New compounds from Old Lions
During Kew’s 250th anniversary year, researchers at Kew studied the chemistry of two of Kew’s ‘Old Lions’ and discovered nine natural substances new to science.
Pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum
The legume Styphnolobium japonicum (pagoda tree) is an attractive species commonly grown in streets, parks and gardens. At Kew, a specimen planted in 1762 is one of only a handful of trees (fondly referred to as the ‘Old Lions’) that survive from the original botanic garden started by Princess Augusta.
The pagoda tree has been the subject of numerous chemical investigations, as the fruits and flowers are a rich source of flavonoids (one of the most important groups of naturally occurring phenolic substances in plants) and are important in traditional Chinese medicine. Thus, when the leaves and fruits of S. japonicum were analysed at Kew, it came as a surprise to discover four flavonoid glycosides and a maltol derivative that were new to science and eight flavonoid glycosides that had not been reported previously from this species. Some of the new flavonoid glycosides were unusual because they contained four sugar residues; three residues or fewer are more typical.
The research on the chemistry of S. japonicum has been useful in developing a method for the chemical authentication of the herbal ingredient Fructus Sophorae, obtained from the fruits of the pagoda tree. Confusion has arisen between the previous scientific name of the pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) and that of Sophora flavescens, which is the source of another herbal ingredient.
Kite, G.C., Stoneham, C.A., Veitch, N.C. (2007). Flavonol tetraglycosides and other constituents from leaves of Styphnolobium japonicum (Leguminosae) and related taxa. Phytochemistry 68: 1407-1416.
Kite, G.C., Veitch, N.C., Boalch, M.E., Lewis, G.P., Leon, C.J., Simmonds, M.S.J. (2009). Flavonol tetraglycosides from fruits of Styphnolobium japonicum (Leguminosae) and the authentication of Fructus Sophorae and Flos Sophorae. Phytochemistry 70: 785-794.
Veitch, N.C., Elliott, P.C., Kite, G.C., Lewis, G.P. (2010). Flavonoid glycosides of the black locust tree, Robinia pseudoacacia (Leguminosae). Phytochemistry 71: 479-486.
Scientific Research & Data
- Authentication and Chemical Fingerprinting of Economically Important Species (Kew Science Project)
- Systematic Phytochemistry of Legumes (Kew Science Project)
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