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Apocynaceae is a family of flowering plants that includes trees, shrubs, herbs, stem succulents, and vines, commonly called the dogbane family, after the American plant known as dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum. Members of the family are native to European, Asian, African, Australian, and American tropics or subtropics, with some temperate members.
Many species are tall trees found in tropical rainforests, but some grow in tropical dry (xeric) environments. Also perennial herbs from temperate zones occur. Many of these plants have milky latex, and many species are poisonous if ingested. Some genera of Apocynaceae, such as Adenium, have milky latex apart from their sap, and others, such as Pachypodium, have clear sap and no latex.
Leaves and stems
Leaves are not divided into smaller leaflets (simple). Leaves may appear one at a time (singly) with each occurrence on alternating sides of the stem (alternate), but usually occur in pairs or in whorls. When paired, they occur on opposite sides of the stem (opposite), with each pair occurring at an angle rotated 90° to the pair below it (decussate).
Inflorescence and fruit
Flowers are usually showy, have radial symmetry (actinomorphic), and are born in head that are cymes or racemes, but can rarely be fasciculate or solitary. They are perfect (bisexual), with a synsepalous, five-lobed calyx united into a tube at the base. Inflorescences are terminal or axillary. Five petals are united into a tube with four or five epipetalous stamens. The style is expanded at the apex into a massive clavuncle just below the stigma. The ovary is usually superior, bicarpellary, and apocarpous, with a common fused style and stigma.
The family comprises some 1,500 species divided over about 424 genera. Apocynoideae, Asclepiadoideae, Periplocoideae, Rauvolfioideae, and Secamonoideae are the 5 subfamilies of Apocynpidea as of 2012. What is included in the family may change with new genetic data. The former family Asclepiadaceae is included in Apocynaceae according to the APG III system.
Distribution and habitat
Species in this family are distributed mainly in tropical regions:
- In the rainforests and swamps of Indomalaya: small to very tall evergreen trees up to 80 m tall, often with buttress roots, such as Alstonia and Dyera
- In northern Australia: small evergreen trees such as Alstonia, Alyxia, Cerbera and Ochrosia
- In deciduous forests of Africa and India: smaller trees such as Carissa, Wrightia and Holarrhena
- In tropical America, India, Myanmar and Malaya: evergreen trees and shrubs, such as Rauvolfia, Tabernaemontana and Acokanthera
- In Central America: Plumeria, or the frangipani, with its waxy white or pink flowers and a sweet scent
- In South America, Africa and Madagascar: many lianas, such as Landolphia
- In the Mediterranean region: Nerium, with the well-known oleander or be-still tree (Nerium oleander)
- The only genera found in temperate Europe away from the Mediterranean are Vinca (Apocynoideae) and Vincetoxicum (Asclepiadoideae).
- In North America: Apocynum, dogbane or Indian hemp, including Apocynum cannabinum, a traditional source of fiber
- In continental southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe) and Madagascar, except for the humid evergreen forest of the eastern side of Madagascar, and never above 2000 m for the entire island: Pachypodium and Fockea
Several plants of this family had economic uses in the past.
The genera Landolphia, Hancornia, Funtumia and Mascarenhasia were used as a commercial source of inferior rubber. (see Congo rubber, made largely from various Landolphia harvested from the wild under the most desperate conditions)
The juice of Acokanthera species such as A. venenata and the milky juice of the Namibian Pachypodium has been used as venom for arrow tips by the San (Bushmen). Some sources state that Pachypodium do not produce a milky latex.
Several genera are grown as ornamental plants, including Amsonia (bluestar), Nerium (oleander), Vinca (periwinkle), Carissa (Natal plum, an edible fruit), Allamanda (golden trumpet), Plumeria (frangipani), Thevetia (lucky nut), Mandevilla (Savannah flower), Adenium (desert-rose).
Some are sources of important drugs, such as cardiac glycosides, which affect heart function. These include the Acokanthera, Apocynum, Cerbera, Nerium, Thevetia and Strophantus. Rauvolfia serpentina, or Indian Snakeroot, yields the alkaloids reserpine and rescinnamine, which are useful tools in the treatment of high blood pressure and even some forms of psychosis. Catharanthus roseus yields alkaloids used in treating cancer.
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