Aglaia (PROSEA Medicinal plants)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Aglaia Lour.

Protologue: Fl. cochinch. 1: 173 (1790).
Family: Meliaceae
Chromosome number: x= unknown; A. edulis: n= 40, A. elliptica: 2n= 68

Origin and geographic distribution

Aglaia currently consists of 105 species, but it is expected that more will be discovered. It is distributed from southern India and Sri Lanka, through Burma (Myanmar), Indo-China, Thailand, towards the Malesian area, northern Australia, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa. Within Malesia, the largest number of species is found in Borneo (50), followed by Peninsular Malaysia (48), Sumatra (38), the Philippines (35) and New Guinea (33).


Several Aglaia species are used in traditional medicine: leaves to treat wounds, fever, headache, asthma, jaundice, and as a tonic e.g. after childbirth; flowers against fever, asthma, jaundice and after childbirth; fruits to treat inflammatory diseases, and bark against tumours.

Most Aglaia species are known for their hardwood, which is mainly used for construction. However, Aglaia wood is suitable for a wide range of purposes. The fruit and the seed aril of some species are edible. The flowers, particularly those of A. odorata, are aromatic and may be used in tea or to perfume household textiles.


Several cyclopenta[b]benzofurans have been isolated from stems and fruits of A. elliptica . These were found to be very potent cytotoxic substances when evaluated against a panel of human cancer cell lines. Rocaglamide derivatives (cyclopentatetrahydrobenzofurans) isolated from several Aglaia species showed growth-inhibiting properties on human cancer cell lines, didesmethyl-rocaglamide being the most active compound. The cyclopenta[b]benzofuran 4'-demethoxy-3',4'-methylenedioxy-methyl rocaglate was capable of delaying tumour growth in an in vivo mouse model. Aglafolin and rocaglamide, isolated from the stems of A. rimosa, showed significant cytotoxicity in 6 cancer cell lines. Aglafolin was also found to completely block platelet aggregation caused by arachidonic acid and platelet-activating factor (in vitro and in vivo). A number of 3,4-secoapotirucallanes with moderate cytotoxic activity against KB cells have been isolated from A. argentea bark. The cycloartanes, argenteanones A-E and argenteanols A-E, isolated from A. argentea leaves also display significant cytotoxic activity against KB cells. Aglain A, B and C and odorine were also isolated from A. argentea . Bisamide alkaloids have also been isolated from Aglaia : pyramidatine from leaves of A. silvestris, piriferine, aglaedithioduline and aglaiduline from A. edulis, and odorine and 5'-epi-odorine from A. odorata. None of these bisamides showed significant cytotoxicity, but piriferine, odorine and 5'-epi-odorine were found to inhibit the growth of vinblastine-resistant KB cells by enhancing the anticancer activity of vinblastine. The antileukaemic diamide (-)-odorinol has been isolated from leaves and twigs of A. odorata. Odorine and odorinol isolated from A. odorata inhibited both the initiation and promotion stages of mouse skin carcinogenesis. Fruit extracts of A. elaeagnoidea showed an inhibitory effect on lipid peroxidation in biological membranes.

Foliar, flower, fruit and twig extracts of A. elaeagnoidea, A. elliptica and A. odorata showed inhibitory activity on larval growth and antifeedant effect against the polyphagous lepidopteran larvae of Spodoptera spp. and Helicoverpa armigera. In A. elaeagnoidea, cyclopenta[b]benzofurans were found to be responsible for the activity. These compounds also showed antifungal activity. In A. elliptica and A. odorata, rocaglamide derivatives were identified as the active compounds, with pannellin and pannellin-1-O-acetate as the most active.

Investigation of the oil from root bark of an unidentified species in India has revealed antimicrobial and anthelmintic activities in vitro, and central nervous system depressant action in mice.


  • Dioecious, usually small or medium-sized trees, sometimes large and up to 40(-50) m tall, rarely shrubs. Indumentum consisting of stellate hairs, or stellate or peltate scales present, at least on the younger parts.
  • Leaves arranged spirally, usually imparipinnate, rarely with a single leaflet, stipules absent; leaflets entire, acuminate to caudate at apex.
  • Inflorescence usually axillary, occasionally ramiflorous or cauliflorous; male inflorescence large, much divaricately branched, with up to several thousand flowers; female inflorescence similar but usually smaller.
  • Flowers functionally unisexual, 3(-4) or 5(-6)-merous; calyx cup-shaped; petals free or united at base, often yellow, sometimes white or pink; stamens united to form a tube, anthers (3-)5-10(-21), inserted on the inner face of the tube; ovary superior, 1-3(-10)-locular, style short or absent, style-head small.
  • Fruit a globose to pear-shaped berry or nut, less frequently a 1-3(-4)-valved capsule, 1-4(-6)-seeded.
  • Seeds large, usually with an aril nearly or completely covering the seed, without endosperm.
  • Seedling with semi-hypogeal germination; cotyledons peltate; first 2 leaves simple and opposite, subsequent leaves arranged spirally, simple at first, later with increasing number of leaflets.

Small insects, probably mainly dipterans, are most likely the main pollinators of Aglaia flowers. Two main types of fruits can be distinguished: dehiscent fruits containing seeds with a red odourless aril which are dispersed by birds, and indehiscent fruits containing seeds with a white, yellow, orange or brown and sweet-tasting aril which are dispersed by primates.

Aglaia belongs to the tribe Aglaieae and is most closely related to the genus Lansium . It is divided into 2 sections on the basis of whether the fruits are dehiscent; section Amoora was formerly regarded as a separate genus. The genus Aphanamixis is closely related to Aglaia. Aphanamixis polystachya (Wallich) R.N. Parker has medicinal value in India, e.g. the bark is used in a liniment to treat rheumatism, and research has shown that it also contains compounds with antitumour, antiviral and insecticidal activities.


Aglaia usually occurs scattered and is locally common but never dominant. It is found in both primary and secondary forest, generally in evergreen rain forest, sometimes in monsoon or deciduous forest. Aglaia is found up to 1500 m altitude, but some species ascend as high as 2500(-3800) m.


Seeds should be sown as soon as possible after harvesting; they do not need any pretreatment. The seed germination rate of A. lawii is 50%, of A. silvestris 100% in 27-43 days. Seed of Aglaia is sometimes destroyed by larvae of various groups of insects.

Genetic resources

Several species of Aglaia show considerable morphological variation, which is often correlated with geographical distribution. Possible future germplasm collection activities should take this into account.


Rocaglamide derivatives and bisamide alkaloids found in several Aglaia species could play a potential role in the treatment of malignant diseases and are worth investigating in further studies of experimental medicine and pharmacology. Some of the insecticidal compounds are similar with regard to their activity to azadirachtin (from Azadirachta indica A.H.L. Juss.), a well-known plant-based insecticide, and therefore have good prospects as a pesticide.


98, 185, 247, 328, 492, 536, 541, 635, 636, 695, 702, 805, 1012.

Selection of species


  • Sri Hayati Widodo