An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Quassia undulata

Quassia undulata

The Mjoho or Quassia undulata (Quassia undulata (Guill. & Perr.) D.Dietr.) is an arboreal species belonging to the Simaroubaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta division,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Sapindales Order,
Family Simaroubaceae,
Genus Quassia,
Species Q. undulata.
The terms are synonyms:
– Hannoa ferruginea Engl.;
– Hannoa undulata (Guill. & Perr.) Planch.;
– Odyendyea klaineana (Pierre) Engl;
– Simaba undulata Guill. & Perr..

Etymology –
The term Quassia takes its name from a former slave from Suriname, Graman Quassi, who lived in the 18th century; he discovered the medicinal properties of the bark of Quassia amara.
The specific undulata epithet comes from úndula small wave: wavy, with elements with wavy edges; epithet of very wide use and which in this case refers to the leaves, with strongly wavy margins.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Quassia undulata is a plant native to tropical Africa, present in Senegal eastward up to Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic.
Its habitat is varied and is found in open grasslands, wooded grasslands, thickets and all types of forest, including evergreen, deciduous, secondary, riverine and semi-swamp forests, at an altitude of up to 2500 m.

Description –
Quassia undulata is a plant that grows in the form of a shrub or tree that can grow up to 42 m in height.
The trunk can reach 120 cm in diameter and is straight, cylindrical, usually without buttresses but sometimes with small buttresses; the surface of the bark is smooth or fissured, gray in color, scaly; the inner bark is white to yellow-brown and fibrous; crown rounded, dense; the branches are glabrous to pubescent.
The leaves are alternate, imparipinnate composed of 2-9 pairs of leaflets, 8-40 cm long; the stipules are absent and petioles up to 4 cm long; the leaflets are oblong to elliptical or obovate in shape, 2–20 cm × 1–8 cm; terminal and basal leaflets usually smaller, base rounded to wedge-shaped, often oblique, apex serrated or rounded to short-sharp, margin entire, sometimes slightly wavy, leathery, glabrous, often with pitted glands on upper surface, veined and with 6-10 pairs of lateral veins.
The inflorescences are axillary or terminal, lax, up to 40 cm long.
The flowers are unisexual or bisexual, white to yellowish, perfumed; the pedicel is 1-10 mm long; calyx 2–5 lobed, 2–4.5 mm long, hairless inside, hairless to slightly hairy outside; petals are 5, free, narrowly ovate to oblong 3–7 mm × 1–2.5 mm, acute, hairy on both sides; the stamens are usually 10, up to 7 mm long in male flowers, 1.5–3 mm long in female or bisexual flowers; the ovary consists of 5 free carpels, 1–1.5 mm long in female or bisexual flowers, reduced in male flowers; the stylus is 0.5–2 mm long.
In West Africa flowering is in August-November and fruiting in September-February.
The fruit consists of 1–3 (–4) drupes, ellipsoidal to oblong in shape of 1.5–3.5 cm × 1–2.5 cm, often slightly 2-keeled and slightly flattened, purplish or black, shiny. Each drupe carries one seed.

Cultivation –
Quassia undulata is a plant that prefers light for its growth, in fact regeneration in savannah conditions is better than in forest conditions. It is a plant that soon colonizes clearings and old farmland and is also fire tolerant.
It is a typically tropical tree that grows at low to moderate elevations.
It is a fast growing plant. In Sierra Leone, average annual increases of about 1.2 cm in diameter have been recorded. In Guinea 5-year saplings were recorded to average 4.1m tall, but some trees were already 3.5m tall after just 2 years. The tree is normally evergreen, but sometimes very briefly deciduous. In the dry season, flushes of new reddish-purple leaves appear.
The tree can be coppiced and pollarded.
This plant reproduces easily from seed. The weight of 1000 seeds is 750-1800 g. For good germination, the seeds should be sown immediately after being harvested, as they quickly lose their vitality. Seeds germinate in 6-22 days. Initial growth in the nursery is slow, with 5-month-old seedlings only 11-12 cm tall. The seedlings are ready to be planted when they are about 14 months old.
In nature, seeds are likely to be dispersed by animals and water, as they are floating.
They should be transplanted in full sun in pure woods or mixed with other species that require light and do not grow too fast.

Customs and Traditions –
On Quassia undulata, from a systematic point of view, there has been a considerable confusion on the part of some botanists who treated in some cases the Quassia sylvestris and the Quassia gabonensis as Quassia undulata. More recent research (“Two new names in West-Central African Quassia L. [Simaroubaceae]”; Martin Cheek & Carel C. H, Jongkind, Kew Bulletin Vol. 63 247-250 ) concluded that these three species are distinct.
Quassia undulata, in its range, has a wide distribution and is found in a wide range of habitats, and as such does not appear to be subject to genetic erosion. However locally it may become rare due to overexploitation due to high demand for use in traditional medicine and habitat decline, such as in Nigeria. In many other countries, such as Ghana, it is considered common and not of particular conservation concern.
This plant is considered of some importance in traditional medicine in Africa; the plant is also used for food, timber, oil and insecticide and in some areas it is grown as an ornamental plant.
The seed is said to be poisonous to livestock, but loses its toxicity upon drying.
Among the edible uses, it should be remembered that the fruit, according to some reports, is indicated as edible; however various sources state that it is not edible.
The pulp of the seeds is eaten.
In the medicinal field it is a plant with a bitter taste that is often used in traditional African medicine.
Modern research has shown that there are various medicinally active substances in the plant.
Extracts obtained from the stems, stem bark and root bark and various quassinoids isolated from the plant showed antimalarial activity against Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium berghei.
The quassinoid 15-desacetylundulatone, isolated from the root cortex, showed antitumor activity against P388 mouse lymphocytic leukemia cells and colonic adenocarcinoma 38.
Eniotorin, a coumarin also isolated from the root bark, has shown antimalarial properties in vitro.
Some alkaloids have been isolated from the root bark.
The hexane and methanol extracts of the leaves and stems showed marked antibacterial and antifungal activities, inhibiting the growth of Aspergillus niger, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus faecalis.
The quassinoid chaparrinone has shown in vitro antiviral activity against the carcinogenic Rous sarcoma virus (RSV).
Among other uses it is reported that the seed and the oil of the seed are used in the production of soap. The seed provides 56% oil, with the main fatty acids being: oleic acid (46 – 61%), stearic acid (20 – 26%), palmitic acid (8 – 11%) and linoleic acid (8 – 10%) .
A paste of boiled bark and seed pulp is used in Nigeria as a hair pomade, and in Zimbabwe women use the seed oil in a similar way.
A seed extract has shown insecticidal properties.
The quassinoid fraction of the seed (a mixture of chaparrinone, glaucarubolone and klaineanone) inhibits the penetration of Meloidogyne javanica into tomato roots and reduces the reproduction of the nematode.
As for its wood, it is characterized by a heartwood that goes from grayish white to pale yellow, somewhat bright, and is not clearly differentiated from sapwood.
The wood is straight-grained, light, soft, not very strong, fibrous and occasionally brittle.
It saws and cuts easily and works well with hand and power tools. Planes and shapes well and sands well, but sanding must be done perpendicular to the direction of the grain. It does not split when nailing and holds nails and screws well. It punctures easily. The machining properties are excellent, but the wood is too soft to be turned. It sticks and finishes well. The wood is not durable, being susceptible to attack by fungi, sea borers and termites. The heartwood is resistant to impregnation with preservatives, the sapwood is permeable.
It is mainly suitable for interior construction, due to its low durability, and for making shipping crates for transporting easily dented or fragile products, such as machinery and fruit, due to its softness. It is also suitable for veneer, plywood and modelling. Locally it is used for the construction of houses, planks, doors, ceilings, (painted) joinery, musical instruments, toys, stools, carvings, troughs and canoes.
The poles obtained from the tree are used in northern Ghana as supports for the yam. The wood is used to keep heavier wood of other species floating.
It is also used as firewood and for making charcoal and for making paper.
However, the wood is prone to bluish stains if it is not dried promptly and kept dry, and logs must be removed from the forest immediately after being felled. The ends of the logs often have large, irregular checks or kicks.
Although currently the wood of Quassia undulata has no importance in the world timber market, it could become even more important as the properties of the wood are comparable to those of Triplochiton scleroxylon, which is currently the most economically important species in Ghana and Cameroon. In Liberia it is believed to have potential as export timber and a survey of the species’ potential in afforestation has been recommended.
From an ecological point of view, it should be remembered that the young shoots represent nourishment for various herbivores such as antelopes.

Method of Preparation –
As mentioned, various quassinoids have been isolated from Quassia undulata which have shown antimalarial and other interesting properties and may have pharmacological potential.
In traditional African medicine where the plant grows, the bark of the stem or root is considered an antidote and purgative; as well as a cure for leprosy.
A decoction is drunk as a cure for fever, cough and stomach ailments such as colic.
A maceration or decoction of the stem bark is used as a wash for babies to prevent abscesses.
A maceration or decoction of the bark of the stem, of the bark of the root, combined with the leaves, is drunk or used in baths in case of madness or dementia.
The sap from the root bark, diluted in water, is used as an enema against stomach problems.
The root extracts are used for eye treatments and as an aphrodisiac.
A decoction of the leaves is used as a stimulant and for the treatment of rickets, ankylosis and varicose veins.
The fruit is used as a cure for nocturnal enuresis.
A mixture of ground fruit or stone, mixed with oil, is rubbed into the hair against lice.
Similarly, the ash of the burnt fruit is used, mixed with shea butter.
The seed is considered poisonous, but in Nigeria it is taken against fever.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– 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.

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Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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