Record display
.PROTA4U Homepage

.Select translation pop-up:  

Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.

 Bol. Soc. Afr. Italia 10(11–12): 12 (1891).
 show more data (8)comments (0) 
 show more data (16)comments (0) 
 Carissa schimperi A.DC. (1844), Acokanthera ouabaio Poisson (1888).
 show more data (22)comments (0) 
Vernacular names  
 Common poison bush, arrow-poison tree (En). Msunguti, msungu (Sw).
 show more data (22)comments (0) 
Origin and geographic distribution  
 Acokanthera schimperi occurs from Eritrea south to Tanzania and west to Uganda, Rwanda and eastern DR Congo. It is also found in southern Yemen.
 show more data (28)comments (0) 
 Acokanthera species are among the most commonly used plant species for the preparation of poison in East Africa. It is either used on its own or mixed with other plant or animal parts. The bark, wood and roots are the usual ingredients for arrow poison, and they are also used for suicide and homicide. The only treatment against the poison is immediate excision of the flesh around the wound, or sucking the blood from the wound. The poison is also used in killing wild animals and stray dogs from fields and homes.
In Ethiopia the leaves and bark are applied to the skin to treat skin disorders, and an infusion of the leaves is gargled to treat tonsillitis. Dried pulverized leaves with honey are taken as an antifertility medicine. In Kenya Samburu women drink a bark decoction when their menstruation does not stop. In Kenya and Tanzania a hot infusion of the pounded root is drunk in small quantities to treat sexually transmitted diseases, and also as an aphrodisiac. In Uganda a leaf decoction is given to cattle that have a cold. A mixture made from the leaves, bark and butter is used for gall-bladder problems. The smoke of dried roots and twigs is insect repellent; too much smoke is harmful for humans as well.
The fruits are edible and an important famine food. They are sweet and slightly bitter when fully ripe. They are also used to make jams. The unripe fruits and seeds are highly poisonous, and several cases of accidental poisoning of children have been recorded. The latex in the fruits is used as chewing gum by children. The wood is very hard and compact and branches are used in making spear shafts. In Uganda, it is used as firewood and to make charcoal. Acokanthera schimperi serves as an ornamental, shade or live fence tree in parks or around houses.
 show more data (17)comments (0) 
Production and international trade  
 The stem bark and roots of Acokanthera schimperi are locally traded for poison production. The ready-made poison is also sold in East Africa. There are no data on traded volumes and value.
 show more data (1)comments (0) 
 All plant parts of Acokanthera schimperi, except the pulp of the ripe fruit, contain large amounts of cardiac glycosides (cardenolides), of which nearly 20 have been identified. The glycosides are responsible for the activity as arrow poison, but also act as cardiac stimulant. The main compounds are acovenoside A (0.3–1.8%), with acovenosigenin as aglycone, followed by ouabain (0.1–5%) with ouabagenin as aglycone, and traces of acolongifloroside K. Acokanthera schimperi plants from the Nairobi region in Kenya contain the highest amounts of acovenoside A, and lowest amounts of ouabain. Plants from the coastal region of Kenya contain mainly ouabain, while plants from Eritrea contain only half as much acovenoside A as those from Nairobi, but much more ouabain. Minor components also vary with origin and may include acoschimperosides N, P, Q and V. The main differences with Acokanthera oppositifolia (Lam.) Codd are the higher amounts of ouabain and the lower amounts of acolongifloroside K, but both species are equally poisonous. Ouabain and acolongifloroside K are the most cardioactive compounds; they are highly toxic and can cause death even in minute doses. The other compounds are slightly less toxic. Cardiac glycosides are given in low doses to patients suffering from congestive heart failure. In higher doses, they have a direct inhibiting action on the atrioventricular conduction together with a decrease of the heart rate. Injection of the arrow poison into an animal causes death almost immediately, while humans inflicted with an arrow wound die in 30 minutes to 2 hours. In medicine, ouabain is used as a remedy for congestive heart failure, like glycosides from Digitalis.
A methanol extract from the leaves showed significant antiviral activity against influenza virus A, coxsackievirus B3 and HSV-1 by inhibiting their replication. The extract also exhibited significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and significant antifungal activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes.
 show more data (2)comments (0) 
Adulterations and substitutes  
 Poison from Acokanthera oppositifolia (Lam.) Codd may be used as a substitute for that of Acokanthera schimperi, although the latter species is more widely used for poison production. Dishonest dealers sometimes adulterate the poison with black earth.
 show more data (0)comments (0) 
 Much-branched, evergreen tree, sometimes a shrub, up to 9(–10) m tall, with short trunk; bark brown, soft; crown dense, rounded; young branches glabrous or hairy, conspicuously angled and ribbed. Leaves decussately opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–6(–9) mm long; blade elliptical to ovate or broadly ovate, 2–10 cm × 1.5–6.5 cm, base cuneate or rounded, apex acute, obtuse or rounded, with hard mucro, leathery, glossy, glabrous or shortly hairy, pinnately veined, lateral veins obscure, with looping connections. Inflorescence a dense axillary cyme, many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant; sepals free, ovate to lanceolate, (1–)1.5–2.5 mm long, apex acuminate to acute, shortly hairy or glabrous outside, ciliate; corolla tube cylindrical, 8–12.5 mm long, glabrous or shortly hairy outside, inside sparsely hairy in the upper half and wrinkled below, pink or red, lobes ovate, 2.5–5 mm long, apex acute, glabrous above, glabrous to shortly hairy below, ciliate, white; stamens inserted at 7–10 mm from the base of the corolla tube, slightly exserted; ovary superior, ellipsoid, 2-celled, style slender, 7–10 mm long, stigma minutely bifid. Fruit an ellipsoid berry 1–2.5 cm long, purple when ripe, pulp green to deep red, 1–2-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid, plano-convex, 6–13 mm long, smooth, glabrous.
 show more data (4)comments (0) 
Other botanical information  
 Acokanthera comprises 5 species and is restricted to Africa, although Acokanthera schimperi is also found in Yemen. The genus is related to Carissa. There are two types of Acokanthera schimperi: a large-leaved (up to 11 cm) and a small-leaved one. A third type that is climbing and has shortly and sharply recurved leaf margins has been reported in Kenya. Acokanthera schimperi has been domesticated in coastal Kenya by the Giriama people. The domestication process has increased the genetic variability of the species; the large-leaved, possibly domesticated types have very high amounts of ouabain.
The stem bark of Acokanthera laevigata Kupicha from Tanzania and Malawi, also called ‘msunguti’ in Swahili, is widely used to make arrow poison. It contains similar alkaloids as the other Acokanthera species. The tough stems are suitable for building poles, tool handles and firewood.
 show more data (2)comments (0) 
Growth and development  
 Acokanthera schimperi has a moderate growth rate. In Kenya fruiting occurs from February to March and in Tanzania from April to July. The flowers are pollinated chiefly by bees and seeds dispersed by animals.
 show more data (0)comments (0) 
 Acokanthera schimperi occurs at the margins of dry forest, in relict forest, thickets, grasslands and bushland, at 1100–2400 m altitude and with 600–1000 mm annual rainfall. It is drought resistant. It prefers well-drained, red or black rocky soils, but also grows on black cotton soil and poor soil of dry sites. Lowland distribution appears to be associated with human introduction.
 show more data (2)comments (0) 
Propagation and planting  
 Acokanthera schimperi regenerates naturally by seed. In Kenya and Ethiopia wildlings are transplanted to home gardens. The seeds have high moisture content and lose viability easily under ambient conditions and on storage. There are 400–450 seeds per kg. Seed germination is low.
 show more data (1)comments (0) 
 Acokanthera schimperi can be pruned and pollarded in intercropping systems.
 show more data (0)comments (0) 
 Acokanthera schimperi is not equally poisonous throughout the year. The toxic potential of trees is sometimes established by observation of dead insects or dead birds under the tree. The fruits are handpicked or harvested with aid of a pole.
 show more data (0)comments (0) 
 One kg of wood of Acokanthera schimperi, together with 250 g of roots and 100 g of leaves yields 100 g of poison. The wood of twigs and roots yields 0.2% of ouabain.
 show more data (0)comments (0) 
Handling after harvest  
 Stem wood is chopped into 15 cm long pieces. Chopped stems, roots, leaves and less commonly seeds of Acokanthera schimperi, together with animal and other plant additives, are put in a large clay container filled with water, and boiled with occasional stirring for up to 10 hours over a fire in a secluded place. Additional water is added in case the water evaporates before the poison is ready. In some communities, the making of the poison is complex, and ritual aspects, such as chanting, are observed to improve the efficacy of the poison. Once all the water has evaporated, a thick sticky black substance is left in the container. Used plant parts are discarded and the substance is then cut into pieces, put into containers or wrapped. Before use, the sticky extract is made into balls and spread in small amounts on arrow tips. Plant and animal parts are frequently added to increase poison potency and for magical reasons. In Kenya many different plant additives are used together with poison from Acokanthera schimperi, whereas in Tanzania mainly Strophanthus spp. are used, and to a lesser amount Euphorbia candelabrum Kotschy and Urginea spp. In Rwanda mainly Strychnos usambarensis Gilg is mixed with the poison. The poison is traded the same way as 150 years ago, in the form of a characteristic ‘poison cigar’, where the poison is packed securely in maize leaves. It is sometimes sold wrapped in paper, leaves, cloths, or foil or in open cans. The poison needs to be stored in a cool, dark place, and will keep its potency for decades.
 show more data (0)comments (0) 
Genetic resources and breeding  
 Acokanthera schimperi is not at risk but considered rare in southern Ethiopia.
 show more data (0)comments (0) 
 Acokanthera schimperi plants from the coastal zone of Kenya contain a high percentage of ouabain, and could thus have medical and commercial potential in congestive heart failure treatment.
 show more data (1)comments (0) 
Major references  
 • Kupicha, F.K., 1982. Studies on African Apocynaceae: the genus Acokanthera. Kew Bulletin 37(1): 41–67.
• Maundu, P. & Tengnäs, B. (Editors), 2005. Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre - East and Central Africa Regional Programme (ICRAF-ECA), Technical Handbook 35, Nairobi, Kenya. 484 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 1996. African ethnobotany: poisons and drugs. Chapman & Hall, London, United Kingdom. 941 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Tadeg, H., Mohammed, E., Asres, K. & Gebre-Mariam, T., 2005. Antimicrobial activities of some selected traditional Ethiopian medicinal plants used in the treatment of skin disorders. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 100: 168–175.
 show more data (28)comments (0) 
Other references  
 • Abebe, D., Urga, K., Debella, A., Ambaye, C. & Dejene, A., 2001. Survey of poisonous plants in Southern Ethiopia. Ethiopian Journal of Health Development 15(3): 209–221.
• Cassels, B.K., 1985. Analysis of a Maasai arrow poison. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 14(2–3): 273–281.
• Dharani, N., 2002. Field guide to common trees and shrubs of East Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 320 pp.
• Gebre-Mariam, T., Neubert, R., Schmidt, P.C., Wutzler, P. & Schmidtke, M., 2006. Antiviral activities of some Ethiopian medicinal plants used for the treatment of dermatological disorders. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 104: 182–187.
• Giday, M., Asfaw, Z., Elmqvist, T. & Woldu, Z., 2003. An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants used by the Zay people in Ethiopia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 85: 43–52.
• Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
• Katende, A.B., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1995. Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook 10. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 710 pp.
• Lovett, J.C., Ruffo, C.K., Gereau, R.E. & Taplin, J.R.D., 2006. Field guide to the moist forest trees of Tanzania. [Internet] Centre for Ecology Law and Policy, Environment Department, University of York, York, United Kingdom. res/celp/webpages/projects/ecology/ tree%20guide/guide.htm. Accessed June 2006.
• Maundu, P., Berger, D., Saitabau, C., Nasieku, J., Kipelian, M., Mathenge, S., Morimoto, Y. & Höft, R., 2001. Ethnobotany of the Loita Maasai. Towards community management of the forest of the Lost Child. Experiences from the Loita Ethnobotany Project. UNESCO People and Plants Working Paper 8, Paris, France. 34 pp.
• Maundu, P.M., Ngugi, G.W. & Kabuye, C.H.S., 1999. Traditional food plants of Kenya. Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), Nairobi, Kenya. 270 pp.
• Omino, E.A., 2002. Apocynaceae (part 1). In: Beentje, H.J. & Ghazanfar, S.A. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 116 pp.
• Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
• van Wyk, B.E., van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N., 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 304 pp.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
 show more data (2)comments (0) 
O.O. Bethwell
Department of Natural Sciences, Catholic University of Eastern Africa, P.O. Box 62157, 00200 Nairobi, Kenya

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors  
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors  
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor  
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article  
 Bethwell, O.O., 2007. Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed .

Additional references  
Study abstract
 There are 2 study abstracts related to Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.. Click on "show more" to view them.
 show more datacomments (0) 
Citation in books
 There are 400 book citations related to Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.. Click on "show more" to view them.
 show more datacomments (0) 
Citation in web searches
 There are 300 citation in web searches related to Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.. Click on "show more" to view them.
 show more datacomments (0) 
Citation in scholarly articles
 There are 137 citation in scholarly articles related to Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.. Click on "show more" to view them.
 show more datacomments (0) 
Citation in news articles
 There are 1 news article citations related to Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.. Click on "show more" to view them.
 show more datacomments (0) 
Citation in Afrirefs
 There are 13 citations in Afrirefs related to Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.. Click on "show more" to view them.
 show more datacomments (0) 
Citation in Wikipedia
 There are 11 Wikipedia citations related to Acokanthera schimperi (A.DC.) Schweinf.. Click on "show more" to view them.
 show more datacomments (0) 

General importance
Geographic coverage Africa
Geographic coverage World
Ornamental use
Fruit use
Timber use
Auxiliary use
Fuel use
Medicinal use
Essential oil and exudate use
Food security

Acokanthera schimperi

Acokanthera schimperi
inflorescence and fruits CopyLeft EcoPort

show more thumbnails

Creative Commons License
All texts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands License
This license does not include the illustrations (Maps,drawings,pictures); these remain all under copyright.