Apocynaceae is a family of flowering plants that includes trees, shrubs, herbs, stem succulents, and vines, commonly known as the dogbane family, (Greek for "away from dog" since some taxa were used as dog poison). Members of the family are native to the European, Asian, African, Australian, and American tropics or subtropics, with some temperate members. The family Asclepiadaceae (now known as Asclepiadoideae) is considered a subfamily of Apocynaceae and contains 348 genera. A list of Apocynaceae genera may be found here.
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 are (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).
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Flowers have radial symmetry (actinomorphic), and are borne in heads that are cymes or racemes, but are rarely 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.
As of 2012, the family was described as comprising some 5,100 species, where Apocynoideae, Asclepiadoideae, Periplocoideae, Rauvolfioideae, and Secamonoideae are its five subfamilies. The former family Asclepiadaceae is included in Apocynaceae according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III (APG III) modern, largely molecular-based system of flowering plant taxonomy. An updated classification, including 366 genera, 25 tribes and 49 subtribes, was published in 2014.
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Species in this family are distributed mainly in tropical regions:
This section needs expansion with: sourced information from texts and other secondary literature, on the known toxicities of Apocynaceae-derived substances. You can help by adding to it. (June 2015)
All plant-derived (i.e., phytochemical) natural products have some inherent toxicity on ingestion, and many are very toxic, even lethal. This is true of many species of plants from the Apocynaceae family, with some being extremely poisonous if parts are ingested, or if they are not handled properly. Genera containing cardiac glycosides-- Acokanthera, Apocynum, Cerbera, Nerium, Thevetia, Strophanthus, etc.--have therapeutic ranges, but are often associated with accidental poisonings, in many cases lethal (see below). Alkaloid-producing species like Rauvolfia, Catharanthus, and Tabernathe are likewise the source of compounds with possible therapeutic ranges, but which have significant associated toxicities if not taken in appropriate doses and in controlled fashion.
Several plants of the Apocynaceae family members have had economic uses in the past. Several are sources of important natural products--pharmacologic tool compounds and drug research candidates, and in some cases actual prescription drugs.Cardiac glycosides, which affect heart function, are a ready example. Members studied and known to have such glycosides include the Acokanthera, Apocynum, Cerbera, Nerium, Thevetia and Strophanthus.Rauvolfia serpentina (Indian snakeroot) synthesizes the alkaloids reserpine and rescinnamine, which are of interest in studies of the treatment of high blood pressure, as well as some forms of psychosis.Catharanthus roseus yields alkaloids studied with regard to the treatment of cancer. Certain species of the genus Tabernanthe, most notably Tabernanthe Iboga contain tryptamine alkaloids such as ibogaine in the roots.
Several genera are grown as ornamental plants, including Amsonia (bluestar), Nerium (oleander), Vinca (periwinkle), Carissa (Natal plum), Allamanda (golden trumpet), Plumeria (frangipani), Thevetia (lucky nut), Mandevilla (Savannah flower), and Adenium (desert-rose).
In addition, the genera Landolphia, Hancornia, Funtumia and Mascarenhasia were used as a commercial source of inferior rubber (see Congo rubber, made mostly from various Landolphia species harvested in the wild).
There may be reports of limited dietary uses of plants from this family,[clarification needed]--see however the section on toxicity above. The edible flower of Fernaldia pandurata (common name: loroco) is a popular part of El Salvadorian and Guatemalan cooking.Carissa (Natal plum) produces an edible fruit. The genus Apocynum was reportedly used as a source of fiber by Native Americans. The aromatic fruit juice from Saba comorensis (syn. Landolphia comorensis, the Bungo or Mbungo fruit) is a popular drink,[verification needed] on Pemba Island and other parts of coastal Tanzania.
Finally, ethnopharmacologic and ethnotoxicologic uses are also known. Ibogaine-type alkaloids from the roots of genus Tabernathe have been used in traditional African tribal ceremonies as a source of hallucinogens, and have been studied with regard to the treatment of drug addiction. The juice of Acokanthera species such as A. venenata and the milky juice of the Namibian Pachypodium have reportedly been used as venom for arrow tips by the San people, though others have reported that Pachypodium do not produce such milk.