Calotropis gigantea (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Calotropis gigantea (L.) W.T.Aiton

distribution in Africa (planted and naturalized)
1, flowering branch; 2, gynostegium in longitudinal section; 3, pollinium; 4, fruit. Source: PROSEA
Protologue: Hort. kew. 2, 2: 78 (1811).
Family: Asclepiadaceae (APG: Apocynaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 22

Vernacular names

  • Crown flower, crown plant, giant milkweed, gigantic swallow-wort, rubber bush, bow-string hemp (En).
  • Mercure végétale, faux arbre de soie (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Calotropis gigantea is native to continental Asia and South-East Asia and has been introduced in the Pacific Islands, Australia, Central and northern South America and Africa as an ornamental near villages and temples and as a weed. In Africa it is recorded from Gabon, DR Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola and Mozambique, as well as from Seychelles and Mauritius. However, its distribution is incompletely known, and it probably occurs in other countries as well.


Calotropis gigantea and Calotropis procera (Aiton) W.T.Aiton generally have similar uses. Calotropis gigantea is mainly used in Africa and South-East Asia by immigrants from India, and the uses have thus spread. The whole plant is used for skin diseases, boils and sores and as a tonic and purgative in small doses, and as an emetic in larger doses. The powdered root bark is used to cure dysentery, elephantiasis, and leprosy. The stem bark is diaphoretic and expectorant, and is used for dysentery, spleen complaints, convulsions, lumbago, scabies, ringworm, pneumonia, and to induce labour. The latex is used on stings, toothache, caries, ringworm, leprosy, syphilis, rheumatism and tumours, and also as an antiseptic, vermifuge, emetic and purgative, as well as for poisoning arrows. The powdered flowers are given for coughs, colds and asthma. The crushed and warmed leaves are applied on burns, headaches and rheumatic pains, and as a tincture for intermittent fever.

In Mauritius a flower infusion is taken to treat intestinal worms, rheumatism and epileptic attacks. The fruit pulp is considered abortive. The smoke of dried, burned leaves is inhaled to calm asthma attacks. In East Africa the wood is also used as a toothbrush. The French name ‘mercure végétal’ refers to its use as an alternative to mercury in the treatment of syphilis.

In the past both Calotropis gigantea (Madar fibre) and Calotropis procera (French cotton or Akund) were cultivated and used as a source of a strong bark fibre for string, fishing nets and cloth, and their seed floss was used for packing and stuffing, as it was too short and too light for spinning. In Indonesia and Thailand, however, the floss is said to be made into thread, sometimes combined with cotton fibre. Calotropis gigantea has also been tested for use in the paper pulp fabrication, and as a source of methane, through anaerobic fermentation for biofuel production, although its potential is limited due to its invasive properties. Calotropis gigantea is sometimes used as fuel wood, but it is of poor quality. In Indo-China, charcoal from the wood was used in gun powder and fireworks. The leaves can be used for mulching, green manuring of rice fields and for binding sandy soil. In Vietnam, Calotropis gigantea is planted as a hedge plant. A fermented mixture of the latex and salt is used to remove the hair from goat skins for production of ‘nari leather’ and of sheep skins to make leather which is used for book-binding. The gynostegium is used by the Chinese in Indonesia in sweetmeats. In India, Thailand, the Philippines and Hawaii the long-lasting flowers of Calotropis gigantea are used in various floral arrangements in temples and in rosaries. It is also widely planted as an ornamental.

Production and international trade

In Africa Calotropis gigantea is only used on a local scale.


All parts of Calotropis gigantea are toxic, due to the presence of several cardiac glycosides (cardenolides). The latex contains the cardenolides calotropin, calotoxin and uscharin (which has been patented to combat uncontrolled cell proliferation), as well as the proteinase calotropain. The cardiac glycosides calotroposide A and B have been identified in the root bark, together with β-calotropeol and giganteol, the pregnanone calotropone, several ursane-type triterpenoids and giganticine, a non-protein amino acid. Giganteol, α- and β-calotropeol were also isolated from the stem, as was β-calotropeol from the flowers. In addition, the leaves contain the cardenolides calotropin and gigantin, and the roots calotropin, frugoside and 4’-O-β-D-glucopyranosylfrugoside. In addition to cardiac glycosides, several triterpenes, cyclosadol, cycloart-23-ene-3β–25-diol, α-lactucerol and lupeol have been isolated from the aerial parts.

Calotropin is a quick-acting heart stimulant, and is known to be 15–20 times more poisonous than strychnine: minute amounts can cause death. In the cat, the cardiotonic actions of calotroposide, calotoxoside and uscharin are 83%, 76% and 58% of the action of ouabain, respectively. The lethal dose for calotropin is 0.12 mg/kg. Calotropone, as well as other isolated cardenolides, display inhibitory effects towards various cell lines of human origin.

Calotropis gigantea is also known to cause allergic contact dermatitis, and the latex causes kerato-conjunctivitis.

Different root and leaf extracts showed analgesic, antipyretic, anticonvulsant, antiarthritic, anxiolytic and sedative activity in various experimental models with rats. In similar tests, a hydroalcoholic extract of the aerial parts possessed potent anti-inflammatory effects, and a chloroform and an ethanolic flower extract showed significant anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer activities. An ethanolic root extract exhibited 100% pregnancy interceptive activity in rats when administered as a single oral dose of 100 mg/kg at 1 day postcoitum, or at a dose of 12.5 mg/kg when administered during 5–7 days postcoitum schedules. When administered during the implantation period most of the implantations showed signs of resorption. A hydroalcoholic extract of the aerial parts showed significant antidiarrhoeal activity against castor oil-induced-diarrhoea in rats when administered intraperitoneally. An alcoholic flower extract also showed significant antidiarrhoeal activity against castor-oil-induced diarrhoea and gastrointestinal motility in rats. An ethanolic extract of the stem showed significant protection against carbon-tetrachloride-induced liver damage in rats. An extract of the aerial parts showed significant protection against lipid peroxidation at IC50 = 90 μm/ml, indicating a strong antioxidant potential. The latex extract hydrolyzed casein, fibrinogen and crude fibrin as well as blood and plasma clots dose-dependently, and exhibited procoagulant activity as assayed by re-calcification time. It also showed thrombin-like activity. Chloroform and n-butanol extracts of the aerial parts showed the highest cytotoxicity to a range of cancer cells tested in vitro, with ED50 values ranging from 0.25–0.46 μg/ml.

The cheese making capacity of the latex was studied as well as the effect of various parameters on the coagulating activity of the latex. The pH of the latex was 6.0. Coagulating activity of latex stored at 28°C was impaired within 24 hours, whereas latex stored at 4°C showed high stability. The optimum coagulation temperature and time for the latex were 80°C and 5 minutes, respectively. The optimum concentration of the latex for milk coagulation was 1.5%. As the temperature rose, the coagulating activity increased. Yields were lower when coagulation time was longer. The protein, fat, and lactose contents of the cheese were 20%, 14.5% and 2.5%, respectively.

Different plant part extracts or dried powdered parts, and especially whole plant extracts showed significant antifeeding, insecticidal, and growth inhibitor activities of the seed storage pests Callosobruchus maculatus, Sitophilus oryzae and Tribolium castaneum adults, 3rd-instar of Spodoptera exigua larvae, and eggs of Helicoverpa armigera. The latex showed significant nematicidal properties against the root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita and cowpea cyst nematode, Heterodera cajani. Seed treatment with the dry leaf powder of Calotropis gigantea resulted in the highest seed germination (98%), and the highest percentage of seedling establishment. Root dip treatment with leaf extracts resulted in a significant reduction of Meloidogyne incognita population in the soil at 45 days after transplanting and at harvest, and in increased fruit yield by 24%. Giganticine exhibited a significant antifeedant activity against nymphs of the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria. Fresh leaves at an application rate of 200 kg/ha showed significant molluscicidal activity against golden apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) in rice. Different extracts of the aerial parts and leaves showed significant antifungal properties against the fungal pathogens Phyllactinia corylea (powdery mildew), Peridiopsora mori (brown rust), Pseudocercospora mori (black leaf spot), Myrothecium roridum (brown leaf spot) and different Fusarium spp. in mulberry (Morus spp.). A methanolic extract of the aerial parts showed antifungal activity against the seedborne fungi Colletotrichum graminicola, Drechslera sorokiniana, Fusarium solani, Macrophomina phaseolina and Phomopsis sojae.

Calotropin and uscharidin were obtained after 120 days from shoot tips established from tissue culture on Murashige and Skoog basal medium supplemented with auxin-cytokinin.

The bark fibres are long, with a thin wall relative to their diameter, and are therefore lightweight. Floss is made up of fibres 2–3 cm long and 12–42 μm wide. The bark and seed fibres contain as main components holocellulose 76% and 69%, cellulose 57% and 49%, lignin 18% and 23%, and alkali soluble substances 17% and 15%, respectively. The mechanical properties of the bark fibres are: tensile strength 381 N/mm², strain at break 2.1% and Young’s modulus 9700 N/mm². In general, both types of fibres have enough potential for replacing or supplementing other fibrous raw materials as reinforcing agent.

Adulterations and substitutes

In Asia Calotropis gigantea is used as a substitute for ipecacuanha (Carapichea ipecacuanha (Brot.) L.Andersson), from tropical America, as an effective cure for amoebic dysentery, but it has a stronger tendency to produce vomiting and depression. In Africa, lemon juice is sometimes used as a substitute for the latex as a coagulant for making soft white cheese.


Large shrub or small tree up to 4(–10) m tall, much-branched at base, stems erect, up to 20 cm in diameter; bark pale grey, longitudinally cracked; young shoots woolly hairy; latex in all parts. Leaves opposite, decussate, simple and entire, sessile; stipules absent; blade broadly ovate to oblong-obovate, 9.5–20 cm × 6–12.5 cm, base cordate with semi-amplexicaul lobes, apex almost acute, short-hairy beneath. Inflorescence an axillary, umbellate to almost corymbose cyme up to 12.5 cm in diameter, peduncle 6–12 cm long, stout, secondary branches up to 2 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, white, cream, lilac or purple; pedicel 2.5–4 cm long, densely woolly hairy; calyx lobes broadly ovate, 4–6 mm × 2–3 mm; corolla 2.5–4 cm in diameter, lobes broadly triangular, 10–15 mm × 5–8 mm; corona with 5 narrow, fleshy scales, laterally compressed, 6–11 mm long, adnate to and shorter than the staminal column, forming an upturned horn with 2 rounded auricles on either side, cream or lilac to purple, with a dense longitudinal dorsal row of short white hairs; ovary superior, 2-celled, gynostegium up to 1 cm long, stigma head star-shaped. Fruit a pair of follicles, each follicle ovoid, boat-shaped, inflated, 6.5–10 cm × 3–5 cm, many-seeded. Seeds ovoid, 5–6 mm long, with 2–3 cm long coma at one end.

Other botanical information

Calotropis comprises 3 species. Calotropis gigantea can best be distinguished from Calotropis procera by the length of the staminal corona, which is up to 11 mm in Calotropis gigantea and up to 5 mm in Calotropis procera.

Growth and development

Calotropis gigantea is fast growing and flowers throughout the year, but especially during the hot season. It is primarily pollinated by bees, butterflies and wasps. Some reports indicate that Calotropis gigantea affects germination and seedling vigour of agricultural crops. However, the extracts failed to produce any detrimental effects on weeds.


Calotropis gigantea grows in dry uncultivated land, open waste land, along roadsides and railways, up to 1000 m altitude. It grows on a variety of soils, but prefers littoral sandy soils, and in different climates, but usually with a periodic dry period.

Propagation and planting

Calotropis gigantea can be propagated by seed or stem cuttings. The seeds are dispersed by wind and water. It can also be multiplied by tissue culture methods such as cell suspension cultures.


In Thailand a trial on plant spacing of Calotropis gigantea for medicinal purposes showed that a spacing of 0.5 m × 0.5 m gave higher plants, whereas at 2 m × 2 m plants were wider, although the number of main branches did not differ significantly.

Diseases and pests

The leaf hopper Poecilocerus pictus is a pest of Calotropis gigantea plants. The oleander aphid (Aphis nerii) and the caterpillars of the tiger butterfly (Danaus chrysippus) and of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) feed on Calotropis spp., using the cardenolides as a chemical defence mechanism. The nematodes Meloidogyne incognita and Meloidogyne javanica are found on the roots of Calotropis gigantea in India, although the leaf extract kills them. A sap-transmissible mosaic disease of Calotropis gigantea is transmissed by Aphis nerii.


The leaves, flowers and roots of Calotropis gigantea are harvested throughout the year.


In Thailand Calotropis gigantea reaches a maximum height of 166 cm in 1 year at a spacing of 0.5 m × 0.5 m, producing 7.3 t fresh leaves (1.1 t dry leaves) and 56 kg latex per hectare.

Handling after harvest

The leaves of Calotropis gigantea are cleaned with a cloth to remove the hairs, before being used fresh or dried in the sun.

Genetic resources

No germplasm collections of Calotropis gigantea are known. The ease of growing Calotropis gigantea and its widespread occurrence in villages, in sandy areas and on seashores means that it is in no danger of genetic erosion.


Calotropis gigantea has important uses in traditional medicine, although it is very poisonous, due to the presence of cardiac glycosides. This toxicity will strongly limit its potential use in local medicine. Also, the patenting of the cardenolide uscharine has not led to its use as a medicine. Extracts of Calotropis gigantea, however, display a range of interesting pharmacological activities, e.g. anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, anticonvulsant, antiarthritic, anxiolytic and sedative activity in various experimental models with rats, which merit further research.

Major references

  • Ahmed, K.K.M., Rana, A.C. & Dixit, V.K., 2005. Calotropis species (Ascelpediaceae) - a comprehensive review. Pharmacognosy Magazine 1(2): 48–52.
  • Ajay, K., Patil, P.A. Purnima, A. & Basavaraj, H., 2008. Anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer effects of Calotropis gigantea R.Br flowers in rodent. Journal of Natural Remedies 8(2): 183–190.
  • Ashori, A. & Bahreini, Z., 2009. Evaluation of Calotropis gigantea as a promising raw material for fiber-reinforced composite. Journal of Composite Materials 1(1): 1–8.
  • Chitme, H.R., Ghobadi, R., Chandra, M. & Kaushik, S., 2004. Studies on anti-diarrhoeal activity of Calotropis gigantea R.Br. in experimental animals. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science 7(1): 70–75.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1995. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 1. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 495 pp.
  • Kiew, R., 2001. Calotropis R.Br. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 133–138.
  • Lodhi, G., Singh, H.K., Pant, K.K. & Hussain, Z., 2009. Hepatoprotective effects of Calotropis gigantea extract against carbon tetrachloride induced liver injury in rats. Acta Pharmaceutica 59(1): 89–96.
  • Pathak, A.K. & Argal, A., 2007. Analgesic activity of Calotropis gigantea flower. Fitoterapia 78(1): 40–42.
  • Rahman, M.A. & Wilcock, C.C., 1991. A taxonomic revision of Calotropis (Asclepiadaceae). Nordic Journal of Botany 11(3): 301–308.
  • Srivastava, S.R., Keshri, G., Bhargavan, B., Singh, C. & Singh, M.M., 2007. Pregnancy interceptive activity of the roots of Calotropis gigantea Linn. in rats. Contraception 75(4): 318–322.

Other references

  • Adak, M. & Gupta, J.K., 2006. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of Calotropis gigantea (Akanda) in various biological systems. Nepal Medical College Journal 8(3): 156–161.
  • Anand, C.A., Stimson, W.H. & Gray, A.I., 2002. Pharmaceutical composition containing uscharidin or its analogues. Patent number: US6342490 (B1). Phyto Corp Ltd, United Kingdom.
  • Argal, A. & Pathak, A.K., 2005. Antidiarrhoeal activity of Calotropis gigantea flowers. Indian Journal of Natural Products 21(3): 42–44.
  • Argal, A. & Pathak, A.K., 2006. CNS activity of Calotropis gigantea roots. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 106(1): 142–145.
  • Arulprakash, R. & Veeravel, R., 2007. Effect of milkweed plant, Calotropis gigantea R. Br. on biochemical constituents of some important storage pests. Journal of Plant Protection and Environment 4(2): 47–50.
  • Chitme, H.R, Chandra, R. & Kaushik, S., 2006. Evaluation of analgesic activities of Calotropis gigantea extract in vivo. Asia Pacific Journal of Pharmacology 16(3/4): 157–162.
  • Chitme, H.R., Ramesh, C. & Sadhna, K., 2004. Evaluation of antipyretic activity of Calotropis gigantea (Asclepiadaceae) in experimental animals. Phytotherapy Research 19(5): 454–456.
  • CSIR, 1950. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials and industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 2: C. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 427 pp.
  • Dev, U., Devakumar, C., Agarwal, P.C, Mohan, J., Joshi, K.D. & Rani, I., 2002. Antifungal effect of Vitex negundo, Calotropis spp. and other plant extracts against seed-borne fungi. Pesticide Research Journal 14(2): 229–233.
  • Etchegaray, J.B. & Nishida, T., 1975. Reproductive activity, seasonal abundance and parasitism of the monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Danaidae) in Hawaii. Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society 22(1): 33–39.
  • Maji, M.D, Chattopadhyay, S., Kumar, P. & Saratchandra, B., 2005. In vitro screening of some plant extracts against fungal pathogens of mulberry (Morus spp.). Archives of Phytopathology and Plant Protection 38(3): 157–164.
  • Park, G., Lee, E.-J., Min, H.-Y., Choi, H.-Y., Han, A.-R., Lee, S.-K. & Seo, E.-K., 2002. Evaluation of cytotoxic potential of Indonesian medicinal plants in cultured human cancer cells. Natural Product Sciences 8(4): 165–169.
  • Patil, K.S., Babu, A.R.S. & Chaturvedi, S.C., 2008. Anti-convulsant activity of roots and barks of Calotropis gigantea Linn. Journal of Natural Remedies 8(1): 109–114.
  • Patil, K.S., Mamatha, G.C. & Chaturvedi, S.C., 2007. Antiarthritic activity of leaves of Calotropis gigantea Linn. Journal of Natural Remedies 7(2): 189–194.
  • Patil, S.V., Salunke, B.K. & Bhat, J.A., 2003. Herbal rennet from Calotropis gigantea. Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Sciences 25(2): 392–396.
  • Rajesh, R., Shivaprasad, H.V, Gowda, C.D., Raghavendra, N.A., Dhananjaya, B.L. & Vishwanath, B.S., 2007. Comparative study on plant latex proteases and their involvement in hemostasis: a special emphasis on clot inducing and dissolving properties. Planta Medica 73(10): 1061–1067.
  • Rao, M.R., Satyanvani, G., Kumar, A.D.N. & Gopal, S.V.R., 2008. Comparative evaluation of the antioxidant potential of selected Indian medicinal plants (Rasayanas). Biomedical & Pharmacology Journal 1(2): 375–382.
  • Roy, A.T., Koutoulis, A. & De, D.N., 2000. Cell suspension culture and plant regeneration in the latex-producing plant, Calotropis gigantea (Linn.) R.Br. Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture 63(1): 15–22.
  • Saravanapriya, B. & Sivakumar, M., 2005. Management of root knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita on tomato with botanicals. Natural Product Radiance 4(3): 158–161.
  • Shilpkar, P., Shah, M. & Chaudhary, D.R., 2007. An alternate use of Calotropis gigantea: biomethanation. Current Science 92(4): 435–437.

Sources of illustration

  • Kiew, R., 2001. Calotropis R.Br. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 133–138.


  • R.B. Jiofack Tafokou, Ecologic Museum of Cameroon, P.O. Box 8038, Yaoundé, Cameroon

Correct citation of this article

Jiofack Tafokou, R.B., 2010. Calotropis gigantea (L.) W.T.Aiton. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 29 May 2023.