Ochrosia borbonica (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Ochrosia borbonica J.F.Gmel.

Protologue: Syst. nat. 2: 439 (1791).
Family: Apocynaceae


Vernacular names

Bois jaune, quinquina du pays (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Ochrosia borbonica is endemic to the Mascarene Islands (Réunion and Mauritius).


In Réunion a small piece of the bark is boiled and the decoction is sweetened with honey and is drunk to treat loss of appetite, hypotension and constipation, and to reduce fever, e.g. in case of malaria. The bark soaked in wine is taken daily to purify the blood; the bark soaked in rum or water is taken before meals to reduce stomach cramps. In Mauritius the bark boiled with leaves is taken to treat fever. It is also widely taken as a tonic and stomachic and is applied against stomach cramps, as a bath or drink. It is also used against childhood eczema, locally known as ‘tambave’.

The wood was formerly used as timber for making household utensils.

Production and international trade

Ochrosia borbonica is used at a local scale only, and because it has become rare, it is no longer traded much.


Research on active constituents in Ochrosia has focused on anticancer compounds following the isolation of the indole alkaloids ellipticine, elliptinine, 9-methoxy-ellipticine and isoreserpiline from the Asian Ochrosia elliptica Labill. Many Ochrosia spp. have since been subject to investigation of their alkaloid content, and the production of ellipticine in in-vitro grown callus from Ochrosia elliptica has been successful.

The bark of Ochrosia borbonica is rich in indole alkaloids and contains mainly ellipticine, 9-methoxy-ellipticine, reserpiline and isoreserpiline. Ellipticine and 9-methoxy-ellipticine show antitumour properties, but also disturb biological membranes, which makes their utilization in medicines impossible.

Semisynthetic derivatives show higher activities against cancer cells and are less toxic. So far, only one ellipticine derivative, celiptium® (N-methyl-9-hydroxy-ellipticine, as acetate salt) has been introduced onto the market for treatment of metastatic breast cancer. This drug also shows significant activity against several leukaemia and melanoma cell lines. Ellipticine derivatives and analogues are also reversible non-competitive inhibitors of cholinesterases and interact with muscarine receptors. The ellipticine derivative hydroxy-methyl-ellipticine shows strong antiviral activities and is being extensively screened in clinical anti-Aids treatments.


Small tree up to 15 m tall, glabrous, except for the fringed sepals, with white latex; bole up to 40 cm in diameter; bark dark grey, fissured; branches with ring-shaped leaf scars. Leaves in whorls of 4, simple and entire; petiole 1–3.5 cm long, widened into a stipule at base; blade obovate to elliptical, 3–25 cm × 1.5–5 cm, base decurrent into the petiole, apex rounded, retuse, obtuse or acute, pinnately veined with numerous lateral veins at right angles to the midrib. Inflorescence a terminal cyme, but often seemingly axillary, many-flowered; peduncle 2–12 cm long; bracts scale-like. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant, sessile; sepals free, ovate, 2.5–3 mm long, thick, subtended by a sepal-like bracteole; corolla tube 7.5–10 mm long, cylindrical, slightly widened around the stamens, white with pink or red throat, lobes elliptical, 6–13 mm × 3–7 mm, apex rounded, spreading; stamens inserted 5–7 mm from the base of the corolla tube, included, filaments short; ovary superior, consisting of 2 carpels fused at base, style 2.5–4 mm long, split at base, ending in a conical pistil head. Fruit consisting of (1–)2 free ellipsoid drupes, 3.5–4.5 cm × 2–3 cm, apex rounded or apiculate, indehiscent, smooth, with 2 lateral ridges, mesocarp fibrous, each drupe 1–2-seeded. Seeds elliptical, flattened, 1.5–2.5 cm long, winged.

Other botanical information

Ochrosia comprises about 30 species from the Mascarene Islands and Seychelles to South-East Asia, the Pacific and northern Australia. New Caledonia is particularly rich in endemic species. Ochrosia belongs to the tribe Rauvolfieae, together with the well-known genus Rauvolfia.

Growth and development

Ochrosia borbonica flowers almost throughout the year, with a peak in January and February. Fruits are mainly observed from November to February. The fruits float with their thick fibrous mesocarp and are dispersed by sea currents. Likewise, the seeds float because of cavities in the endocarp. The seeds germinate readily when washed ashore. Natural regeneration of Ochrosia borbonica is very slow. It is also often not more than a shrub in the semi-arid vegetation.


Ochrosia borbonica occurs in forest, up to 1250 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Ochrosia borbonica can be propagated by seed or by cuttings. In Mauritius attempts are being made at propagating Ochrosia borbonica by ripe-wood cuttings, and plantlets are present in nurseries of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Genetic resources

In Mauritius and Réunion, Ochrosia borbonica has become rare because of habitat loss and destructive harvesting of the bark. It is now confined to remnants of forest and the risk of genetic erosion and extinction is very real for this species. It is classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Although Ochrosia borbonica is officially protected, pieces of bark collected from the wild can still be found on markets in Réunion.


The indole alkaloids isolated from Ochrosia borbonica possess interesting anti-cancer and anti-viral activities. This potential can only be realized if the future of the species is secured.

Major references

  • Bruneton, J., 1995. Pharmacognosy, phytochemistry, medicinal plants. Technique & Documentation Lavoisier, Paris, France. 915 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A. & Brendler, T., 2004. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mascarenes. Medpharm, Stuttgart, Germany. 568 pp.
  • 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.
  • Lavergne, R., 2001. Le grand livre des tisaneurs et plantes médicinales indigènes de la Réunion. Editions Orphie, Chevagny sur Guye, France. 522 pp.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M., 1988. The African species of Ochrosia Juss. In: Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. (Editor). Series of revisions of Apocynaceae 23. Agricultural University Wageningen Papers 87–5. pp. 45–53.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. & Rudjiman, 2005. Apocynacées. In: Autry, J.C., Bosser, J. & Ferguson, I.K. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 121–126. Institut de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement, Paris, France, Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 31 pp.
  • Matte, G., Morette, C., Hallard, M., Pontiggia, P., Blanquet, D. & Hage, F., 2002. Viral and immunologic follow up of 4 to 9 years of AIDS treatments by quadruple combinations of virostatics including integrase inhibitors in short sequences differing by drug rotation. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica 23(1): 1–15.
  • van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Hendrian, R., 2001. Ochrosia A.L. Juss. 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. 386–389.

Other references

  • Aubert, S. & Picot, F., 2005. Bois jaune and tisaneurs: the application of article 8(j) in an overseas department. In: Bétard, L., Cegarra, M., Djama, M., Louafi, S., Marchenay, P., Roussel, B. & Verdeaux, F. (Editors). Biodiversity and local ecological knowledge in France. INRA, CIRAD, IDDRI, IFB, France. pp. 224–228.
  • Bisset, N.G., 1988. Phytochemistry of Ochrosia borbonica and O. oppositifolia. In: Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. (Editor). Series of revisions of Apocynaceae. Agricultural University Wageningen Papers 87–5. pp. 59–60.
  • Chénieux, J.C., Ramawat, K.G. & Rideau, M., 1988. Ochrosia spp.: in vitro production of ellipticine, an antitumour agent. In: Bajaj, Y.P.S. (Editor). Biotechnology in agriculture and forestry. Volume 4. Medicinal and aromatic plants I. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany. pp. 448–463.
  • Lavergne, R. & Véra, R., 1989. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques à la Réunion. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 236 pp.
  • Loupy, M.M., 1987. Contribution à l’étude des plantes médicinales de l’île de La Réunion contenant des alcaloïdes: Ochrosia borbonica Gmelin (Apocynaceae), Tabernaemontana mauritiana Poiret (Apocynaceae). Thèse d’Exercise, Pharmacie, Université Montpellier I, Montpellier, France. 88 pp.
  • Moinet-Hedin, V., Tabka, T., Poulain, L., Godard, T., Lechevrel, M., Saturnino, C., Lancelot, J.-C., Le Talaël, J.-Y. & Gauduchon, P., 2000. Biological properties of 5,11-dimethyl-6H-pyrido[3,2-b]carbazoles: a new class of potent antitumor drugs. Anti-Cancer Drug Design 15(2): 109–118.
  • Rouillard, G. & Guého, J., 2000. Les plantes et leur histoire à l’Ile Maurice. MSM Printers, Port Louis, Mauritius. 752 pp.
  • Svoboda, G.H., Poore, G.A. & Montfort, M.L., 1968. Alkaloids of Ochrosia maculata Jacq. (Ochrosia borbonica Gmel.). Isolation of the alkaloids and study of the antitumor properties of 9-methoxyellipticine. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 57(10): 1720–1725.

Sources of illustration

  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M., 1988. The African species of Ochrosia Juss. In: Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. (Editor). Series of revisions of Apocynaceae 23. Agricultural University Wageningen Papers 87–5. pp. 45–53.


  • A. Gurib-Fakim

Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius

Correct citation of this article

Gurib-Fakim, A., 2006. Ochrosia borbonica J.F.Gmel. [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. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 28 September 2022.