The genus Antiaris was at one time considered to be comprised of several species, but is now regarded as just containing the one variable species (Antiaris toxicaria) which can be further divided into five subspecies. One significant difference within the species is that the size of the fruit increases as you travel from Africa to Polynesia[
Antiaris africana Engl.
Antiaris bennettii Seem.
Antiaris challa (Schweinf.) Engl.
Antiaris dubia Span. ex Hook.
Antiaris humbertii Leandri
Antiaris innoxia Blume
Antiaris kerstingii Engl.
Antiaris macrophylla R.Br.
Antiaris madagascariensis H.Perrier
Antiaris rufa Miq.
Antiaris saccidora Dalzell
Antiaris usambarensis Engl.
Antiaris welwitschii Engl.
Antiaris zeylanica Seem.
Cestrum toxicarium J.F.Gmel.
Ficus challa Schweinf.
Treculia affona N.E. Br.
Common Name: Bark Cloth Tree
Tree growing in southern China
Photograph by: Anna Frodesiak
Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication
Bark cloth tree is a deciduous to evergreen, small to large tree with a crown of short, spreading branches; it usually grows up to 45 metres tall though exceptional specimens up to 60 metres are known. The bole can be up to 150cm in diameter and is usually buttressed[
The tree is quite widely exploited for its timber and is also used medicinally[
]. It has excellent prospects for use as a pioneer species and, because it casts a dense shade, it is sometimes planted as a roadside tree[
A latex obtained from the bark contains varying amounts of cardiac glycosides and can be very poisonous[
]. The latex is one of the principle components of most dart and arrow poisons in South-East Asia[
Though the latex is known to be highly poisonous if injected into the blood stream (which is used widely in SE Asia by hunting communities), if swallowed its toxic properties are apparently not effective[
The sawdust from the wood may cause skin irritation and occupational asthma[
Widespread throughout tropical Africa, through tropical Asia to northern Australia.
Riverine and evergreen forest in Africa at elevations of 1,000 - 1,800 metres[
]. Rainforests below 1,500 metres in southern China[
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Bark cloth tree is a plant of tropical areas, where it can be found in a wide range of environmental conditions from semi arid to rainforest and even in swamp forests[
Succeeds in most soil types, preferring well-drained conditions[
]. Requires a sunny position[
Seedlings are usually abundant near the mother tree, but experience high mortality in the first year[
]. In the shade of the forest, seedlings up to 40cm tall are common, but exposure to full light is required for further growth[
]. Under exposed conditions, the tree can grow rapidly; growth rates of 50 cm/year in height are common in abandoned farmland[
The latex yield of a scarred tree may be 100 - 500g in 2 days[
Plants are not very tolerant of fire[
Bark cloth tree is regarded as a single species with 5 subspecies; subsp. Toxicaria and macrophylla occur within the Malesian region[
]. In Africa this tree has three varieties, which are africana, humbertii and welwitschii. They are clearly distinguished by their habitat preferences and juvenile forms. While one is found largely in wooded grassland, the others grow in rain forest, wetter forest, riverine and semi-swamp forests[
The fruit is edible[
]. The dark red, ellipsoid to ovoid fruit is up to 20mm long and 15mm wide, containing a single seed[
A latex obtained from the bark is often used in traditional medicine[
]. It is reported to be a mild circulatory and cardiac stimulant when used in very small amounts, but in large amounts it is a myocardial poison. The active principles are cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) which have digitalis-like effects on the heart[
]. In larger amounts they lead to cardiac arrest and secondary effects such as vomiting and convulsions[
The poison must enter the bloodstream to be effective; the latex can be ingested without any effects[
]. Reports claim that the latex from African trees is less poisonous or even innocuous[
]. It is possible that these reports refer to the latex being used differently, not as a dart or arrow poison as in South-East Asia, and thus not entering the bloodstream[
In Africa the latex is applied to cuts, wounds and skin complaints such as eczema and leprosy, and is taken internally as a purgative[
The seeds are astringent and febrifuge. They are used in the treatment of dysentery[
]. The ripe seeds are roasted over a fire and then eaten as a treatment for small growths on the body[
The leaves are astringent and febrifuge[
The bark is anodyne, astringent, febrifuge and vermifuge. It is used in the treatment of hepatitis[
]. The inner bark is chewed, and the juice swallowed, as a treatment for disorders of the spleen[
]. A decoction of the inner bark is drunk as a treatment for cancer, leukaemia and spleenomegaly[
An aqueous ethanol extract of the bark exhibited cytotoxic activity against tumour cell lines[
Seedlings can grow in full light, and rapid growth has been seen in abandoned farmland[
]. With its very wide native range, this makes the tree an excellent candidate for use as a pioneer when restoring native woodland and it would also prove useful when establishing a woodland garden[
The bark fibre is used for cordage[
]. The inner bark is used to make rough clothing, hammocks, sandals, hut walls, cordage, sacks, mats and paper[
]. The stripped bark is soaked in water and beaten, producing a white fibrous cloth[
Both clothing and natural sacks are formed from the bark. Small branches are made into the legs of trousers and arms of coats, the larger ones forming the bodies of the garments. In making sacks, sometimes a disk of the wood is left attached to the fibre to form the bottom of the sack. At other times the bark is peeled off. And after being beaten in water and dried, the top and bottom are sewn up, forming the sack[
A latex is obtained from the trunk. It is used medicinally and as a hunting poison. The tree is is tapped by making scores in the bark with a knife. The latex is only collected as it is required, since it cannot be stored and must be used fresh[
The bark contains tannins and has been used for dyeing[
The heartwood is whitish to pale yellow or pale yellow-brown; it is indistinctly demarcated from the up to 8cm wide band of sapwood. The texture is moderately coarse; the grain interlocked; there is a ribbon-like aspect on quarter-sawn faces; the wood is lustrous. Fresh wood has woolly surfaces. The wood is light in weight, soft to very soft, is not durable. There is a high risk of distortion when seasoning; once dry the wood is poorly stable in service. It works easily with hand and machine tools; ordinary saw teeth and cutting tools can be used, but these should be kept sharp to prevent crumbling, particularly along the edges; a smooth finish can be obtained, but with some tearing due to the interlocked grain; peeling and slicing properties are good, but rotary-peeled veneer is somewhat brittle. The wood stains and polishes well, but filling is recommended to obtain a good finish. The nailing and screwing properties are satisfactory; gluing does not cause problems[
]. It is used for interior joinery, panelling, moulding, shuttering, furniture, strip flooring, boxes and crates, tool handles, toys, carvings, peeled and sliced veneer for interior and exterior parts of plywood, fibre and particle board, and block board[
]. It is fairly commonly used domestically for light construction and canoes[
]. It is locally popular for drum making[
The wood from the roots is sometimes used as a cork substitute[
Seed - when sown fresh, the seed has a high germination rate of up to 94% within 2.5 - 13 weeks[
]. Under natural conditions, the seeds lose viability rapidly, but when stored in wet sand at low temperatures they still may have a germination rate of 82% after 5 months[