Callicarpa (PROSEA Medicinal plants)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Callicarpa L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 111 (1753); Gen pl. ed. 5: 127 (1754).
Family: Verbenaceae
Chromosome number: x= 8, 9;C. japonica: 2n= 32, 36,C. longifolia: 2n= 36,C. macrophylla: 2n= 34

Major species

Callicarpa candicans (Burm.f.) Hochr., C. formosana Rolfe, C. longifolia Lamk.

Vernacular names

  • Beauty berry (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Callicarpa comprises some 150 species which are mainly distributed in East and South-East Asia, followed by tropical and temperate America, tropical Australia and some Pacific Islands. It is not found in Africa or Europe, except under cultivation. In the New World there are fewer native species, of which about 20 occur in Cuba. The highest concentration of species is in the Philippines and on Cuba.


Throughout South-East Asia numerous Callicarpa are used externally for poulticing or internally for various afflictions. Sometimes external and internal applications are combined in e.g. the treatment of an upset stomach. Several species are used as a fish poison e.g. C. erioclona Schauer in the Philippines. This species is also mentioned as a cure for itch. C. arborea Roxb. (synonym C. tomentosa auct. non (L.) Murray) is primarily used for its timber. In Peninsular Malaysia, its pounded leaves are used to poultice sores, and the juice is drunk to relieve stomach-ache. C. macrophylla Vahl is applied in Indian folk medicine for the treatment of stomach disorders and malarial fever, and heated leaves are applied on rheumatic joints to relieve pain. C. macrophylla , indigenous in the region, and C. japonica Thunb. from temperate Asia, are primarily grown as ornamentals in South-East Asia.

Production and international trade

Callicarpa is only used on a local scale.


The leaves of C. candicans contain callicarpone, a component 10 times as toxic to fish as a rotenone reference. It is assumed that callicarpone, which is an abietane-type diterpene, will act in a similar way as an insecticidal agent as does rotenone, an isoflavone derivative from Derris elliptica (Wallich) Benth. Structure-activity relationships of callicarpone were examined by synthesizing a series of simple analogues bearing certain of its structural features. Compounds were tested for insecticidal and antimicrobial activities. Examples include piperitone oxide which showed approximately 1/100th the activity of rotenone against Daphnia magna , 1 (α-hydroxyisopropyl)-3-oxocyclohexene oxide which showed fungicidal activity against Mycobacterium , while 2,3,4,6,7,8-hexahydronaphthalene-1,4-dione showed inhibitory activity against Mycobacterium and 2 yeasts. This indicates that at least the epoxide and ketone functions of the callicarpone are involved in its biological activities.

A 1% benzene extract from C. japonica shows strong in vitro antifeedant activity towards the third-instar larvae of Spodoptera litura using the leaf disk method. In addition, a flavone, 5,6,7-trimethoxyflavone, isolated from C. japonica , was subjected to antiviral assays. The compound exhibited relatively high inhibitory effects on herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), human cytomegalovirus and poliovirus. The anti-HSV-1 action was not due to the inhibition of virus adsorption, entry or viral protein synthesis, but might involve, at least in part, a virucidal activity, which results in a suppression of viral binding to host cells at an early replication stage.

The flavone and acyclovir were synergic in their anti-HSV activities at levels below the 50% inhibitory concentrations for antiviral activity. Furthermore, a modified syncytia formation inhibition assay using recombinant virus vPE 16 and CD4+HeLa cell revealed that extracts of C. japonica contain anti-HIV compounds.

Ether, ethanol and chloroform extracts of the leaves of C. formosana showed strong in vitro inhibition of Bacillus subtilis using the disk agar diffusion method. The presence of triterpenes (ursolic acid derivatives) and phytosterols is reported.


  • Small trees, shrubs or undershrubs, evergreen or deciduous; stem and branches almost cylindrical, variously hairy.
  • Leaves decussate, simple, reticulate-veined; petiolate; stipules absent.
  • Inflorescence axillary or supra-axillary, cymose, in the axils of the upper leaves; pedunculate.
  • Flowers usually bisexual, usually 4-merous, actinomorphic, bracteate; calyx tubular to campanulate, persistent; corolla campanulate to tubular, spreading; stamens 4(-5), inserted at base of corolla tube, alternating with the corolla lobes; ovary superior, 4-locular, 4-seeded.
  • Fruit a small globose drupe, variously coloured, endocarp consisting of 4 undivided pyrenes.
  • Seed exalbuminous.
  • Seedling with epigeal germination; cotyledons emergent; hypocotyl elongated.

Growth and development

In South-East Asia Callicarpa flowers and fruits throughout the year. The fruits of most species are said to be devoured extensively by birds and seed dispersal is thus effected.

Other botanical information

The Malesian Callicarpa species are poorly known botanically and in need of a thorough taxonomic revision. Traditionally Callicarpa has been included in the Verbenaceae subfamily Viticoideae, as is done so here. However, current research suggests that those genera within Viticoideae characterized by their cymose inflorescences, should now be included within the Labiatae. Some of the uses attributed to one of the closely resembling species C. candicans, C. longifolia and C. macrophylla may equally apply to all of them.


Callicarpa can be found from sea-level on isolated islands to high alpine habitats in the Himalayas. Within South-East Asia, Callicarpa occurs scattered in rain forest, up to 2300 m altitude. Several species are also found in secondary forest or as understorey trees.

Propagation and planting

Probably most, if not all Callicarpa species can be grown from cuttings.


Shoots, leaves and roots of Callicarpa are collected whenever needed.

Handling after harvest

Usually Callicarpa is used fresh, however, leaves can be dried for future use.

Genetic resources and breeding

As Callicarpa is botanically poorly known, it is difficult at present to assess the conservation of its genetic resources. There are no records of ex-situ conservation.


The anti-insecticidal properties of callicarpone, and the antiviral activities of 5,6,7-trimethoxyflavone are interesting, and merit further research in order to fully evaluate their future possibilities.


  • Beloy, F.B., Masilungan, V.A., de la Cruz, R.M. & Ramos, E.V., 1976. Investigation of some Philippine plants for antimicrobial substances. Philippine Journal of Science 105(4): 205-213.
  • Hayashi, K., Hayashi, T., Otsuka, H. & Takeda, Y., 1997. Antiviral activity of 5,6,7-trimethoxyflavone and its potentiation of the antiherpes activity of acyclovir. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 39(6): 821-824.
  • McChesney, J.D., Kabra, P.M. & Fraher, P., 1979. Simple analogs of the toxin callicarpone. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 68(9): 1116-1120.
  • Munir, A.A., 1982. A taxonomic revision of the genus Callicarpa L. (Verbenaceae) in Australia. Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens 6(1): 5-39.
  • Wagstaff, S.J. & Olmstaed, R.G., 1997. Phylogeny of Labiatae and Verbenaceae inferred from rbcL sequences. Systematic Botany 22(1): 165-179.
  • Woo, E.R., Yoon, S.H., Kwak, J.H., Kim, H.J. & Park, H., 1997. Inhibition of gp 120-CD4 interaction by various plant extracts. Phytomedicine 4(1): 53-58.


J.L.C.H. van Valkenburg & N. Bunyapraphatsara