Protium heptaphyllum

Protium heptaphyllum

Almécega (Protium heptaphyllum (Aubl.) Marchand) is an arboreal species belonging to the Burseraceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Sapindales Order,
Burseraceae family,
Genus Protium,
P. heptaphyllum species.
The following terms are synonymous:
– Icica heptaphylla Aubl .;
– Icica surinamensis Miq .;
– Protium angustifolium Swart;
– Protium hostmannii brasiliense Swart;
– Protium multiflorum Engl .;
– Protium octandrum Swart;
– Tingulonga heptaphylla (Aubl.) Kuntze;
– Tingulonga multiflora (Engl.) Kuntze.
Within this species, the following subspecies are recognized:
– Protium heptaphyllum subsp. cordatum (Huber) Daly;
– Protium heptaphyllum subsp. heptaphyllum;
– Protium heptaphyllum subsp. ulei (Swart) Daly.

Etymology –
The term Protium is derived from modern Latin and coming from the Greek prōtos, first.
The specific epithet heptaphyllum comes from the Greek ἑπτά heptá seven and from φύλλον phýllon leaf: with seven leaves or leaves made up of seven leaflets.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Protium heptaphyllum is a species native to the Amazon with a distribution range in Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and Guyana.
Its natural habitat is that of primary or secondary broad-leaved semi-deciduous tropical rainforests, savannahs and forests at higher altitudes, especially on the higher banks of rivers where it often grows on sandy soils.

Description –
Protium heptaphyllum is a large evergreen tree and can reach a height of between 10 and 20 meters.
It has a large and dense crown and the trunk has a diameter of 40 – 60 cm.
The leaves are alternate, compound, odd-pinnate, with 2-3 pairs of leaflets (2.5-13 x 1-4.5 cm), leathery, elongated ovoid, dark green on the upper side and slightly green lighter on the lower one.
The inflorescence is panicle, axillary or sub-terminal.
The flowers are white-greenish-purplish-cream pentamers.
The fruit is an obovoid drupe, reddish-brown in color, dehiscent, with a seed that is a white aril.
The structures emit a sweet and strong smell. Crystalline resin which is white when dried.

Cultivation –
Protium heptaphyllum is an evergreen tree that is used in the wild for local use, especially for its resin, but also as a food, medicine and source of wood. It is sometimes grown for edible fruit and resin, and the resin is sometimes exported.
It is a subtropical plant that can withstand temperatures up to 4 ° C.
It is grown throughout Brazil, as it is a plant that adapts to sandy or even heavier soils but does not tolerate swampy soils or near rivers where there is continuous flooding.
It requires a sunny position and has a moderate growth rate and is grown as an ornamental plant in urban and rural settings.
Propagation takes place by seed which must be sown as soon as it is ripe, possibly in seedbeds or individual containers.
The germination rate is usually low and germination occurs in 15 – 25 days.
Transplanting into individual pots should be done when they have reached a height of 5 – 6 cm.
In their natural state, the dispersion of seeds is carried out by animals, in particular by leaf cutter ants. These organisms carry leaves from plants to a fungus with which they share a symbiotic relationship. This is not only beneficial for the plant, as it helps the plant disperse its seeds, but also helps the ant maintain the symbiotic relationship it has with the fungus. These ants are also known to be good pollinators for this species.
Studies have not been able to fully understand the relationship between this species and leaf cutter ants, but they have been shown to contribute to seed dispersal and pollination.

Customs and Traditions –
Protium heptaphyllum is a plant that has long been used by the natives for resin, as a source of food, wood and in traditional medicine.
For edible use, the fruits that ripen in the months from January to March are used. The fruits have a sweet and refreshing pulp and can be eaten fresh or as a juice.
The resin has medicinal and insecticidal properties.
For medicinal use, the bark is used which produces a resinous material, known as “Busnigre Kandra” or “Boesnegre Kandra”, which hardens on contact with air. You put it in water and drink the liquid to remedy chest ailments, bronchitis and asthma.
The bark and leaves are used to treat general ulcers and inflammations.
The plant (part unspecified) is hemostatic.
Among other uses, it should be remembered that a resin is obtained from the stems, known as ‘hyawa gum’ or ‘ronima resin’; this is used for incense and in paints.
The resin is white in color, it is hard and translucent, it fractures easily and is very pungent, even when it is old and dried.
The resin is mixed into a red body paint and is sometimes also added to clay to make vases and other artifacts.
The resin is also used as a glaze.
The resin is made up of 30% protamirin; 25% proteleminic acid; 37.5% of protelresin and various minor constituents useful for extracting essential oils.
The resin is collected through incisions made in the bark of the trees; this is left to dry on the trunk before being collected and wrapped in leaves in small packages that are hung under the beams of the house to “age” for four or five months before use.
The chemical composition of the resin was determined by gas chromatography coupled to a mass spectrometer. The resin is made up of triterpenes, such as α- and β-amirine. Cytotoxicity was observed only in fractions enriched with α- and β-amirine. The resin and fractions have antiproliferative activity, increased caspase- and ACE activity and a 3-level TNF-α level. Overall, the resin and fractions enriched with α- and β-amirine, in some researches, initiated cytotoxicity and apoptosis.
As for the wood, Protium heptaphyllum has a light brown heartwood; it is not demarcated by the sapwood. It has medium texture; uneven grain; medium gloss; there is no distinctive taste or aroma. The wood is moderately heavy, compact, hard, of great durability in dry places. It is quite elastic and easy to work with, producing a good finish. Wood is used in construction in general, interior works, floorboards, turning works, furniture, joinery and cabinet making.
For ornamental purposes the tree can be planted in squares and large gardens to produce great shade or in renaturalization projects, with the aim of providing food for birds and monkeys.

Preparation Method –
Protium heptaphyllum is used both in the food and medical fields.
The fruits are eaten or juices are prepared with them.
In traditional medicine, resin is used, which is collected through incisions made in the bark of trees; this is left to dry on the trunk before being harvested.

Guido Bissanti

Sources
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Photo source:
https://plantidtools.fieldmuseum.org/en/rrc/catalogue/325462
https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:128338-1

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.




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