Euphorbia calyptrata (PROTA)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Prota logo orange.gif
Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

General importance Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage Africa Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Geographic coverage World Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg
Medicinal Fairytale bookmark gold.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svgGood article star.svg

Euphorbia calyptrata Coss. & Kralik

Protologue: Bull. Soc. Bot. France 4: 495 (1857).
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 40

Origin and geographic distribution

Euphorbia calyptrata occurs in Mauritania and throughout northern Africa.


The nomadic Touareg people in the Sahara region apply the latex to warts and pustules. The crushed fresh leaves are applied to snakebites and scorpion stings. The powdered dried leaves, mixed with honey, are applied to the eyes against conjunctivitis and trachoma, or boiled in oil and massaged onto the skin to treat baldness, rheumatism and numbness because of the cold. Leaf powder is applied to infected wounds.

The latex is very irritating to the skin and caustic to the eyes. It is considered very poisonous and the nomads prevent their camels from browsing on the plants.


Crude methanol extracts from both roots and cell cultures of Euphorbia calyptrata were found to possess significant activities on the central nervous system (CNS). From both the crude methanolic root extract and the cell cultures the diterpenoids helioscopinolide A, C, D and E were isolated. These diterpenes, administered intraperitoneally to mice, showed different effects on the CNS. Helioscopinolide C showed a clear depressant effect, helioscopinolide E a mild, short-duration depressant effect, whereas helioscopinolides A and D had an opposite, excitatory effect.

Biotransformation of the ergot alkaloids chanoclavine, agroclavine and elymoclavine by Euphorbia calyptrata cell culture is being attempted, to obtain derivatives with promising medicinal properties.


Monoecious, annual to perennial glabrous herb up to 70 cm tall, with a fleshy taproot. Leaves arranged spirally, simple and entire, sessile; stipules absent; blade linear, up to 10 cm long, base tapering, apex 2–3-fid, in upper leaves acute. Inflorescence a terminal or axillary cluster of flowers, called a ‘cyathium’, on short leafy shoots; cyathia almost sessile, 2–3 mm in diameter, with a cup-shaped involucre, lobes minute, glands 4, transversely ovate, with 2–4 short horns or palmately 6–10-fid, each involucre containing 1 female flower surrounded by many male flowers. Flowers unisexual, greenish; male flowers sessile, bracteoles 2-fid, perianth absent, stamen c. 1.5 mm long; female flowers with pedicel c. 1.5 mm long, reflexed in fruit, perianth a rim, ovary superior, glabrous, 3-celled, styles 3, 2-fid. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule 5–6 mm in diameter, 3-seeded. Seeds conical, 2–2.5 mm long, smooth, bluish grey, caruncle large with 10–15 membranous ridges.

Var. involucrata Batt. differs from var. calyptrata in its large bracts clasping the stem.

Other botanical information

Euphorbia comprises about 2000 species and has a worldwide distribution, with at least 750 species occurring in continental Africa and about 150 species in Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands.

Euphorbia retusa

Euphorbia retusa Forssk. (synonym: Euphorbia cornuta Pers.) occurs from Mauritania through northern Africa east to western Asia. The Touareg people apply the latex to eczema, warts, ingrown eyelashes and scorpion stings. In Saudi Arabia the aerial parts are used as an expectorant in the treatment of coughs and asthma.


Euphorbia calyptrata occurs in sandy, rocky localities, sandy wadis and sandy-muddy soils, sometimes in large stands.

Genetic resources

Euphorbia calyptrata is relatively common in its distribution area and not threatened by genetic erosion.


The helioscopinolides isolated from Euphorbia calyptrata showed interesting activity on the central nervous system. More research on chemistry and pharmacology is therefore needed to evaluate the potential of Euphorbia calyptrata as a medicinal plant in drug development.

Major references

  • Hammiche, V. & Maiza, K., 2006. Traditional medicine in Central Sahara: pharmacopoeia of Tassili N’ajjer. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 105: 358–367.
  • Jafri, S.M.H. & El-Gadi, A., 1982. Euphorbiaceae. In: Jafri, S.M.H. & El-Gadi, A. (Editors). Flora of Libya 89. Al Faateh University, Faculty of Science, Department of Botany, Tripoli, Libya. 54 pp.
  • Ozenda, P., 1977. Flore du Sahara. Deuxième édition. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France. 622 pp.
  • Scigelova, M., Macek, T., Minghetti, A., Mackova, M., Sedmera, P., Prikrylova, V. & Kren, V., 1995. Biotransformation of ergot alkaloids by plant cell cultures with high peroxidise activity. Biotechnology Letters 17(11): 1213–1218.
  • Speroni, E., Coletti, B., Minghetti, A., Perellino, N.C., Guicciardi, A. & Vincieri, F.F., 1991. Activity on the CNS of crude extracts and of some diterpenoids isolated from Euphorbia calyptrata suspended cultures. Planta Medica 57(6): 531–535.

Other references

  • Atiqur Rahman, M., Mossa, J.S., Al-Said, M.S. & Al-Yahya, M.A., 2004. Medicinal plant diversity in the flora of Saudi Arabia 1: a report on seven plant families. Fitoterapia 75: 149–161.
  • Borghi, D., Baumer, L., Ballabio, M., Arlandini, E., Crespi-Perellino, N., Minghetti, A. & Vincieri, F.F., 1991. Structure elucidation of helioscopinolides D and E from Euphorbia calyptrata cell cultures. Journal of Natural Products 54(6): 1503–1508.
  • Crespi-Perellino, N., Garofano, L., Arlandini, E. & Pinciroli, V., 1996. Identification of new diterpenoids from Euphorbia calyptrata cell cultures. Journal of Natural Products 59: 773–776.
  • Kren, V., Sedmera, P., Polasek, M., Minghetti, A. & Crespi-Perellino, N., 1996. Dimerization of lysergene by Euphorbia calyptrata cell cultures. Journal of Natural Products 59(6): 609–611.
  • Kren, V., Sedmera, P., Prikrylova, V., Minghetti, A., Crespi-Perellino, N., Polasek, M. & Macek, T., 1996. Biotransformation of chanoclavine by Euphorbia calyptrata cell culture. Journal of Natural Products 59(5): 481–484.
  • Minghetti, A., Crespi-Perellino, N., Garofano, L., Speroni, E. & Vincieri, F.F., 1996. Production of diterpenoids by Euphorbia calyptrata cell cultures. Phytochemistry 42(6): 1587–1589.
  • Sahara Nature, 2008. Euphorbia calyptrata. [Internet] Sahara Nature, France. plantes.php?aff=nom&plante=euphorbia%20calyptrata. March 2008.


  • G.H. Schmelzer, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Schmelzer, G.H., 2008. Euphorbia calyptrata Coss. & Kralik. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 9 August 2022.