micrantha. Chemistry of Natural Compounds 10(4): 518 [Translated from Khimiya Prirodnykh Soedinenii (4): 514 (1974)] [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Thomson RH (1971) Naturally Occurring Quinones, 2nd edn. London: Academic Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url]
  • van der Vijver LM (1972) Distribution of plumbagin in the Plumbaginaceae. Phytochemistry 11(11): 3247-3248 [doi] [url]
  • Waring EJ (1883) Remarks on the Uses of some of the Bazaar Medicines and Common Medical Plants of India with a Full Index of Diseases, Indicating their Treatment by these and other Agents Procurable throughout India. To which are Added Directions for Treatment ion Cases of Drowning, Snake-Bites, &c, 4th edn. London: J & A Churchill [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • 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]
  • Wefers Bettink (1888) Over den wortel van Ophioxylon serpentinum (Poeleh padak). [On the root of Ophioxylon serpentinum (Poeleh padak)]. Nieuw Tijdschrift voor de Pharmacie in Nederland 21: 1-20 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Yue J, Lin Z, Wang D, Feng Y, Sun H (1994) Plumbasides A―C three naphthoquinone derivatives from Ceratostigma minus. Phytochemistry 35(4): 1023-1025 [doi] [url]
  • [ + 3 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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