Pentatropis nivalis (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Pentatropis nivalis (J.F.Gmel.) Field & Wood

distribution in Africa (wild)
Protologue: Kew Bull. 38(2): 215 (1983).
Family: Asclepiadaceae (APG: Apocynaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 22


  • Pentatropis spiralis auct.,
  • Pentatropis madagascariensis Decne. (1844).

Origin and geographic distribution

Pentatropis nivalis occurs from Senegal east to Eritrea and south to Tanzania. It further occurs in Comoros and Madagascar, and also from peninsular Arabia east to north-western India.


A decoction of the dried roots is taken as a purgative, astringent and cooling tonic, and also to treat venereal diseases. The latex is applied to warts and tumours. In Senegal the plant it given to women and cows to increase milk production. In Madagascar an infusion of the leafy branches is given to babies and young children to treat diarrhoea.

In Kenya and India young shoots are browsed by cattle. In Kenya the Turkana people use the stems to make necklaces. In India the sweetish roots are eaten.


From the aerial parts of plants from Pakistan the triterpenes pentatronol, pentatropeline, squalene and taraxasterol and an acyclic diterpene ester have been isolated. From the roots the triterpenes cycloeucalenol, 24-methylenecycloartenol and a derivative therof have been isolated. From the stems glycosides of kaempferol, isorhamnetin and quercetin were isolated. Leaf extracts from plants from Madagascar showed toxic activity in mice and tadpoles, as well as inhibition of germination of rice and beans. An analysis of the latex showed that it is moderately useful as source of renewable energy.


Slender much-branched liana, up to 2 m long, with clear latex. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–3 mm long; blade narrowly oblong to elliptical or ovate, 1–3 cm × 2–15(–20) mm, base rounded, apex rounded with small acute tip, leathery. Inflorescence a more or less dense axillary cluster, 2–3 flowers open at the same time. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 5–15 mm long, very slender; sepals narrowly triangular; corolla yellow, green to brownish purple, lobes triangular, 5–9 mm × 2–3 mm, fused at base, apex more or less long-acuminate, twisted, densely short-hairy inside; corona existing of 5 thickened lobes, obovate, c. 2 mm long, as long as gynostegium; anther wings 1–1.5 mm long; ovary semi-inferior, 2-celled, style columnar, stigmatic head with 5 rounded lobes. Fruit usually a single follicle, narrowly ellipsoid, 4.5–6 cm long, apex long-tapering, many-seeded. Seeds with coma of white hairs.

Other botanical information

Pentatropis comprises three species: Pentatropis bentii (N.E.Br.) Liede from Somalia and southern peninsular Arabia, Pentatropis capensis (L.f.) Bullock from India and Sri Lanka and Pentatropis nivalis, which is now considered widespread from Africa to India, after a revision in which many species were put into synonymy. The last two species are closely related and it is well possible that they belong to the same species. Pentatropis is closely related to Tylophora and Pleurostelma.

Growth and development

Pentatropis nivalis can be found flowering throughout the year, as long as sufficient water is available.


Pentatropis nivalis is scrambling over shrubs in dry bushland on sandy, rocky or silty soils, from sea-level up to 1300 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Pentatropis nivalis is propagated by seeds.


All plant parts of Pentatropis nivalis can be harvested whenever the need arises.

Genetic resources

Pentatropis nivalis has a large area of distribution and is relatively common. It is therefore not threatened by genetic erosion.


Pentatropis nivalis has several traditional medicinal uses, and a number of triterpenes and flavonoids have been isolated from different plant parts. However, very little is known concerning is pharmacology and more research is needed to evaluate the potential of the triterpenes and to assess the safety of use in local medicine.

Major references

  • Albers, F., Gilbert, M., Goyder, D., Liede, S. & Venter, J., 2003. Asclepiadaceae. In: Hedberg, I., Edwards, S. & Sileshi Nemomissa (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 4, part 1. Apiaceae to Dipsacaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 99–193.
  • Bullock, A.A., 1955. Notes on African Asclepiadaceae 6. Kew Bulletin 1955: 265–292.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
  • Heneidak, S., Grayer, R.J., Kite, G.C. & Simmonds, M.S-J., 2006. Flavonoid glycosides from Egyptian species of the tribe Asclepiadeae (Apocynaceae, subfamily Asclepiadoideae). Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 34(7): 575–584.
  • Meve, U. & Liede, S., 2002. Floristic exchange between mainland Africa and Madagascar: case studies in Apocynaceae - Asclepiadoideae. Journal of Biogeography 29: 865–873.

Other references

  • Harinjatovo, H., 2001. Etude chimique et biologique d’extraits toxiques de feuilles de Pentatropis madagascariensis (Asclepiadacées). Mémoire de DEA de Biochimie : Option Biochimie appliquée aux Sciences médicales, Département de Biochimie fondamentale appliquée, Faculté des sciences, Université d’Antananarivo, Madagascar. 57 pp.
  • Marimuthu, S., Subramanian, R.B., Kothari, I.L. & Inamdar, J.A., 1989. Lactiferous taxa as a source of energy and hydrocarbon. Economic Botany 43(2): 255–261.
  • Morgan, W.T.W., 1981. Ethnobotany of the Turkana: use of plants by a pastoral people and their livestock in Kenya. Economic Botany 35(1): 96–130.
  • Rasolondratovo, B., Manjary, F., Rabemanantsoa, C., Rasoanaivo, P. & Ratsimamanga-Urverg, S., 1995. Contribution à l’inventaire des plantes utilisées comme remèdes et charmes dans la région sud de Madagascar. Revue de Médecines et Pharmacopées Africaines 9(2): 135–145.
  • Razafiarison, C., 1993. Aperçu sur les plantes médicinales dans le sud de Madagascar : étude faite sur les enfants dans le périmètre de la réserve spéciale de Beza - Mahafaly. Thèse pour l’obtention du grade de Docteur en Médecine, Etablissement d’Enseignement Supérieur des Sciences de la Santé, Faculté de Médecine, Université d’Antananarivo, Madagascar. 93 pp.
  • Rasool, N., Ahmad, V.U. & Malik, A., 1991. Terpenoids from Pentatropis spiralis. Phytochemistry 30(4): 1331–1332.
  • Rasool, N., Ahmad, V.U. & Malik, A., 1992. Two new triterpenoids from Pentatropis spiralis. Fitoterapia 63(2): 156–159.


  • G.H. Schmelzer, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Schmelzer, G.H., 2012. Pentatropis nivalis (J.F.Gmel.) D.V.Field & J.R.I.Wood. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editeurs). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Pays Bas. Accessed 8 July 2021.