Mallotus philippensis (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Mallotus philippensis (Lamk) Müll. Arg.

Protologue: Linnaea 34: 196 (1865; "philippinensis").
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 22


  • Croton philippense Lamk (1786),
  • Mallotus reticulatus Dunn,
  • Rottlera tinctoria Roxb.

Vernacular names

  • Kamala tree, monkey face tree, red berry (En)
  • Croton tinctorial, rottlière des teinturiers (Fr)
  • Indonesia: galuga furu (Ternate), kapasan (Javanese), ki meyong (Sundanese)
  • Malaysia: rambai kuching (general), kasirau, minyak madja (Peninsular), balik angin
  • Philippines: banato (Tagalog), pangaplasin (Ilokano), tagusala (Bisaya)
  • Papua New Guinea: tore (Vanapa Bridge, Central Province)
  • Burma (Myanmar): hpawng-awn
  • Cambodia: 'ânnadaa
  • Laos: kh'aay paax, khiiz moon, tangx thôôm
  • Thailand: kai khat hin, khee nuea (north-eastern), kham saet (central)
  • Vietnam: cánh kiến, cây mọt, mọt, thuốc sá, rùm nao, ba chia

Origin and geographic distribution

Kamala tree is widespread, from the western Himalayas, through India, Sri Lanka, to southern China, Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands, Thailand, and throughout Malesia to northern Australia and Melanesia.


The granules which cover the ripe fruit are used in India as a dye ("kamala") for dyeing silk and wool bright orange. Kamala also serves as a preservative for vegetable oils and dairy products. Kamala is also recorded to be used as a dye for food-stuffs and beverages, which seems unlikely because it is generally known as a purgative.

The granules on the fruit have been widely used as an anthelmintic and to treat skin complaints, e.g. herpes. An extract of kamala in hexachlorethane may be useful in treating liver fluke in cattle. Kamala is also known to affect the fertility of animal and man. It has been applied as a drastic purgative. The leaves and bark are also used to treat skin diseases, and pounded seeds are applied to wounds. The seeds are administered in traditional medicine in Thailand to treat vertigo and loss of appetite; a decoction of the wood is used to treat muscular inflammation and kidney diseases. The leaves are used as diuretic and anti-amoebic. In Papua New Guinea, a decoction of the leaves is applied against diarrhoea, but also to treat constipation; the sap is applied to wounds.

The seeds yield kamala seed oil which can be used as a substitute for tung oil, obtained from Aleurites spp., in the production of rapid-drying paints and varnishes. The seed oil is also used as a fixative in cosmetic preparations. All parts of the tree can be applied externally to treat parasitic infections of the skin.

The wood is sometimes used as timber for implements and rafters, and often as fuelwood. It is also suitable for paper pulp. The leaves are used as fodder.


The dye is insoluble in cold water and slightly soluble in boiling water, but it is freely soluble and forms deep red solutions in alcohol, ether and alkalies. The principal colouring substances are rottlerin (C30H28O8), crystallizing in salmon-coloured needles or plates, and its yellow isomer, isorottlerin, which together constitute about 11% of the weight of the kamala powder of ripe fruits. Other substances of the dye are resins (ca. 65%), wax (ca. 2%), and small amounts of the pigments 4-hydroxyrottlerin and 3,4-dihydroxyrottlerin, volatile oil, citric and oxalic acid, tannin, and gum. Rottlerin is active as an anthelmintic, it affects the fertility of female rats and guinea pigs, and is reportedly toxic to frogs, worms, and some fish species. In overdoses it causes nausea in humans. However, kamala is regarded as harmless in vegetable oils.

The seeds contain up to about 20% oil, often much less. Kamala seed oil is dark brown to pale yellow, is very viscous and has a tendency to polymerize. Its principal fatty acid is kamlolenic acid (ca. 60%). Seeds are reported to contain a toxic glycoside. Roots, stems and leaves contain hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous acid. The bark contains 6-10% tannin, the leaves contain a smaller amount.

The wood is whitish to pale reddish-grey, often with darker streaks, and fairly close and straight-grained. It is hard and moderately heavy, averaging 770 kg/m3. It shrinks much and is susceptible to insect attack.


  • A small to medium-sized monoecious tree, up to 25 m tall and with a bole up to 50 cm in diameter, but usually much less. Slash turning deep red. Branchlets reddish-brown glandular.
  • Leaves alternate and simple, more or less leathery, ovate to lanceolate, 5-16(-23) cm × 2-7(-9.5) cm, cuneate to rounded and with 2 glands at base, acute or acuminate at apex, entire, conspicuously 3-nerved, hairy and reddish glandular beneath; petiole 1-4(-10) cm long, puberulous and reddish-brown.
  • Male flowers in terminal and axillary, 2-10(-16) cm long, solitary or fascicled paniculate spikes, each flower with numerous stamens, small; female flowers in spikes or slender racemes, each flower with a stellate-hairy, 3-celled ovary with 3 papillose stigmas.
  • Fruit a depressed-globose, 3-lobed capsule, 5-7 mm × 8-10(-12) mm, stellate-puberulous and with abundant orange or reddish glandular granules, 3-seeded.
  • Seeds subglobose and black, ca. 4 mm across.

Growth and development

The growth is comparatively slow, mean annual girth increment being reported in India 0.65 cm, and mean girth after 16 years less than 15 cm.


Kamala tree is common in evergreen forest, especially in secondary forest, and sometimes even dominant in the undergrowth. It also occurs in scrubby vegetations and on open rocky ground. In forests in India it is dominated by sal tree (Shorea robusta Gaertner f.); it is often gregarious and precedes the appearance of sal tree, for which it prepares a "nursery" by killing off grasses. Kamala tree withstands considerable shade, it is frost-hardy and resistant to drought. It is found at altitudes between 0-1600 m.

Propagation and planting

Kamala tree can fairly easily be propagated by seeds sown at the beginning of the rainy season in a nursery. As the germination rate is often poor (for example, because of drought and insect attack) it is advisable to sow close, about 5 cm apart, and to thin out later. After one year seedlings are usually transplanted into the field. Dried seeds can be stored in gunny bags or in tins in a dry place for about 6 months without losing viability. Row planting with field crops has proved successful. Trees also reproduce from root suckers. However, kamala tree is not cultivated on plantation scale at present.


Loosening of soil and regular weeding are necessary for at least 2 years after sowing.

Diseases and pests

Several fungi causing rot have been reported to attack kamala tree. The wood is susceptible to attack from insects, especially beetles, such as Monochamus bimaculatus, Xylotrechus smei, Agrilus malloti, Sinoxylon spp., Lyctus africanus, and Stromatium barbatum.

Handling after harvest

The red granules are usually separated by beating and shaking the ripe fruits, or by stirring the fruits vigorously in water. The yield of kamala powder is only 1.5-4% of the weight of the fruit, which makes the product very expensive. Kamala is often adulterated with other vegetable dyes or minerals. To dye silk and wool, 4 parts of kamala, 1 part of alum and 2 parts of sodium bicarbonate are mixed in the powdered state with a small quantity of sesamum oil, and boiled in a pan. The bright orange to red colour is fairly fast to soap, acids and alkalies, but fades somewhat when much exposed to sunlight.

The seed oil can be extracted with light petroleum, benzene, ethyl ether or ethyl acetate. A high vacuum is used for stripping the solvent, as the oil polymerizes even at ambient temperature. Kamala oil can also be extracted by mixing with linseed oil or other vegetable oils and heating and filtering the mixture. Kamala oil solidifies when the extract is cooled.


Kamala is now rarely used as a dye. It is much too expensive to compete with synthetic dyes, but might have prospects in the food industry as an antioxidant. More research on the properties and nature of the dye is necessary to find its potential applications in the food industry. The oil from the seeds is another product worth attention. Kamala tree also has some interesting medicinal properties. It is surprising that the uses of this plant, which is common in many parts of its large area of distribution, are almost unknown outside India.


  • Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink, R.C., 1963. Flora of Java. Vol. 1. Noordhoff, Groningen, the Netherlands. p. 483.
  • Crevost, Ch. & Pételot, A., 1941. Catalogue des produits de l'Indochine. Tome 6. Tannins et tinctoriaux. Gouvernement général de l'Indochine, Hanoi. p. 70.
  • Levingston, R. & Zamorra, R., 1983. Medicine trees of the tropics. Unasylva 35(140): 7-8.
  • Sastri, B.N. (Editor), 1962. The wealth of India. Raw materials. Vol. 6. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi. pp. 229-233.

19, 21, 22, 23, 62, 121, 173, 256, 303, 334, 347, 542, 671, 760, 883, 990. medicinals

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