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Anc Sci Life. 2011 Jul-Sep; 31(1): 22–25.
PMCID: PMC3377038

Pharmacognostical Studies on Balanophora fungosa - a Negative Listed Plant

Abstract

Balanophora fungosa Forster & Forster ssp. indica (Arn.) B. Hansen var. indica, (Balanophoraceae) syn. B. indica, is a root parasite found in hills of south India. This plant is included in the list of negative list, which are restricted and prohibited for export. Though it is not an official drug in any of the indigenous systems of medicine in India, it is used in tribal medicines in south India. However, it is found in crude drug markets as substitute/adulterant for the Ayurvedic drug Gajapippali (Scindapsus officinalis). Few phytochemical constituents were reported on this plant. However, there is no pharmacognostical report to authenticate the commercial samples of B. fungosa and to differentiate them from Scindapsus officinalis. This article describes the pharmacognostical characteristics of Balanophora fungosa and diagnostic features to differentiate it from Scindapsus officinalis.

Keywords: Balanophora fungosa Forster & Forster ssp. Indica (Arn.) B. Hansen var. Indica, B. indica (Arn.) Wallich ex Griffith, Langsdorffia indica Arn., Balanophoraceae, root parasite, pharmacognosy, ethnobotany, indigenous systems of medicine, Gajapippali, Scindapsus officinalis, adulterant, substitute, Negative list, prohibited plants

Introduction:

Balanophora fungosa Forster & Forster ssp. indica (Arn.) B. Hansen var. indica is a cosmopolitan plant and belongs to the family Balanophoraceae. It is called as Markata Pippali in Sanskrit, Gajapippali in Hindi, Bengali and Kannada, Atti-tippali or Kallan-thippali or Nila-bomb in Malayalam, Enugatippali in Telugu, and Bhoomi Budalam or Veru-Chedi in Tamil. In India it is common in peninsular hills, especially in Shola forests at an altitude of 1000 MSL. It is a common weed in coffee and tea plantations. It is dioecious, rhizomatous, fleshy and rootless root parasite. Male plants are distinguished by the white powdery pollens on their flowers.

Its ethnomedical usage among Paliars[1] (major tribal group in Palani hills, Madurai dt., Tamilnadu) and primitive tribal people of Kerala[2] was reported. For skin diseases, Paliars apply the paste of whole plant over the infected part[1]. Tribals of Kerala use this plant for piles (whole plant is dried, powdered and taken internally with honey) and also used along with other herbs in many preparations for curing internal hemorrhages[2]. It is reported as wild but edible among tribes of Kollihills in Tamilnadu[3].

This plant doesn’t have any restrictions by CITES for international trade. However, included in Appendix-XLIII-H, Negative list of exports in Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Export of this plant as herbal raw material or drugs manufactured with this plant, needs a Legal Procurement Certificate from the concern divisional forest officer of the district or state.

There was no report on the use of this plant in any of the indigenous systems of medicine[4,5]. However it is reported as an adulterant for an Ayurvedic drug Gajapippali (Scindapsus officinalis) in south India[6] and one of the six pippalis available in south Indian market with a local name of Markata Pippali[7]. B-amyrin palitate, taraxasterol and taraxasterone were isolated from the plant[8]. Though this plant is used in ethnomedicine and as substitute/adulterant for S. officinalis in south India, there was no pharmacognostical work on this plant to identify the market samples and differentiate them from S. officinalis. This article describes the pharmacognostical characteristics of B. fungosa and diagnostic features to differentiate it from S. officinalis.

Materials and Methods:

Authentic plants of B. fungosa were collected from Kollihills, Salem dt., Tamilnadu, India and identified with the local floras[9,10]. Rhizome, stem and inflorescence were collected, cut into pieces and sun dried. Pharmacognostical characteristics including organoleptical, macroscopical, microscopical and powder characters were studied as described in quality control methods[11,12,13]. Market samples of B. fungosa were brought from Sundakki Tribal Cooperative Society Stores, near Attaippadi, Palakkad dt., Kerala, India. Market samples of S. officinalis were brought from a supplier from Chattisgarh and authenticated with the earlier reports[14]. Pharmacognostical characters of the field-collected authentic plants of B. fungosa were compared with the commercial samples. Diagnostic features of B. fungosa and characters to differentiate them were narrated.

Organoleptical and Macroscopical Characters:

Bulk material (Fig. 1) consists of pieces of rhizome, stem and inflorescence. Many rhizome pieces are observed attached to its host root. The pieces are transversely or longitudinally cut to about 10 cm in size. They are mild brown to muddy brown or dark brown to black in color. Rhizomes, stem and inflorescence pieces can be easily identified and separated out. In general, they are rough and hard in texture, nearly odorless, and easy to break with splintery ends.

Fig. 1:
Market sample of Balanophora fungosa

Rhizome pieces are up to 6 cm in size. They are lobed or branched or bunched or with palm-like branches. Their surface is shrunken with pustule-like mild or light colored raised dots. Cut ends are dark brown to black in color. Resinous substance is oozing out from few points of rhizomes when they break.

Stem pieces are transversely or longitudinally cut. Most of them are circular, plate like, dark brown, up to 7 cm in diameter and 2-5 mm in thickness. In cut ends, no specific pattern or tissue differentiation is observed. Few longitudinally cut pieces show nodes and internodes with leaves. The surface is rough but not warty. Leaves are up to 5x3 cm in size, dark brown to black in color, acute in apex, base broad, margin and surface are smooth, nearly triangular in shape and up to 2 mm in thickness. Epidermis is not peeling off and break with splintery ends.

Inflorescence pieces are mostly cut longitudinally. They vary in shape from globose to oval. Seeds and pollens are not observed. Young buds are nearly globular to oval with bract coverings and indistinct inner regions, whereas matured ones show fragments of persistent bracts with exposed flower parts.

Microscopical characters:

Microscopically, rhizome (Fig. 2) is simple with outer epidermal-like cells, and encloses the ground tissue and vascular bundles. Epidermal-like cells are single layered with thick deposits on the outer side. These deposits are stained for both lignin (using phloroglucinol solution) and cellulose (using IKI solution). Ground issue is undifferentiated, parenchymatous with intercellular spaces and 30-320 μ in size. Vascular bundles are arranged in a ring in the ground tissue. Number of bundles differs with the size of the rhizomes, from 7 to many. Each bundle has outer phloem followed by xylem and central parenchymatous, smaller sized cells. In phloem cells, tanniferous cells are observed. Owing to the observations in dried materials, other cellular details in phloem and cambial cells are not observed. Xylem has vessels and fibers, traversed with ray cells, which are single layered but not restricted always. Vessels are 7.5-55 μ in diameter. Surrounding to the vascular bundles, parenchyma cells in ground tissue are smaller in size and make a clear boundary. Apart from these regular vascular bundles, numerous vascular traces are observed in the ground tissue, which are scattered throughout. These traces have few fibers, one or two vessels and undifferentiated phloem cells. Tanniferous cells are absent in vascular traces.

Fig. 2
TS of rhizome shows outer layer (OL), ground tissue (GR), vascular traces (VT) and vascular bundle (VB)

Microscopically, stem (Fig. 3), leaves (Fig. 4) and inflorescence are identical to rhizome in outer epidermal-like cells and ground tissue. However, in stem and inflorescence, regular vascular bundles are completely absent and vascular traces are scattered throughout. In leaves, epidermal deposits are more on the abaxial surface than the adaxial surface. Vascular traces are found in a row in the middle of the ground issue. Vessel elements are smaller in size (7.5-20 μ in diameter). Stomata are not observed on the epidermal surfaces of leaves or stem.

Fig. 3
TS of stem shows outer layer (OL), ground tissue (GR) and vascular traces (VT)
Fig. 4
TS of leaf shows hte epidemis (AD & AB), ground tissue (GR) and vascular traces (VT)

Many of the parenchyma cells of ground tissue are filled with dark brown or black colored resinous substance. Other cell inclusions like starch, calcium oxalates and aleurone grains are not observed.

Powder analysis:

Powder is dark brown to black in color. Parenchyma cells are most common with few vessel elements and lignified epidermal cells. Parenchyma cells are 120-350 μ and vessel elements are 10-50 μ in size.

Discussions:

S. officinalis is used to regulate bowel movements and in dysentery[5], whereas B. fungosa is used for piles, in tribal medicine. The knowledge of usage of authentic and adulterant in indigenous system of medicine and in tribal knowledge respectively, may be exchanged vice versa.

Though this plant was mentioned as a monecious plant[15], our field observations showed that it was dioecious. White powdery pollens on the inflorescence surface are the distinct feature to identify male plants from females. Floras[9&10] also mentioned it as a dioecious herb.

As reported earlier[16], the true epidermal cells are not found in any part of the plant observed. The outermost layer is differentiated from the ground tissue in size and regular arrangement in a single layer like epidermal cells. However, as described earlier armature cells are not observed, instead all the cells are stellate wart cells with deposits on the outer surface. Chemical nature of these deposits could not be confirmed as they stained for both lignin and cellulose. Further histochemical studies are planned to find the nature of these deposits.

The difference between rhizome and stem or the inflorescence axis, is the presence of regular vascular bundles in a ring in rhizome, which is absent in stem. Stomata and guard cells are completely absent as observed earlier[16].

From the present study it came to light that, B. fungosa lacks stone cells, starch grains, calcium oxalates and oil globules. These characteristic features are the key diagnostic features to differentiate B. fungosa with S. officinalis. Table 1 describes more key characters to differentiate them.

Table I
Diagnostic features of S. officinalis and B. Fungosa

It is found that B.fungosa, is being sold in the crude drug market especially in many parts of Kerala, in the name of Gajapippali. It is consider as an alternative/substitute to Scindapsus officinalis, which is the authentic material as per the Ayurvedic literature. This research narrates the characteristic features of B. fungosa and lay down the diagnostic features for easy identification of crude drugs of B. fungosa and S. officinalis. These characteristic features can also be used to identify or differentiate them even in powdered condition.[17]

References

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