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July 2024

Did you know that the common name for the plant Calotropis procera stem from the ancient authors Josephus and Tacitus, who described the plant growing in the area of biblical Sodom?

Apple of Sodom (Calotropis procera). Leaves, flowers and fruits.

Apple of Sodom - Calotropis procera

Calotropis procera is a species of flowering plant in the family Apocynaceae that is native to Northern and Tropical Africa, Western Asia, South Asia and Indochina (mainland Southeast Asia). It typically reaches a height between 6 feet (1.8 m) to 8 feet (2.4 m), and rarely to as high as 15 feet (4.6 m), and grows in sunny to partly-shaded habitats such as disturbed and overgrazed lands, rangeland, roadsides, river flats and coastal dunes. Its green fruits contain a toxic milky sap that is extremely bitter and turns into a latex-like substance, which is resistant to soap.

Common names for the plant include Apple of Sodom, Sodom apple, roostertree, king's crown, small crownflower, giant milkweed, rubber bush, and rubber tree. The names "Apple of Sodom" and "Dead Sea Apple" stem from the ancient authors Josephus and Tacitus, who described the plant growing in the area of biblical Sodom. Although not native to the New World, the plant (and other related milkweed species) has been cultivated, and feeds monarch butterfly caterpillars, in places such as California, Hawaii and the island of Puerto Rico. In Arabic, it is known as al-ashkhar.

Calotropis (Calotropis procera (Aiton) W. T. Aiton) is a spreading shrub or medium-sized tree reaching 2.5 to 6 m in height. It has a deep taproot, 3-4 m deep, and a secondary root system with woody lateral roots that may rapidly regenerate adventitious shoots when the plant is injured. The stems are crooked and covered with a fissured corky bark. The grey-green leaves are 15-30 cm long and 2.5-10 cm broad and have a succulent and waxy appearance, hence the name procera, which means wax in latin. The flowers are pentamerous, small, cream or greenish white at the base and purple violet at the extremity of the lobes. The fruit is a fleshy and inflated, up to 10 cm or more in diameter. The plant juice is poisonous.

Calotropis procera originated from the Afro-Asian monsoonal regions. It spread on an arc expanding from north western Africa (Mauritania, Senegal), through the Arabian Peninsula and Middle-East to the Indian subcontinent. It was introduced to subtropical America, the Mascarene Islands, drier parts of Australia and probably South-East Asia.

Calotropis is found from sea level up to an altitude of 1300 m in semi-arid conditions (150 to 1000 mm annual rainfall) on sandy soils. However, it can withstand a wide range of soil textures. It is tolerant of soil salinity and of beach front salt spray. On excessively drained soils, it can withstand up to 2000 mm annual rainfall. It quickly becomes established in open habitats with little competition, along degraded roadsides, lagoon edges and in overgrazed native pastures and rangelands. When calotropis is damaged, it readily develops suckers from the roots. Calotropis seeds are spread by wind and animals and may be transported long distances in flood waters.

The flower shoots are eaten young and raw. The leaves are occasionally eaten. The leaves are used for making an alcoholic drink. In Ethiopia the sap is added to milk to help it coagulate. The leaves have been used as a soup ingredient in sauces.

Calotropis procera is a multipurpose tree. The stems yield a fibre useful for making ropes, bags, nets and paper. The seeds contain a white silky floss that is a potential silk replacer. The wood is valuable as a timber and fuel. The milky sap (latex) is renowned for its ethno-medicinal properties and as a food, particularly as a coagulation agent for cheese making in West Africa. Calotropis yields 90 t of biomass twice a year and is a potential source of renewable energy.

Calotropis is also used as fodder. Young pods, senescing leaves and flowers can be fed to goats, camels, and sheep (more rarely to cattle) in times of scarcity. The latex contains toxic components that may be harmful to livestock.

The stem is source of strong and durable fibre used in making ropes, bow strings, fishing nets, paper, pulp, etc. The seed capsules, on the other hand, are used as stuffing material in mattresses. The stems further produce good charcoal and is termite resistant. It is used for roofing and building hats. Mudar Gummi, a rubber material, is also obtained from Auricula tree.

Some biblical commentators believe that the Sodom apple may have been the poisonous gourd (or poison-tasting gourd) that led to "death in the pot" in the Second Book of Kings (2 Kings 4:38–41). In this story, a well-meaning servant of the prophet Elisha gathers herbs and a large quantity of the unknown gourds, and casts them into the pot. After the outcry from the band of prophets, Elisha instructs them to cast flour into the stew pot, and they are saved. In 1938, botanists Hannah and Ephraim HaReuveni, authors of "The Squill and the Asphodel" (and parents of Noga HaReuveni), speculated that Jeremiah's ar‘ar/arow‘er was the Sodom apple. The fibre of the Sodom apple may have been used for the linen of the high priests.

The fruit is described by the Roman Jewish historian Josephus, who saw it growing near what he calls Sodom, near the Dead Sea: " well as the ashes growing in their fruits; which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes."

Sodom apple is listed in the Mishnah and Talmud. The fibers attached to the seeds may have been used as wicks. However the Mishnah forbids this for the Sabbath: "It may not be lighted with cedar-bast, nor with uncombed flax, nor with floss-silk, nor with willow fiber, nor with nettle fiber. – Sabbath Chapter 2"

In his Biblical Researches in Palestine, American biblical scholar Edward Robinson describes it as the fruit of the Asclepias gigantea vel procera, a tree 10–15 feet high, with a grayish cork-like bark called 'osher by the Arabs. He says the fruit resembled "a large, smooth apple or orange, hanging in clusters of three or four." When "pressed or struck, it explodes with a puff, like a bladder or puff-ball, leaving in the hand only the shreds of the thin rind and a few fibers. It is indeed filled chiefly with air, which gives it the round form; while in the center a small slender pod runs through it which contains a small quantity of fine silk, which the Arabs collect and twist into matches for their guns."

Bedouins of the Sinai and Negev traditionally made use of the fibers of this plant for making skull-caps (tagiyah).

Known as Sodom's Apple (Al Ashkhar) in the United Arab Emirates, it is a common desert shrub with a wide range of medicinal applications in traditional Bedouin medicine. It has been linked to a number of cases of poisoning and corneal damage caused by children unknowingly touching its sap and then their eyes. Bedouin have long held that the plant causes blindness if contact is made with the eyes and any part of the plant. Its roots were traditionally burned and used as a component of gunpowder by Bedouin in the Trucial States.

The plant is known to occur throughout the tropical belt and is also common in the West Indies (e.g. Jamaica, Puerto Rico), where the locals know it as "pillow cotton". When the ripe "apples" burst, the fibrous contents are ejected along with the seeds.

The giant milkweed is used for fibre and medicine in Southern Africa, but it rapidly invades subsistence agricultural fields reducing yields. The plant is poisonous if eaten by livestock. It thrives in the hot northern regions of Limpopo Province. This plant is also found along road verges and in drainage lines.

In Australia, it is a weed of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland. It is thought to have arrived in the Northern Territory via the seeds which have tufts of silky hairs: the silky material (originating in Africa or Asia) having been used as padding in camel saddles. In the Northern Territory, it is found on alluvial plains, ephemeral watercourses and run-on areas. It also occurs on red earth plains and heavy soil plains.

The milky sap contains a complex mix of chemicals, some of which are steroidal heart poisons known as "cardiac aglycones". These belong to the same chemical family as similar ones found in foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea).

The plant contains steroidal components that are the cause of its toxicity. In the case of the Calotropis glycosides, their names are calotropin, calotoxin, calactin, uscharidin and voruscharin.

Compounds derived from the plant have been found to have emetic-cathartic and digitalic properties. The principal active compounds are asclepin and mudarin. Other compounds have been found to have bactericidal and vermicidal propertie. The root bark is an emetic. An infusion of bark powder is used in the treatment and cure of leprosy and elephantiasis. It is inadvisable to use bark that has been kept for more than a year. The extremely poisonous roots are used in the treatment of snakebites. The leaves are used for the treatment of asthma. The milky sap is used as a rubefacient and is also strongly purgative and caustic. 

The latex is used for treating ringworm, guinea worm blisters, scorpion stings, venereal sores and ophthalmic disorders, it is also used as a laxative. Its use in India in the treatment of skin diseases has caused severe bullous dermatitis leading sometimes to hypertrophic scars. The local effect of the latex on the conjunctiva is congestion, epiphora and local anaesthesia. The latex contains a proteolytic enzyme called caloptropaine.

The flower is digestive and tonic. It is used in the treatment of asthma and catarrh. The twigs are applied for the preparation of diuretics, stomach tonic and anti-diarrhoetics and for asthma. Also used in abortion, as an anthelmintic, for colic, cough, whooping cough, dysentery, headache, lice treatment, jaundice, sore gums and mouth, toothache, sterility, swellings and ulcers.





Apple of Sodom - Calotropis procera
Silver Vine - Actinidia polygama
Yerba Mansa - Anemopsis californica
Tree of Death - Manchineel - Hippomane mancinella
Dove Tree - Davidia involucrata
Ashwagandha - Winter Cherry - Withania somnifera
Zabala - Lardizabala biternata
Longan - Dimocarpus longan
Flame tree - Delonix regia
Ďrchid tree - Bauhinia variegata
Pink Lapacho - Handroanthus impetiginosus
African peach - Nauclea latifolia
Golden Himalayan raspberry - Rubus ellipticus
Flame Thrower Palm - Chambeyronia macrocarpa
Toothbrush tree - Mustard tree - Salvadora persica
Monastery bamboo - Thyrsostachys siamensis
Nara - Desert melon - Acanthosicyos horridus
Candelabra tree - Euphorbia ingens
Shea butter tree - Vitellaria paradoxa
Tejocote - Mexican hawthorn - Crataegus mexicana
Tree of Damocles - Oroxylum indicum
Talipot palm - Corypha umbraculifera
Albany pitcher plant - Cephalotus follicularis
Nipa palm - Nypa fruticans
Marmalade Box - Genipa americana
Ice Cream Bean - Inga edulis
Gular - Cluster fig - Ficus racemosa
Kei apple - Dovyalis caffra
Stork's Bill - Erodium cicutarium
Camu Camu - Myrciaria dubia
Pemphis - Pemphis acidula
Sisal - Agave sisalana
Jute Mallow - Corchorus olitorius
Sugar Apple - Annona squamosa
Sapodilla - Manilkara zapota
Black Sapote - Diospyros nigra
Star Apple - Chrysophyllum cainito
White Ginger Lily - Hedychium coronarium
Yuzu - Citrus junos
Wild Loquat - Sugar Plum - Uapaca kirkiana
Tonka - Cumaru - Dipteryx odorata
Chinese bayberry - Myrica rubra
Wood Apple - Limonia acidissima
Açaí - Euterpe oleracea
Tindola - Ivy gourd - Coccinia grandis
Blue honeysuckle - Haskap - Lonicera caerulea
Balata - Manilkara bidentata
Calabash nutmeg - Monodora myristica
Kola nut - Cola nitida
Rainbow eucalyptus - Eucalyptus deglupta
Elephant apple - Dillenia indica
Australian Christmas tree - Nuytsia floribunda
Honeywort- Cerinthe major
Aconite - Monkshood - Wolfsbane - Aconitum napellus
Crown of Thorns - Euphorbia milii
Abyssinian banana - Ensete ventricosum
Goldenrain Tree - Koelreuteria paniculata
Naranjilla - Lulo - Solanum quitoense
Brazil nut tree - Bertholletia excelsa
Sea grape - Coccoloba uvifera
Bignay - Antidesma bunius
Cashew - Anacardium occidentale
Giant Himalayan Lily - Cardiocrinum giganteum
African Hemp - Sparrmannia africana
Lychee - Litchi chinensis
Prickly Heath - Gaultheria mucronata
Hoodia - Bushman's hat - Hoodia gordonii
Cannibals Tomato - Solanum viride
Ashoka - Saraca asoca
Ackee - Blighia sapida
African plum - Safou - Dacryodes edulis
Solandra - Solandra maxima
Stapelia - Stapelia gigantea
Foxglove - Digitalis purpurea
Swiss Cheese Plant - Monstera deliciosa
Chocolate flower - Berlandiera lyrata
Sandersonia - Sandersonia aurantiaca
Northern Japanese Magnolia - Magnolia kobus
Champak - Magnolia champaca
Hooker’s lips - Psychotria elata
Suicide Tree - Cerbera odollam
Konjac - Amorphophallus konjac
Madagascar ocotillo - Alluaudia procera
Water Banana - Typhonodorum lindleyanum
Salak - Salacca zalacca
Natal Plum - Carissa macrocarpa
Ashanti blood - Mussaenda erythrophylla
Duranta - Duranta erecta
Maqui - Aristotelia chilensis
Manuka - New Zealand Tea Tree - Leptospermum scoparium
Suriname cherry - Eugenia uniflora
Australian Finger Lime - Citrus australasica
Sacred Flower of the Incas - Cantua buxifolia
Job's tears - Coix Lacryma-jobi
Velvet Bean - Mucuna pruriens
Java Apple - Syzygium samarangense
Screwpine - Pandanus utilis
Marimo - Aegagropila linnaei
Achocha/Caigua - Inca cucumber - Cyclanthera pedata
Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis
Sugar cane - Saccharum officinarum
Sacha inchi - Plukenetia volubilis
Coffea - Coffee Tree - Coffea arabica
Liquorice - Licorice - Glycyrrhiza glabra
Mullein -Verbascum thapsus
Iceplant - Mesembryanthemum crystallinum
Chayote - Sechium edule
Roselle - Hibiscus sabdariffa
Black Goji - Lycium ruthenicum Murray
Rose Cactus - Pereskia grandifolia
Durian - Durio zibethinus
Jackfruit tree - Artocarpus heterophyllus
Cassabanana - Sicana odorifera
Chilean myrtle - Arrayan - Luma apiculata
Kurrajong - Brachychiton populneus
Rice-paper Plant -Tetrapanax papyrifer
Shell Ginger - Alpinia zerumbet
Harlequin Glorybower - Clerodendrum trichotomum
Coco de Mer - Lodoicea maldivica
Silver Tree - Leucadendron argenteum
Buffaloberry - Shepherdia argentea
Himalayan Honeysuckle - Leycesteria formosa
Raisin Tree - Hovenia dulcis
Borojo - Alibertia patinoi - Borojoa patinoi
Butterfly Pea - Clitoria ternatea
Honey Flower - Melianthus major
Ombu - Phytolacca dioica
Lion's Ear - Wild Dagga - Leonotis leonurus
Moringa - Miracle Tree - Moringa oleifera
Sea Daffodil - Pancratium maritimum
Spear Lily - Gymea - Doryanthes
Camphor tree - Cinnamomum camphora
Waterwheel - Aldrovanda vesiculosa
Flowering rush - Butomus umbellatus
Four o'clock - Marvel of Peru - Mirabilis jalapa
Dead Man’s Fingers - Decaisnea
Bitter Melon - Momordica charantia
Shoapnuts Tree - Shoapberry - Sapindus
Acerola - Malpighia
Monkey Ladder - Sea Heart - Entada gigas
Cherimoya - Annona cherimola
Caper - Capparis spinosa
Lithops - Living Stones
Chaste Tree - Vitex agnus-castus
Chilean Lantern Tree - Crinodendron hookerianum
Parrot's Beak - Lotus berthelotii
Water Hyacinth - Eichhornia crassipes
Guaiac Tree - Guaiacum officinale - Lignum-vitae
Mickey Mouse bush - Ochna serrulata
Cow's Udder - Solanum mammosum
Miracle fruit - Synsepalum dulcificum
Akebia - Akebia quinata
Chilean Firebush - Embothrium coccineum
Caesalpinia - Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Welwitschia - Welwitschia mirabilis
Saguaro - Carnegiea gigantea
Schisandra - Schisandra chinensis
Monarda - Bee balm - Bergamot
Tamarind - Tamarindus indica
Neomarica - Walking Iris
Red hot poker - Kniphofia - Tritoma
Sikkim rhubarb - Rheum nobile
Reseda - Mignonette
Paulownia - Paulownia tomentosa
Belamcanda chinensis - Leopard lily
Blue Poppy - Meconopsis
Cannonball Tree - Couroupita guianensis
Tamarillo - Cyphomandra betacea
Goji - Wolfberry - Lycium barbarum
Vanilla - Vanilla Planifolia
Stevia - Stevia rebaudiana
Sturt pea - Swainsona formosa
Jade vine - Strongylodon macrobotrys
Sansevieria - Snake Plant
Yareta - Azorella compacta
African tulip tree - Spathodea campanulata
Angel's Trumpets - Brugmansia
Achiote - Annato - Bixa orellana
Sausage Tree - Kigelia pinnata
Castor Oil Plant - Ricinus communis
Firewheel Tree - Stenocarpus sinuatus
Bat Flower - Tacca
Snake gourd - Trichosanthes cucumerina
Hydnora - Hydnora africana
Pickerel Weed - Pontederia
Argan - Argania spinosa
Astilbe - False Goats Beard
Feijoa - Pineapple Guava - Acca sellowiana
Aquilegia - Columbine
Sweet Box - Sarcococca
Christmas Cactus - Schlumbergera
Foxtail Lily - Eremurus
Rue - Ruta graveolens
Ylang-Ylang - Cananga odorata
Rose of Jericho - Anastatica hierochuntica
Waterlily - Nymphaea
Calico Flower - Aristolochia
Daylily - Hemerocallis
Contorted hazel - Corylus avellana Contorta
Torch Ginger - Etlingera elatior
Mistletoe - Viscum album
Devil´s claw - Harpagophytum procumbens
Teasel - Dipsacus
Pampas grass - Gynerium argenteum - Cortaderia Selloanna
Purple coneflower - Echinacea purpurea
Coral Tree - Erythrina crista-galli
Field Poppy - Papaver Rhoeas
Narcissus - Daffodil
Mimosa pudica - Sensitive Plant
Boxwood - Buxus sempervirens
Firethorn - Pyracantha
Star of Bethlehem - Ornithogalum
Muscari - Grape Hyacinth
Papyrus - Cyperus papyrus
Honeysuckle - Lonicera
Passiflora - Passion Flower
Calendula - Marigold
Lupine - Lupinus
Canna - Indian Shot
Witch Hazel - Hamamelis
Oak - Quercus
Brunsvigia - Candelabra Flower
Tree peony - Paeonia suffruticosa
Olive - Olea europaea
Cornflower - Centaurea cyanus
Desert rose - Adenium obesum
Oleander - Nerium Oleander
Sweet Pea - Lathyrus odoratus
Chaenomeles - Flowering Quince
Amaryllis - Hippeastrum
Butchers broom - Ruscus aculeatus
Bay Laurel - Laurus nobilis
Artichoke - Cynara scolymus
Clivia - Clivia Miniata
Dipladenia - Dipladenia sanderii
Date palm - Phoenix dactylifera
Peach - Prunus persica
Almond - Prunus amygdalus
Willow - Salix
Pomegranate - Punica granatum
Protea cynaroides
Colchicum autumnale
Bird of Paradise - Strelitzia reginae
Cardon - Pachycereus pringlei
Wolffia arrhiza
Puya raimondii
Asphodelus - Asphodel
Primula - Primerose
Dicentra spectabilis - Bleeding Heart
Edelweiss - Leontopodium alpinum
Helleborus Niger - Christmas Rose
Zantedeschia - Calla Lily
Fritillaria imperialis - Crown imperial
Common Sunflower - Helianthus annuus
Bee Orchid - Orphys apifera
Convalaria majalis - Lily of the Valley - Muguet
Syringa Vurgaris - Lilac
Snowdrop - Galanthus
Poinsettia - Euphorbia pulcherrima
Dionaea muscipula
Sea anemone
Amorrhophallus titanum
Rafflesia arnoldi


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