Detail of a herbarium specimen of Mascarenhasia arborescens.
Mascarenhasia arborescens A.DC.
Not yet rated according to IUCN Red List criteria, but given its broad geographic distribution it is unlikely to be threatened globally.
Evergreen forest and on riverine fringes; in moist areas, particularly along stream banks.
Traditional medicine, ornamental, source of natural rubber.
About this species
Mascarenhasia arborescens has beautiful, delicate flowers with an exquisite scent. Its attractive habit and dark red petioles and midribs add to its horticultural merit.
The generic name is taken from the French ‘Mascareignes’ referring to a group of islands in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar. The specific epithet arborescens refers to its tree-like habit. The genus Mascarenhasia contains eight species of shrubs and small trees, all of which can be found in Madagascar.
Geography and distribution
Native to East Africa, Madagascar, the Comoros and the Seychelles.
Overview: A shrub or small tree commonly up to 15 m tall (rarely up to 35 m), with smooth brownish bark. The branchlets are rough and grey with lenticels (openings in the bark allowing gas exchange), and contain a milky latex.
Leaves: The leaves are simple (not divided into leaflets) and are held opposite each other on the stem. The leaves are glossy light green, leathery, 5-16.5 x 2-6 cm, and have a midrib which is indented above but prominent below.
Flowers: The flowers are white with a yellow tube, and up to 10 mm in diameter. They are bisexual and are borne in small axillary or terminal clusters, termed cymes. The flowers have five calyx lobes with a ring of tiny scales at the base. The corolla tube is cylindrical and bears short hairs on the outside, at least above, and is densely hairy in the throat. The five petals are densely hairy, and overlapping. Five stamens are attached in the swollen upper portion of the tube, and just protrude from it.
Fruits: The fruit resembles a miniature propeller, has two opposing ovaries, and is 5-17.5 cm long with a rough grey surface. The fruits split to produce many seeds, each with a tuft of golden hairs.
Mascarenhasia arborescens was cultivated for the production of rubber in Madagascar in the early 1900s, when it was one of the country’s major sources of natural rubber. Interest in this species was revived briefly during World War II, as a source of rubber for the production of car tyres. It is not widely cultivated elsewhere.
The latex from M. arborescens is mixed with that of Chrysophyllum boivinianum to make a sticky trap to catch the Madagascar red fody (Foudia madagascariensis), a small bird which is a pest of maturing rice crops.
M. arborescens is used in traditional medicine in Madagascar to treat intestinal disorders, spasms and diarrhoea. A recent scientific study supports the antispasmodic and antioxidant efficacy of this species.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 4.66 g
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Two
Mascarenhasia arborescens can be propagated from seed or by taking cuttings, and can form an attractive shrub with some formative pruning. Research is currently being carried out at Kew into the best way of taking and growing-on cuttings.
Where to see this species at Kew
Mascarenhasia arborescens is grown in the Palm House and behind-the-scenes in the Tropical Nursery at Kew.
Dried and spirit-preserved specimens of M. arborescens are held in the behind-the-scenes Herbarium at Kew, where they are made available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details, including images, of some of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
Specimens of the wood and roots of M. arborescens are held in the Economic Botany Collection, where they are made available to bona fide researchers by appointment.
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Desire, O. et al. (2010). Antispasmodic and antioxidant activities of fractions and bioactive constituent davidigenin isolated from Mascarenhasia arborescens. J. Ethnopharmacol. 130(2): 320-328.
Heywood, V.H., Brummitt, R.K., Culham, A. & Seberg, O. (2007). Flowering Plant Families of the World. Firefly Books, Ontario.
Hickey, M. & King, C. (2000). The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Huxley, A. (ed.) (1999). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, Volume 3 (L-Q). Royal Horticultural Society, London.
Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. (1997). Series of revisions of Apocynaceae XLIV, Craspidospermum Boj. ex A.DC., Gonioma E.Mey., Mascarenhasia A.DC., Petchia Livera, Plectaneia Thou., and Stephanostegia Baill. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 97-2: 1-124.
Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Madagascar Catalogue (2010). Mascarenhasia. Available online (accessed 11 August 2010).
Palgrave, M.C. (2002). Trees of Southern Africa (Third Edition). Struik Publishers, South Africa.
Turk, D. (1995). A Guide to Trees of Ranomafana National Park and Central Eastern Madagascar. Tsimbazaza Botanical and Zoological Garden, Missouri Botanic Garden, St. Louis.
Kew Science Editor: Alex Summers and David Goyder
Kew contributors: Nick Johnson
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
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