Phytolacca arborea Moq.
Phytolacca populifolia Salisb.
Pircunia dioica (L.) Moq.
Sarcoca dioica (L.) Raf.
Common Name: Bella Sombra
Bella sombra is a fast-growing and long-lived evergreen tree with a domed crown, that can grow from 10 - 25 metres tall. The stout, erect bole is 80 - 160cm in diameter at breast height[
]. It is uniquely swollen at the base, which may grow to 4 metres in diameter, spreading above the ground so that the tree appears to be standing on a mound[
]. The trunk and branches contain up to 80% of water[
The tree is sometimes harvested from the wild as a source of food, medicines and other commodities. It is sometimes grown as an ornamental plant, capable of providing an excellent shade in areas where other trees will not grow[
The leaves are poisonous. They are said to be alright to eat when young, the toxins developing as they grow older. Other parts of the plant, including the fruit, are likely to be poisonous.
The seeds, leaf and root contain saponins[
]. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[
Southern S. America - Argentina, Brazil.
Dry plains and woodlands[
]. Secondary formations in dense forests, favouring fertile soils on alluvial plains and at the foot of slopes[
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
A plant of the moist tropics and subtropics, where it is found at elevations up to 2,000 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 18 - 32°c, but can tolerate 12 - 38°c[
]. When dormant, the plant can survive temperatures down to about -5°c, but young growth can be severely damaged at -1°c[
]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 800 - 1,500mm, but tolerates 600 - 5,000mm[
An easily grown plant, succeeding in most soils[
], though preferring a moisture retentive fertile soil in full sun or partial shade[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 7, tolerating 5 - 7.5[
]. Established plants are very drought tolerant[
]. Tolerant of coastal salt spray and strong winds, including hurricanes[
]. Plants can be grown in quite coarse grass, which can be cut annually in the autumn[
Young trees establish well and grow away quickly - they can easily reach a height of 4 - 5 metres in two years[
An aggressive plant to grow in gardens, it has root suckers that appear readily above the soil[
Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits[
Dioecious, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required[
]. The small, wind-pollinated flowers are extremely malodorous[
Young leaves and shoots - cooked and used as a vegetable[
]. The leaves should not be eaten raw and only the young leaves should be used since they become toxic with age.
The fruits are made into jellies or jams and are also used as a red colouring for food[
]. Some caution is advised. See notes on toxicity.
The fruit has been used as an emetic and purgative[
An infusion of the leaves acts as a purgative[
A fast-growing pioneer species that provides food for the native fauna, it can be used in planting schemes for restoring native woodland[
Where growing wild, the plant is seen as an indicator of a good, fertile soil[
The tree is often grown in order to provide shade.
A red ink is obtained from the fruit.
The seeds, leaves and roots contain saponins and can be used as a soap substitute[
The wood is light, soft and porous, with a very low resistance to rot[
]. It has no known practical uses[
Seed - does not require pre-treatment. Best sown as soon as ripe in containers or a seed bed in a position in light shade[
]. When they are 4 - 5cm tall, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on until large enough to plant out, which should be about 4 months later[