Antiaris toxicaria Lesch.
Ann. Mus. Natl. Hist. Nat. 16: 478 (1810).


2n = 24, 28

Synonyms Antiaris macrophylla R.Br. (1814), Antiaris africana Engl. (1902), Antiaris welwitschii Engl. (1902).

Vernacular names Upas tree, sacking tree (En). Indonesia: upas (general), ancar (Javanese), tatai (Sumatra). Malaysia: ipoh (Peninsular), tasem (Sarawak). Papua New Guinea: antiaris. Philippines: dalit (Tagalog), ipo (Tagalog, Bisaya). Burma (Myanmar): aseik, hymaseik. Laos: 'nong2, nong. Thailand: yang nong (central, northern), yuan (peninsular). Vietnam: c[aa]y sui, thu[oos]c b[aws]n.

Origin and geographic distribution Antiaris is a monotypic genus. The only species, Antiaris toxicaria is found throughout the Old World tropics, from West Africa to Madagascar, and in Sri Lanka, India, Indo-China, southern China, Thailand, throughout the Malesian region, the Pacific (east to Fiji and Tonga), and northern Australia.

Uses The latex of Antiaris toxicaria obtained from the bark is one of the principal components of dart and arrow poisons in South-East Asia, used by many peoples for hunting and warfare. It is usually mixed with poison obtained from Strychnos species and components from other plants or poisonous animals. Its effectiveness is thought to be enhanced by the synergy of its poisonous and irritating components. The latex is also reported to be used as fish poison and birdlime. Although a single species, old reports claim that trees from regions outside South-East Asia are less poisonous or even innocuous. It is possible that these reports refer to the latex being used differently, not as a dart or arrow poison, and thus not entering the bloodstream.|Seeds, leaves and bark are used as a febrifuge and the seeds also as an antidysentric. The latex is reported to be a mild circulatory and cardiac stimulant when used in very small amounts, but in large amounts it is a myocardial poison. In the Philippines, the soft wood is macerated and the fluid is used as a poultice for swellings. In India, upas tree is used as a febrifuge and to treat dysentery and epilepsy. In Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, it is not used medicinally.|Antiaris toxicaria is a sacred tree among some South-East Asian peoples. The fruit contains latex, but is reported to be edible. The bark yields fibre to make clothing, cordage, sacks, mats and paper. The bark has also been used for dyeing. The wood is used in light construction, furniture, interior finish, pallets, crates and plywood.

Production and international trade The wood of Antiaris toxicaria enters international trade, but the other products are for local use only.

Properties The active principles in the latex of Antiaris toxicaria are the cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) e.g. 'ALFA', 'BETA' and 'GAMMA'-antiarin, which have digitalis-like effects on the heart. In larger amounts they lead to cardiac arrest and secondary effects such as vomiting and convulsions. Reports on lethal dosage, administered intravenously, specify 0.3 mg as lethal within 12 minutes for a rabbit, and 1 mg to cause death within 3-9 minutes in dogs.|When administered to anaesthetized rats, the crude latex of Antiaris toxicaria results in changes in the electrocardiogram (ECG) and systemic blood pressure. The extract inhibited the Na+K+ATPase that was partially purified from guinea-pig heart muscle. When the extract, and ouabain as a reference compound were applied to isolated frog heart muscles a decrease of twitch frequency together with an increased twitch tension were observed. All these facts together suggest that the main components of the latex are cardiac glycosides, which affect Na+K+ATPase activity of the heart muscle membrane. The poison must enter the bloodstream to be effective; the latex can be ingested without any effects. However, a fatal case of rhabdomyolysis and acute oliguric ranal failure following oral ingestion of blowpipe dart poison prepared from Antiaris and Strychnos has been reported. The influence of intravenous administration or otherwise promoting the poison to enter the bloodstream was illustrated in an experiment with dogs. When administered subcutaneously in pure form, there was no permanent toxic effect; when diluted with a decoction of Strychnos ignatii Bergius and administered in the same way the latex provoked a higher frequency of respiration, vomiting, convulsions and a rapid death. The sequence of the effects on toads were mild convulsions, violent peristalsis, an acceleration of the heartbeat followed by a deceleration, a contraction of the blood vessels, and death.|Prenylaurones (antiarone A and B), prenylchalcones (antiarone C, D and E) and prenylflavanones (antiarone F, G, H and I) have been isolated from the root bark. An aqueous ethanol extract of the bark exhibited cytotoxic activity against CA-9KB cells.

Description A monoecious, small to large tree up to 45(-60) m tall; bole straight, up to 180 cm in diameter, sometimes with steep buttresses up to 3 m high; bark surface smooth becoming slightly fissured, greyish-white, inner bark soft and fibrous, exuding a creamy copious latex which soon darkens to dirty brown and becomes granular upon exposure; twigs hairy. Leaves alternate, distichous, rounded to slightly heart-shaped, ovate or oblong, 7.5-20 cm x 3.5-8.5 cm, simple, slightly unequal at base, entire to denticulate; petiole 0.2-1 cm long, hairy; stipules free, caducous. Inflorescence on a short shoot, in leaf axils or below the leaves, subtended by involucral bracts, solitary or in groups of 2-4, the male ones below the female ones on the same twig. Male inflorescence a stalked discoid head with many flowers; each flower with 2-7 tepals and 2-4 stamens. Female inflorescence with 1-2 flowers, sessile or stalked; flower pear-shaped; perianth 4-lobed; ovary adnate to the perianth, 1-locular with a single ovule, styles 2. Fruit forming a drupaceous whole together with the enlarged, fleshy receptacle, ellipsoidal to pear-shaped, velvety. Seed one, cotyledon fleshy. Seedling with hypogeal germination, the epicotyl with a few scale leaves, followed by spirally arranged, conduplicate, dentate leaves.

Growth and development Trees of Antiaris toxicaria develop according to Roux's architectural tree model, characterized by a continuously growing monopodial orthotropic trunk and plagiotropic branches. In a 27-year-old trial in Indonesia trees measured on average 17 m in height and 27 cm in diameter. In Java the trees flower in June on the new shoots.

Other botanical information Formerly, Antiaris comprised several species, but is now regarded monotypic. The variable species Antiaris toxicaria has been divided into 5 subspecies. Subsp. toxicaria and subsp. macrophylla (R.Br.) C.C. Berg occur within the Malesian region; the first is found from Sri Lanka to Sulawesi, the second from the Philippines to Tonga. The size of the fruit increases from Africa to Polynesia.|The vernacular names 'upas' and 'ipoh' refer to plant poisons acting on the blood in general. Similarly, these names are used for Strychnos ('ipoh akar') and Sophora tomentosa L. ('upas biji' or 'upas kamarunggi').

Ecology Antiaris toxicaria is a rare, scattered tree in primary forest up to 1500 m altitude. It is occasionally found in grassy savanna and on coastal plateaus. The morphological variation as observed in habit and various parts of the plant may well be linked to environmental factors. In Africa, it occurs under semi-arid conditions as well as in rain forest areas, or even in swamp forest.

Propagation and planting Antiaris toxicaria can be propagated by seed. About 70-90% of sown stones germinate in 18-89 days.

Husbandry Trees of Antiaris toxicaria have a good self-pruning ability; they are not resistant to fire.

Harvesting The latex of Antiaris toxicaria is tapped by making scores in the bark with a knife. It is only collected when required, as it cannot be stored and must be used fresh. The bark is harvested by stripping from the tree.

Yield The latex yield of a scarred tree may be 100-500 g in 2 days.

Handling after harvest An extensive list of traditional preparations and mixtures of 'upas poison' can be made. In general, the latex from the root-bark or bark is mixed with other ingredients such as bark or roots of Strychnos, Derris and other presumably irritating substances. The mixture is boiled over a fire to obtain a thick paste in which the dart and arrow points are dipped. The time over which the poison retains its potency is rather variable, apparently depending on mixture and method of preparation.|In Malaysia, bark cloth is obtained by shaving off the outer part from bark stripped from the tree, and beating and washing the inner fibrous part. Careful preparation is required, because traces of latex may irritate the skin.

Prospects The latex of Antiaris toxicaria has been proposed as a medicine for heart diseases. As the crude drug extract varies in concentration and composition of the constituents, and given the extreme toxicity of the latex, it is rather difficult to standardize clinical applications.

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Author: E. Boer, M. Brink & M.S.M. Sosef

Source of This Article:
Boer, E., Brink, M. & Sosef, M.S.M., 1999. Antiaris toxicaria Lesch.In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. and Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 12(1): Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publisher, Leiden, The Netherlands, pp. 126-129

Recommended Citation:
Boer, E., Brink, M. & Sosef, M.S.M., 1999. Antiaris toxicaria Lesch.[Internet] Record from Proseabase. de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. and Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors).
PROSEA (Plant Resources of South-East Asia) Foundation, Bogor, Indonesia.
Accessed from Internet: 21-Sep-2014