Symplocos (PROSEA Medicinal plants)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Logo PROSEA.png
Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Symplocos Jacq.

Protologue: Enum. syst. pl. 5: 24 (1760).
Family: Symplocaceae
Chromosome number: x= 11, 12;S. cochinchinensis: 2n= 22, 24

Origin and geographic distribution

Symplocos comprises about 250 species and is distributed from tropical and subtropical Asia to eastern Australia and Fiji in western Polynesia, and in Central and South America, with a few species extending to temperate regions (to Japan and the United States). Approximately 60 species occur in the Malesian region. Borneo is richest with about 25 species, followed by Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and the Philippines, each with about 20 species. Indo-China and southern China have no less than about 30 species, Thailand has slightly less than 20.


Some Symplocos species are used in traditional medicine in South-East Asia, mainly to treat stomach-ache and thrush. In Peninsular Malaysia the bark of S. ophirensis C.B. Clarke was used internally as a vermifuge. An infusion of S. racemosa Roxb. leaves is used in Vietnam to treat stomach-ache and diarrhoea, and a decoction of S. glomerata King ex C.B. Clarke leaves to treat scabies. In China leaves of S. sumuntia Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don (synonym: S. caudata Wallich ex G. Don) are used in traditional medicine to treat pulmonary tuberculosis, dysentery, acute tonsillitis and otitis media, and eye infections. In Vietnam roots and leaves of S. paniculata (Thunberg) Miq. (synonym: S. chinensis (Lour.) Druce) are used to treat colds, fever, backache and burns, and in India the bark is considered a tonic and used to treat ophthalmia.

The inner bark and leaves of some species (mainly S. cochinchinensis and S. fasciculata Zoll.) are used as a mordant and yellow to red dye in the batik industry. Young leaves are sometimes eaten raw or steamed as a vegetable. The wood of Symplocos is used for light and temporary construction, posts, turnery, inlay work, furniture, matches, carving and wrapping paper.


Leaves and stems of S. cochinchinensis (of Sumatran origin) showed in-vitro antimicrobial activity, moderate against Staphylococcus aureus , Escherichia coli and Fusarium oxysporum , and strong against Saccharomyces cerevisiae . In tests in New Guinea, methanol extracts of S. cochinchinensis leaves, roots and stem bark showed a broad spectrum of antibacterial activity, that was enhanced on fractionation, but the extracts showed no activity on the moulds tested.

Matairesinol and harman (and derivatives of the latter compound) isolated from S. lucida (Thunberg) Sieb. & Zucc. (occurring from India to Japan and western Malesia) were found to inhibit human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) replication in H9 lymphocyte cells. Ethanolic extracts of S. lucida leaves produced hypoglycaemic activity in rats, and anti-cancer activity against Friend virus leukaemia in mice, and leaf and stem extracts showed activity against human epidermoid carcinoma of the nasopharynx in tissue culture. The flavan-glycoside symposide, isolated from S. racemosa stem bark, showed anti-fibrinolytic activity. Water extracts of S. racemosa stem bark exhibited analgesic and antidiarrhoeal activities when intraperitoneally administered to mice.

Symplocos contains large amounts of aluminium, up to 50% of the ash, and this is responsible for the action as a mordant. Gallic and ellagic acid are common. Leucoanthocyanins occur in various amounts, and quercetin and caffeic acid have also been demonstrated. A mixture of triterpenoid saponins has been obtained from S. cochinchinensis .


Evergreen shrubs or small to medium-sized, rarely large trees up to 30(-45) m tall. Leaves alternate or arranged spirally, simple, often with vesicular or toothlike glands at margins, pinnately veined, petiolate; stipules absent. Inflorescence usually an axillary spike, raceme or panicle. Flowers bisexual, regular, 3-5-merous; calyx with very short tube; corolla sympetalous but often divided nearly to the base, whitish, bluish or purplish; stamens 4-many, connate into a tube or only at the very base and then sometimes in 5 bundles; ovary inferior, 2-5-celled, style 1. Fruit a drupe with hard stone, crowned by the persistent calyx lobes, 1-seeded. Seed with copious endosperm. Seedling with epigeal germination, cotyledons very short and linear, green; hypocotyl elongated; first 2 leaves opposite or alternate.

Growth is continuous or in flushes. Within a given tree all flowers open more or less at the same time. Pollination is probably by insects such as bees and bumblebees, but self-pollination already in the bud is also suggested. Although birds and bats may sometimes eat the fruits, fruit dispersal is unlikely to be abundant.


Symplocos occurs most abundantly in the tropical highlands up to 4000 m altitude, but many species have a fair altitudinal range and are also found in the lowlands. In general, it is a component in mixed, mostly evergreen rain forest.

Management Symplocos can be propagated by seed. For S. cochinchinensis there are about 27 500 dry fruits/kg, and sown fruits show only about 15% germination in 4-7 months.

Genetic resources

It seems that Symplocos is not particularly threatened because it is little used, either for medicinal purposes or for timber, dye or mordant, and often occurs in more or less inaccessible mountainous locations.


Although relatively little research has been done on the phytochemistry and pharmacological properties of Symplocos , the few studies available show interesting results, e.g. concerning antimicrobial activity. More research seems worthwhile, also in the light of the rather common application in traditional medicine in India and China.


398, 542, 671, 685, 883, 1030.

Selection of species


Inggit Puji Astuti