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(Daphne family)


500 species in 50 genera are found in temperate and tropical regions especially in Africa. Aquilaria (aloe wood) provides a perfume material. Many members of the family have a vesicatory effect on the skin and cause excessive pain in the mouth when chewed (Anon 1891). Many species contain a strong poison which blisters the skin (Ewart 1930).

The irritant principles of some species are chemically related to those of Croton (fam. Euphorbiaceae).

[Summary yet to be added]


15 species are found in tropical and Southern Africa.

Arthrosolen polycephalus

The root is exceedingly bitter. The dust produced irritation of the respiratory tract, nausea and headache in technicians who examined the wood (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1972).


70 species are found in Europe, North Africa, temperate and sub-tropical regions of Asia, Australia and the Pacific region. The bark is used for paper in India.

Daphne genkwa

The buds are used in Chinese Medicine. Old buds which have been stored for several years are used because fresh buds are irritating. Crushed root-bark is applied to boils to produce vesication (Kariyone 1971).

Daphne gnidium

Piffard (1881) noted that the bark is irritant. Dermatitis from this species was reported by Gouin (1921).

Daphne laureola L.
[syn. Thymelaea laureola Scop.]
Spurge Laurel, Wood Laurel

The berries contain an acrid resin and the properties are similar to those of Daphne mezereum (White 1887).

Daphne mezereum L.
[syn. Thymelaea mezereum Scop.]
Dwarf Laurel, Spurge Olive, Wild Pepper

All parts of the plant produce irritation on contact (Oesterlen 1856). The bark, when applied to the skin, produces erythema, vesiculation and ulceration (Dispensatory 1884). Mezereum bark was formerly official. The berries if eaten produce burning in the mouth and swelling of the tongue and lips (North 1967).

Daphne oleoides Schreb.
Spurge Olive

Pammel (1911), in listing Daphnopsis oleoides Schreb. [a name of no botanical standing] as having irritant properties, was probably referring to this species.

Daphnopsis gnidium

Pammel (1911) listed this species as having irritant properties.

Dirca palustris
Leatherwood, Moosewood

Application of the fresh bark to the skin causes redness, vesication and sores which are very difficult to heal (Dispensatory 1884).

Gnidia spp.

The plants contain an irritating resinous principle, mezerein, which has a vesicant action (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Gnidia calocephala Gilg
[syn. Arthrosolen calocephalus C.A.Mey.]
Shrubby Pincushions

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gnidia polyantha Gilg
[syn. Lasiosiphon polyanthus C.H.Wright]
Large Yellow Head

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Gnidia vatkeana

The root was used as a vesicant in India (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Gonystylus affinis

The wood is known to produce dermatitis in Malaya (Kochummen 1972).

Gonystylus spp. principally Gonystylus bancanus
Ramin, Malawis

The fibrous portion of the inner bark (bast) causes skin and eye irritation in wood-workers (Burgess 1966). Workers handling logs can develop skin irritation which is thought to be due to sharp pointed-fibres of the inner bark which remain on the logs after the logs have been peeled (Handbook of Hardwoods 1959).

The sawdust produced dermatitis and a patch test gave a positive reaction (Wilkinson 1973, cited by Woods and Calnan 1976).

Oehling (1963) reported a case of "sensitivity" to the wood without clinical details. Ramin was said to be one of the more toxic woods (Salamone et al. 1969) but they gave no details. Hausen (1970) quoted trade reports of asthma and skin irritation from the sawdust and bark.

A carpenter who had dermatitis showed positive patch test reactions to the wood dusts of ramin, Araucaria, and teak (Tectona grandis L.f., fam. Labiatae), and to epoxy resin (Woods and Calnan 1976).

The inner bark must be completely removed from logs before sawing because it contains sharp-pointed fibers that may cause skin irritation. Goggles are recommended for sawyers. The logs, green lumber, and lumber not completely air dried often exhibit a stong, unpleasant odor. This disappears as the wood is thoroughly dried but may appear again if the wood is rewet (McMillen 1967).

Lasiosiphon anthylloides


Lasiosiphon burchella

The roots of these species produced irritation of the respiratory tract in laboratory workers (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Lasiosiphon capitatus

The root, at first tasteless, ultimately becomes very hot when chewed (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Lasiosiphon eriocephalus
Woolly-Headed Gnidia

The leaves of this species are used as a rubefacient (Behl et al. 1966). The bark and leaves are irritant often producing vesication. The dust of the dried bark irritates the eyes, nostrils and faces.of persons who handle it (Chopra et al. 1958).

Lasiosiphon kraussianus

A tiny pinch of the plant, when brought into contact with the tongue, produces an intense sensation of burning with irritation of the throat lasting several hours (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Lasiosiphon meisnerianus

The root and root-bark are irritant to the mouth (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Pimelea prostrata Willd.
[syns Banksia prostrata J.R.Forst. & G.Forst., Cookia prostrata J.Gmelin, Passerina prostrata L.f., Pimelea laevigata Gaertn.]
Strathmore Weed

The bark of Pimelea laevigata and other Pimelea Banks ex Gaertn. species, when chewed, produces after a few minutes an intense burning sensation in the mouth. All parts of the plants are acrid and poisonous, especially the bark and berries (Aston 1923).

Thymelaea tartonraira

This species is irritant (Pammel 1911).


70 species are found in southern China, Indo China, Australia and the Pacific region.

Arnold (1968) noted that the sap and bark were said to be irritant and caustic by other authors. He did not find this to be so on his own skin.


  • Anon (1891) cited by Hurst (1942).
  • Arnold HL (1968) Poisonous Plants of Hawaii. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company [WorldCat] [url]
  • Aston BC (1923) The poisonous, suspected, and medicinal plants of New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Agriculture 26(2; 3; 4): 78-80; 149-156; 230-232 [url] [url-2]
  • Behl PN, Captain RM, Bedi BMS, Gupta S (1966) Skin-Irritant and Sensitizing Plants Found in India. New Delhi: PN Behl [WorldCat]
  • Burgess, P.F. (1966) Timbers of Sabah (Sabah Forest Records No. 6). Sabah, Malaysia.
  • Chopra RN, Chopra IC, Handa KL, Kapur LD (1958) Chopra's Indigenous Drugs of India, 2nd edn. Calcutta: UN Dhur & Sons [WorldCat]
  • Dispensatory, The National (1884) Philadelphia. Stille and Maisch. Cited by White (1887).
  • Ewart, A.J. (1930) Flora of Victoria. Melbourn. Quoted by Hurst (1942).
  • Gouin (1921) Dermites par l'écorce de garou (Daphne Gnidium). Arch. Méd. et Mil. 1: 71.
  • Handbook of Hardwoods (1956) Forest Products Research. Ministry of Technology. London. HMSO.
  • Hausen BM (1970) Untersuchungen über Gesundheitsschädigende Hölzer [Studies on Harmful Woods]. Doctoral Dissertation. Universität Hamburg, Germany [url] [url-2]
  • Hurst E (1942) The Poison Plants of New South Wales. Sydney: NSW Poison Plants Committee [WorldCat] [url]
  • Kariyone, T. (1971) Atlas of Medicinal Plants. Osaka, Japan. Takeda Chemical Industries.
  • Kochummen, K.M. (1972) Forest Botanist. Forest Research Institute. Kepong, Selangor, Malaya. Personal communication to JC Mitchell.
  • McMillen, J.M. (1967) Seasoning and handling of ramin. U.S. Forest Research Note FPL-0172. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory. Madison, Wis.
  • North PM (1967) Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Colour. London: Blandford Press [WorldCat]
  • Oehling, A. (1963) Berufsallergie im Holzgewerbe. Allergie und Asthma 9: 312.
  • Oesterlen F (1856) Handbuch der Heilmittellehre. [Handbook of Remedies], 6th revised edn. Tübingen: Laupp & Siebeck [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Pammel LH (1911) A Manual of Poisonous Plants. Chiefly of North America, with Brief Notes on Economic and Medicinal Plants, and Numerous Illustrations. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Piffard HG (1881) A Treatise on the Materia Medica and Therapeutics of the Skin. New York: William Wood & Company [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Salamone, L., Blasi, S. Di and Coniglio, L. (1969) Rilievi sulla patologia da legno di Monsonia. Folia Medica (Napoli) 52: 427.
  • 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]
  • White JC (1887) Dermatitis Venenata: an account of the action of external irritants upon the skin. Boston: Cupples and Hurd [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • 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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