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ArborealSpecies Plant

Memecylon umbellatum

Memecylon umbellatum

The ironwood tree or blue mist bush, pride of Matheran (Memecylon umbellatum Burm. fil., 1768) is an arboreal species belonging to the Melastomataceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Subkingdom Tracheobionta,
Spermatophyta Superdivision,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Rosidae,
Order Myrtales,
Family Melastomataceae,
Genus Memecylon,
Species M. umbellatum.
The terms are synonymous:
– Memecylon capitellatum B.Heyne;
– Memecylon capitellatum B.Heyne ex Triana;
– Memecylon capitellatum var. tinctorium (J.Koenig ex Willd.) Blume;
– Memecylon edule var. contractum (Haines) D.M.Verma;
– Memecylon edule var. contractum Haines;
– Memecylon edule var. ramiflorum (Desr.) Triana;
– Memecylon edule var. rubrocaeruleum (Thwaites) C.B.Clarke;
– Memecylon molestum (C.B.Clarke) Cogn.;
– Memecylon ramiflorum Desr.;
– Memecylon rubrocaeruleum Thwaites;
– Memecylon tinctorium J.Koenig;
– Memecylon tinctorium J.Koenig ex Willd.;
– Memecylon umbellatum Gaertn.;
– Memecylon umbellatum var. contractum (Haines) D.M.Verma;
– Memecylon umbellatum var. rubrocaeruleum (Thwaites) Trimen.
All’interno di questa specie vengono riconosciute le seguenti varietà:
– Memecylon umbellatum var. molestum (C.B.Clarke) M.Das Das, D.Maity & A.Pramanik;
– Memecylon umbellatum var. umbellatum.

Etymology –
The term Memecylon derives from the name given by Dioscorides (circa 40 – circa 90 AD) to Arbutus unedo.
The specific epithet umbellatum comes from the Latin “umbella”, umbrella, in reference to the flowers arranged in an umbrella.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Memecylon umbellatum is a plant native to India and present in the Andaman Islands and in the coastal region of the Deccan and also in Sri Lanka.
Its habitat is mainly that of the tropical dry evergreen and semi-deciduous forests along the western coasts, representing in some areas the predominant tree species.

Description –
Memecylon umbellatum is a plant that grows in the form of a large shrub or small tree that grows from 8 to 15 meters in height, very branched, with the youngest branches with gray-ashy bark.
Both its bark and its branches are very hard, hence the reference in some common names.
The leaves are simple, of the opposite type, carried on a short petiole, elliptical or ovate in shape with an entire margin; they are 3-7 cm long and 2-3 cm wide, of a shiny dark green color above, lighter below.
The flowers are gathered in large numbers in umbels carried in an axillary position, close together and compact; these appear in the lower part of the leafless branches; the flowers are sessile, globose, when still closed, star-shaped, when they open, about 1 cm in diameter; they have four purple-blue petals and stamens that are longer than the petals.
The flowering period is from February to March.
The fruit is a globose drupe, with a diameter of about 7 mm, with thin and leathery skin of 0.6-1 cm in diameter, initially green, then tending to red and then blackish when ripe.

Cultivation –
Memecylon umbellatum is a plant that is harvested in the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials. It is often grown as an ornamental plant, appreciated above all for its abundant and choreographic flowering.
This plant grows spontaneously in dry lowland forests and in coastal areas in the western part of its range and in the hinterland.
For cultivation, keep in mind that it needs full sun or partial shade and grows best in moist, well-drained and humus-rich soil.
Although this plant is very widespread in nature and appreciated by local populations, it is relatively little known outside its natural environment, therefore there is not enough information on its cultivation needs, beyond those that derive from the climatic conditions of the places of origin, tropical with a well-defined dry season.
It generally and easily reproduces by seed, vegetative propagation being rather difficult.

Customs and Traditions –
Memecylon umbellatum is a plant known by various common names, of which the following are reported: ironwood tree, blue mist bush, pride of Matheran (English); කොරකහ, Korakaha (Sinhala); अंजन, Anjan (Sanskrit); अंजन, Anjan (Hindi); अंजनी, Anjani (Marathi); काळ्यो आंक्र्यो, Kalleo ankrio (Konkani); ಒಳ್ಳಯ ಕುಡಿ, Ollayakudi (Kannada); అల్లి, Alli (Telugu); காயா, kurrikaya or kaya (Tamil); കാഞ്ഞാവ്, Kaannaav, കായാമ്പൂ, Kaayaaboo, കാശാവ്‌, Kasavu (Malayalam).
The fruits, leaves and roots of this plant have been used since ancient times in traditional medicine for various pathologies.
Laboratory studies have highlighted promising hypoglycemic and antimicrobial properties in leaf extracts and analgesic properties in root extracts.
Also, historically, this plant was burned as fuel in the production of Wootz steel.
Finally, its potential as an ornamental plant should not be underestimated due to the curious and showy flowering that almost entirely covers the branches in the part without leaves.
The leaves contain a yellow dye, a glucoside, which is used to dye the robes of Buddhist monks and to color cane mats (Dumbara mats). In medicine, the leaves are said to have anti-diarrheal properties.
The fruit pulp is edible and was consumed in the past in times of famine.
The wood, very hard and dense, is used in the construction of buildings and boats, as well as as fuel and to produce coal.
Wood is a good fuel and in general the wood of Memecylon species is usually white to brown in colour, very dense and heavy, which sinks in water. It is also often very resistant. When the wood becomes large enough, it is often used traditionally for purposes such as poles, house posts, lumber and furniture.
Furthermore, the wood of many species of the genus has a high calorific value and is often used as fuel and to produce charcoal.

Preparation Method –
Memecylon umbellatum is a plant used mainly in its natural growth area where it is used for various uses, including edible and medicinal ones.
Furthermore, dyes used in fabric factories are extracted from the leaves and flowers.
Among the edible uses, remember that the fruits are eaten raw.
In the medicinal field the bark is used to treat bruises.
The leaves are astringent. They are used internally in the treatment of gonorrhea and leukorrhea.
Externally the leaves constitute a refreshing astringent cleanser and a lotion for the treatment of conjunctivitis. Mixed with several other ingredients, the leaves form the basis for various external uses.
An infusion of flowers is used to treat conjunctivitis.
The roots are astringent.
A decoction is used in the treatment of excessive or irregular menstrual bleeding and menstrual pain.
Among other uses, as mentioned, a yellow and crimson dye is extracted from the leaves and flowers. It can be used for dyeing cotton and fabrics such as mats.
Furthermore, wood is hard, resistant and very flexible. It is used for poles, boards, etc., in house and boat construction.

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 d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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

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