Calotropis procera is a flowering plant belonging to the dogbane family, “Apocynaceae”. The species is native to Asia and Africa. The common name of the plant, Apple of Sodom, is derived from the Hebrew words “Tapuah Sdom”. The plant is known for its medicinal properties as well as for its Biblical references.
Calotropis procera is the scientific name for the plant commonly known as the Apple of Sodom.
Calotropis procera Description
Height: Calotropis procera is a tall and erect perennial shrub growing up to a height of 6 feet.
Stem: The stem is simple with a few branches. It has a light grey-green coloration. The stem is woody at the base.
Branches: The branches are succulent and stout with cottony pubescence when young. They are only a few in numbers.
Bark: The bark is soft, fissured and corky.
Latex: A milky white latex or sap comes out from the cuts or fractures in the bark. This tendency to produce latex is present in all parts of the plant.
Leaves: The grey-green leaves are fairly large in size, almost 10 to 25 centimeters long. They grow in opposite pairs along the length of the stems. The leaves are fleshy, coriaceous, smooth and waxy with a heart-shaped base and a pointed tip. The structure of the leaves is simple and can be obovate or obovate oblong and elliptic, broad or broadly cuneate and slightly cordate. They have a sub-sessile stalk. The leaves are 4.5 and 6.5 centimeters in breadth. Leaf margins are entire and succulent. The auricle is at the base of the leaves. There is a tuff of short hairs on the upper side of the leaves around the place of attachment to the petiole. The leaves are covered by ash grey pubescence. Mature leaves tend to be pale green and glabrous. Follicles are 4 to 5 inches in length. The apex of the leaves is shortly acuminate to apiculate. The base of the leaves is cordate.
Flowers: These plants produce dense and multi-flowered inflorescence with a faint odor. The tubular flowers have five petals and are formed in clusters called umbels. The flowers are white or purple in color; the white flowers have purple blotches or spots at the base of their petals. The lobes are 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter. The calyx is comprised of 5 lobes which are united at the base. The lobes are ovate and have the dimensions of 4-7 x 3-4 mm and are glabrescent. The flower pedicle is 1 to 3 centimeters long. The flowers are bisexual or hermaphrodite and are arranged in simple or sometimes compound cymose corymbs emerging from interpetiolar peduncles which arise from the opposite sides of the nodes. The flower clusters are surrounded by many small pointed, scaly caducous involucral bracts. The flower buds are ovoid. The calyx has small glands within its base. The corolla is regular and gamopetalous; it can be sub-cordate or broadly sub-campanulate and have valvate, lanceolate, spreading lobes. The five stamens are inserted at the corolla’s base. The anthers are short and broad, pointed and have broad triangular-shaped membranous anther tips which are inflexed over the stigmatic hood.
Fruits: The fruits are simple, inflated, fleshy, obliquely ovoid or sub-globose, grey-green pod around 10 to 12 cm or more in diameter and around 6 to 8 cm in width. The fruits contain several small, flat, obovate, brown seeds around 8 to 10 mm in length and 6 mm in width. The seeds have 3 cm long silky white pappus.
Roots: Calotropis procera has a deep taproot around 3 to 4 meters in length. The root system is present in its entire condition. The root bark is separated from the wood. The root is 0.5 to 2 cm in diameter and the rootlets carried by it have diameters varying between 0.2 and 0.5 cm. The root system appears whitish grey and wrinkled from outside. The bark is yellowish white inside. The barks of older roots are cracked. The upper cork portion of the root is rough and spongy and the inner portion of the bark is mucilaginous and smooth. White latex is produced from the cuts present in the bark. The dried bark has a bitter taste.
Calotropis procera Distribution
These plants are mostly native to various locations across the Arabian Peninsula, Tropical Africa, North Africa and Southern Asia. It is also found in many parts of India and China. Calotropis procera has even been introduced to places such as South Africa, Australia, Central and South America, the Caribbean Islands and in many Pacific islands.
Calotropis procera is a drought resistant plant commonly grown in open habitats, overgrazed pastures and in areas having poor soil where the growth of grasses is pretty low. It is also found in coastal dunes, river flats, watercourses, sand dunes, rubbish heaps and along roadsides.
How to grow Calotropis procera
Altitude: The plant can grow anywhere up to an altitude of 1300 meters.
Rainfall: The annual rainfall required by Calotropis procera is around 300 to 400 mm.
Soil: The plant prefers disturbed sandy soils for its growth. It also has a high tolerance for poor soil.
Spacing: There should normally be a spacing of around 1 to 1.5 meters between the plants.
Pollination: These plants are mostly cross-pollinated by insects like the monarch butterflies, which uses Calotropis procera as a host for the different stages of its life cycle.
Propagation: Natural regeneration and propagation is common in these plants and the seeds are often dispersed by the wind and water. Each plant produces thousands of seeds every year. The seeds produce seedlings after a period of heavy rain out of which only a few will reach maturity.
Vegetative propagation carried by half stumps yield better results that propagating by full stumps as it helps in speedy multiplication of parental genotype. Each of the resultant plants produce two half stumps. Vegetative propagation through root cuttings and stems is quite useful in producing large-scale multiplication of the more superior genotypes.
Calotropis procera Harvesting
When Calotropis procera is cultivated, an estimated yield of 500 kg per hectare is produced annually. Normally a single harvest per season is more preferred compared to a double or triple harvest per season as it would save a lot of energy while processing the plant.
Calotropis procera Pests and Diseases
These plants are highly vulnerable to pests and diseases. Grasshoppers, aphids and other insects suck or eat the leaves in spite of the toxic latex that is within these plants.
Calotropis procera uses and benefits
The various uses of these plants are listed below.
- The latex and bark derived from the tree are used in brewing beers and in curdling milk.
- The senescing leaves, flowers and young pods are eaten by animals like goats and sheep when they need them. It is not so frequently consumed by cattle and livestock because the extracts of the plant are slightly toxic.
- Stems of Calotropis procera make good charcoal and the stem pith is a good source of tinder capable of easily producing a sustainable and effective smoky fire that is useful for drying fish. Charcoal derived from this plant has also been used to manufacture gunpowder in India.
- The stem fiber is used for making ropes, cheap cots, bow strings, gunny bags, fishing nets as well as for manufacturing pulp, paper and duplicating stencils.
- The seed floss which is silky, strong and almost 2 cm to 3.5 cm in length is used to stuff pillows and mattresses and are weaved to make a strong cloth. They are also a good substitute for cotton wool used in surgical procedures.
- The inner bark fibers are quite strong and can be used as a binding material. They can also be processed into fabrics.
- The stems of the plant are termite resistant and can be used for building huts and roofing. The light wood is also frequently used as fishing net floats.
- The latex of this plant is a good source of hydrocarbons and intermediate energy resources. Rubber content present in the latex is close to 11% to 23%.
- The softened bark extract is used for tanning, for the preparation of dyes and for de-hairing hides.
- The latex and bark of this plant are frequently used as a source of poison for arrows and spears. The latex of Calotropis procera consists of calotropin and is cardio-toxic. The leafy branches of the plant are used as a repellent for ants.
- It is an important source of green manure.
- The plant helps in improving the soil water conditions as well as acts as an important soil binder.
- The plant helps in detecting emission of sulfur dioxide in the air.
- Calotropis procera helps in detecting the condition of the soil.
The root bark of Calotropis procera is anthelmintic, febrifuge, expectorant, depurative and laxative. The powdered roots of this plant helps in promoting gastric secretions. It also helps to bring relief from health conditions such as bronchitis, asthma and dyspepsia. Dried parts of the whole plant are used to make tonic and antidotes. The plant is also used to cure health issues such as leprosy, elephantiasis and chronic eczema. The leaves of the plant are used in treating swellings, arthralgia, paralysis and intermittent fevers. Flowers are used in the treatment of asthma, inflammations, anorexia, catarrh and tumors.
Calotropis procera Interesting Facts
Here are some interesting facts about these plants:
- The plant was mentioned by Roman historian Josephus who found it growing near the Biblical city Sodom.
- The caterpillar of “Danaus chrysippus” or the plain tiger butterfly feeds on the leaves of these plants. While going through its life stages on these plants, the toxins of the leaves are transferred to the tissues of the adult butterflies. This offers the butterfly protection from predators like lizards and birds.
- John Milton referred to this plant in his poem “Paradise Lost”.
- The leaves of this plant were used during the Vedic times for Sun worship.
Calotropis procera Images
Here are some images of this plant showing the fruits, leaves and the flowers.
The Calotropis procera is a low maintenance plant that can survive in difficult conditions. It can also be grown in the garden for its medicinal benefits. However, the consumption of this plant should be kept within limits as the latex of the plant has toxic properties and large consumption of these plants can produce adverse health effects.