The Ethnobotany of the Arboretum Trees


The Ethnobotany of the Arboretum Trees

An offshoot of the Ethnobotany Enrichment Elective
College of Medicine, University of Arizona ( see link)
Compiled by Traci Pantuso and David Kiefer, M.D.
Fall, 2002

Acacia willardiana

The wood of this tree is used by the Seri Indians of northern Mexico for miscellaneous uses such as hut construction.
Felger RS, Moser MB. People of the desert and sea: ethnobotany of the Seri Indians. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press; 1985.

Acacia xanthophloea

A member of the Fabaceae (legume family), this Acacia differs from many thorny legumes because of its stature; it is not the low spreading form we might expect, but a tall regal tree with a single trunk. Its crown is oval to round, and the branches are nearly horizontal. According to the National Botanical Institute, South Africa, A. xanthophloea can attain a maximum height of 25 meters - approximately 80 feet.
Why is it called a Fever Tree? Native to the eastern half of Africa, from Kenya to South Africa, this beauty normally occurs where there is seasonal flooding. It can form dense stands in depressions and shallow pans where underground water is present or surface water collects. People living or resting beneath the trees often contracted a fever, and the name seemed appropriate. However, mosquitos also frequented the wet environments - people were getting malaria from mosquitos, not from the tree.
Truly magnificent, white stipular spines from 2 - 5 cm long are arranged in pairs at the leaf bases. The tree is a popular site for birds’ nests, since the spines offer extra protection. Currently 4 nests are being occupied in the UA’s fever tree.
In Africa, the fever tree is a resource for a wide variety of predators and foraging. Branches and leaves provide food for elephants and giraffes. Green seeds are eaten by baboons. The wood is dense, and is of high quality if allowed to season. It is used for making boxes and crates. The dappled shade provides the ‘nurse tree’ environment familiar to desert botanists.
But the bark! The beautiful bark! It is not just the gorgeous color - very ripe lemon lime green. The smooth, slightly flaking texture just begs to be touched. A sulfur like powder easily rubs off; presumably this aids in protecting the bark from sun. The bark is said to be used for treating fevers and eye complaints. How could a person even take a knife to it?

Carnegiea gigantea

Carnegiea gigantea is a member of Family Cactaceae. C. gigantea,or saguaro, is probably the most well know of the Cactaceae family due to its characteristically tall stature with many arms. The Apache Indians of the Southwest used the fruits of C. gigantea as a food source. The fruits can be made into large cakes by extracting the pulp from the fruits, forming the pulp into cakes, and drying it in the sun. The fruits can also be used to produce a juice drink and can be eaten raw. The Pima Indians make a drink from fermented pulp. The juice of the Saguaro cactus was used by the Seri Indians to treat rheumatism.
Buskirk, Winfred 1986 The Western Apache: Living With the Land Before 1950. Norman. University of Oklahoma Press
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases
Hrdlicka, Ales 1908 Physiological and Medical Observations Among the Indians of Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. SI-BAE Bulletin #34:1-427
Rea, Amadeo M. 1991 Gila River Pima Dietary Reconstruction. Arid Lands Newsletter 31:3-10 (4)

Cassia fistula

Cassia fistula a member of the family Caesalpiniaceae is known for its characteristic bunches of beautiful yellow flowers and grows throughout India. The seeds from this tree are used in the treatment of many ailments. Traditionally, the seeds have been found useful in the treatment of skin disorders, swollen throat, biliousness, and jaundice. Presently, there have been investigations into the medicinal use for its anti-oxidant properties. It has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. The seed from the Cassia fistula tree appears to have anti-cancer and anti-bacterial properties in animal models.
Bhakta T. Banerjee S. Mandal SC. Maity TK. Saha BP. Pal M. Hepatoprotective activity of Cassia fistula leaf extract. Phytomedicine. 8(3):220-4, 2001 May
Gupta M. Mazumder UK. Rath N. Mukhopadhyay DK. Antitumor activity of methanolic extract of Cassia fistula L. seed against Ehrlich ascites carcinoma. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 72(1-2):151-6, 2000 Sep
Luximon-Ramma A. Bahorun T. Soobrattee MA. Aruoma OI. Antioxidant activities of phenolic, proanthocyanidin, and flavonoid components in extracts of Cassia fistula. Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry. 50(18):5042-7, 2002 Aug 28
Munasinghe TC. Seneviratne CK. Thabrew MI. Abeysekera AM. Antiradical and antilipoperoxidative effects of some plant extracts used by Sri Lankan traditional medical practitioners for cardioprotection. Phytotherapy Research. 15(6):519-23, 2001 Sep
Perumal Samy R. Ignacimuthu S. Sen A. Screening of 34 Indian medicinal plants for antibacterial properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 62(2):173-82, 1998 Sep

Ceiba acuminata

This plant, also know as the kapok tree, is in the Bombacaceae family, blooms at night, and is bat pollinated (by Leptonycteris spp.). The ceiba was a sacred Mayan plant named yaxche with profound symbolic significance, and was revered by priests and used in ceremonies. It is still Guatemala’s national tree. It is related to the more famous kapok species, Ceiba pentandra, whose fiber is used as a stuffing and oil absorbent, and contains isoflavones and glycosides that contribute to a myriad of effects on medical conditions such as high blood pressure, tumors, wounds, and cough. C. pentandra is also one of the admixtures (in addition to Chorisia insignis and Ficus insipida, see below) in ayahuasca preparations used by traditional healers in the healing ceremonies.
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases
Kang,-W.; Jung,-H.S. Excellent oil absorbent kapok (Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.) fiber: fiber structure, chemical characteristics, and application. J-wood-sci. Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan : Springer-Verlag Tokyo, [1998-. 2000. v. 46 (5) p. 401-404
Ngounou,-F.N.; Meli,-A.L.; Lontsi,-D.; Sondengam,-B.L.; Atta-Ur-Rahman.; Choudhary,-M.I.; Malik,-S.; Akhtar,-F. New isoflavones from Ceiba pentandra. Phytochemistry-Oxford. Oxford : Elsevier Science Ltd. May 2000. v. 54 (1) p. 107-110
Saleem,-R.; Ahmad,-M.; Ahmed-Hussain,-S.; Mahmood-Qazi,-A.; Iqbal-Ahmad,-S.; Hussain-Qazi,-M.; Ali,-M.; Faizi,-S.; Akhtar,-S.; Nazrul-Husnain,-S. Hypotensive, hypoglycaemic and toxicological studies on the flavonol C-glycoside shamimin from Bombax ceiba. Planta-med. Stuttgart : Georg Thieme Verlag,. May 1999. v. 65 (4) p. 331-334

Chorisia insignis

Trees from the Chorisia genus produce a seed pod that contains a cottony substance which is used in South America as a stuffing for pillows, mattresses and toys. The inner bark of C. insignis is used to make cordage, and the tree itself is hollowed out to make dugout canoes, as per the LA County Arboretum.
The Arboretum of Los Angeles County Plant Information (

Crescentia alata

Crescentia alata has been used in Mexican and Guatemalan traditional medicine for respiratory infections and as an anti-inflammatory, respectively. The anti-inflammatory characteristics have been demonstrated in animal models, and the anti-microbial characteristics have been observed against Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes, Escherichia coli, and Candida albicans. Crescentia alata fruits, also known as morro or jicara, are used to produce a vegetable milk in Guatemala.
Autore G. Rastrelli L. Lauro MR. Marzocco S. Sorrentino R. Sorrentino U. Pinto A. Aquino R. Inhibition of nitric oxide synthase expression by a methanolic extract of Crescentia alata and its derived flavonols. Life Sciences. 70(5):523-34, 2001 Dec 21
Figueroa Madrid SA. Bressani R. [Vegetable food resources with agroindustrial potential from Guatemala. Manufacture of vegetable milk from the seed of morro fruit (Crescentia alata)]. [Spanish] Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion. 50(2):164-70, 2000 Jun
Rojas G. Levaro J. Tortoriello J. Navarro V. Antimicrobial evaluation of certain plants used in Mexican traditional medicine for the treatment of respiratory diseases. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 74(1):97-101, 2001 Jan

Ficus petiolaris

This plant, in Family Moraceae, has numerous medicinal uses, such as for fever, ulcers, wounds, and fractures.
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Ficus insipida

This plant is a member of the Moraceae, or mulberry, family, which also includes plants such as the breadfruit. It is used as a vermifuge.
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Ficus carica

In addition to the delightful edible fruits, Ficus carica leaf extracts are used to lower glucose levels in diabetics, and lower the levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and the total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio. These effects seem to stem from several of the compounds found in the plant’s latex. In addition, Ficus carica has been used to treat many other medical conditions, such as cough, flu, asthma, cancer, abscesses, constipation, and gingivitis.
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases
McGovern TW. The fig--Ficus carica L. [Review] [9 refs] Cutis. 69(5):339-40, 2002 May
Rubnov S. Kashman Y. Rabinowitz R. Schlesinger M. Mechoulam R. Suppressors of cancer cell proliferation from fig (Ficus carica) resin: isolation and structure elucidation. Journal of Natural Products. 64(7):993-6, 2001 Jul
Canal JR. Torres MD. Romero A. Perez C. A chloroform extract obtained from a decoction of Ficus carica leaves improves the cholesterolaemic status of rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes. Acta Physiologica Hungarica. 87(1):71-6, 2000 
Perez C. Canal JR. Campillo JE. Romero A. Torres MD. Hypotriglyceridaemic activity of Ficus carica leaves in experimental hypertriglyceridaemic rats. Phytotherapy Research. 13(3):188-91, 1999 May.

Havardia pallens

A tree native to Mexico commonly called tenaza or huajillo, H. pallens is in the bean family, Fabaceae.

Olea europaea

Olives, and olive oil, are well-known for their culinary uses and related health benefits as a monounsaturated fatty acid. There are also a range of documented uses for hair, cancer, fever, and high blood pressure. In addition to these benefits, the inhalation of Olea europaea pollen is one of the most important causes of allergic respiratory diseases in the Mediterranean basin.
Carnes Sanchez J. Iraola VM. Sastre J. Florido F. Boluda L. Fernandez-Caldas E. Allergenicity and immunochemical characterization of six varieties of Olea europaea. Allergy. 57(4):313-8, 2002 Apr
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Pistacia chinensis

Twigs of Pistacia chinensis, a tree in the Family Anacardiaceae which includes plants such as cashews, mangos, and poison ivy, were found to have two novel ingredients with estrogen-like activity.
Nishimura S., Taki M., Takaishi S., Iijima Y., Akiyama T., Structures of 4-aryl-coumarin (neoflavone) dimmers isolated from Pistacia chinensis UNGE and their estrogen like activity. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 48(4): 505-8, 2000 April

Platanus acerifolia

This monoecious plant (with separate male and female flowers) has documented uses as a tonic and fever treatment. This tree is a member of the Platanaceae, or sycamore, family, a family with many economic uses for its wood and as ornamentals.
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Quercus virginiana

This tree, in the Fagaceae, or beech and oak family, has traditional medical uses for dysentery, eye disorders and sores.
Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Rhus lancea

This tree, called African sumac or karee, is in the cashew family, Anacardiaceae. According to the National Botanical Institute, South Africa, this tree provides shade and food for livestock. The wood was used to make fences, tools, bowls and bows, and tannin can be extracted from several parts of the plant. The common name, karee, is the original Khoi word for mead, referring to the fact that the edible fruits used to be made into this fermented drink.
National Botanical Institute, South Africa: