Cannonball Tree-beyond Being Sacred

Dr Sangeeta Sarma, Dept. of Agricultural Biotechnology Assam Agricultural University Jorhat-13

2019-08-11 05:40:07



Cannon ball tree-Origin and Biology: Cannon ball tree or Couroupita guianensis Aubl. belonging to Lecythidaceae family is indigenous to South America and Southern Caribbean. However, it is also thought to be a native of India as well since it has been extensively growing for so many years especially near the Shiva temples. The tree is mostly grown as an ornamental plant. It is revered as sacred by the Hindus because the petals resemble the hood of the sacred snake, the “Naga” that protects the “Shiva Lingam” represented by the stigma of the flower. The tree is called “Kailashpati” in Hindi “Nagalingam” in Tamil, “Nagkeshar” in Bengali, “Nagamalli” in Telugu and “Nagaa danthee” in Malyalam. It is also known as Ayahuma tree and is allied to Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa).

Cannon ball tree is a tall evergreen deciduous tree with a height of 20-25 meters. The leaves are alternate, oblong-obovate in shape. They are about 20 cm long with entire or slightly serrate margins having hairs on the veins. The inflorescence is racemose. The flowers are raceme and variously coloured with a strong fragrance. These are waxy pink and dark-red flowers with a size ranging from 3” to 5” and are mostly found growing on the bark of the trunk exhibiting cauliflory. The tree bears large, globose, woody fruits with a diameter of 24cm that resemble rusted cannon balls hanging in clusters like balls clinging on to a string. The fruits contain seeds that are found in a white, unpleasant smelling edible jelly. The fruits, although edible are mostly discouraged of consumption because of this smell.

Traditional uses: The cannon ball tree is traditionally used to treat stomach ailments, tooth ache and cold. In Ayurveda, it is often used as an anti-inflammatory agent. Natives from Amazonian region and northern parts of Brazil use infusions obtained from leaves, flowers and bark of cannon ball tree to cure all sorts of tumors, hypertention, pain and inflammation. Leaf juices are used to treat skin diseases and also malaria as done by the shamans of South America. The inner part of the fruit can also disinfect wounds. The fresh fruit pulp is used in preparing a cooling medicinal drink. The volatile oils derived from flowers exhibit antibacterial and anti fungal activities. It is one of the ingredients in medicines curing gastritis, dysentery, piles, and scabies and also acts as an antidote to scorpion’s poison.  In a nutshell, the tree possesses antimicrobial, antioxidant, anthelmintic, skin fibroblast proliferation qualities, wound-healing capacity and antinociceptive properties.

Chemistry: Several studies on the chemical properties of the tree reveal the presence of α-amirin, β-amirin, β-sitosterol, nerol, tryptanthrine, indigo, indirubin, isatin, linoleic acid, carotenoids and sterols, ketosteroids, terpenoids, tannins, carbohydrates, proteins and alkaloids. Eugenol, linalool and (E,E)-farnesol are found to be present in the flowers while the leaves contain triterpenoid esters of fatty acids such as β-amirin palmitate. In addition, flowers contain aliphatic hydrocarbons, stigmasterol, alkaloids, phenolics and flavanoids. Indirubin and isatin are also present in flowers which have antimicrobial characteristics. Indirubin, a 3,2’ bisindole, is a constituent of indigo natural which a dark blue powder prepared from the leaves of many medicinal plants like Indigofera. Indigo is used in Chinese medicine for treating viral and bacterial infections. It is also used as a haemostatic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and sedative agent. Dried fruit extracts of cannon ball tree contain 6, 12-dihydro-6, 12-dioxoindolo[2,1-b]quinazolin, a tryptanthrin, indigo, indirubin and isatin.

 For proper use of this valuable species in modern medicine, its physio-chemical and phyto-chemical properties need to be evaluated so that the medicinal qualities of the plant can be judiciously employed to reach the larger section of the society.

Wound healing and antimicrobial properties: C. guianensis accelerates the wound healing process by decreasing the surface area and increasing the tensile strength. Umachigi et al 2007 demonstrated the wound healing qualities in the ethanolic extracts of C. guianensis by using excision and incision wound models. They also studied the antimicrobial properties of the tree and observed moderate activity against both gram positive bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and gram negative bacteria like Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebesiella pneumonia when compared to erythromycin and tetracycline. In 2012, Al-Dhabi et al. demonstrated effective antimicrobial and antibiofilm properties of chloroform extract of fruits of C. guianensis against a wide range of gram positive bacteria like Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus; gram negative bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella typhimurium; fungi such as Candida albicans and also clinical isolates of Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia and Staphylococcus aureus.

Acts as an antioxidant and can also fight cancer: Derivatives of isatin, an endogenous compound identified in humans, possess a wide range of biological activities including cytotoxicity against human carcinoma cell lines derived from breast, prostrate, human acute lymphoblastic leukemia (MOLT-4), colon and lung. This compound was first isolated from the fruits of cannon ball tree. Premanathan et al., 2012 showed that isatin derived from the flowers of C. guianensis has antioxidant and anticancer activities against human promylocytic leukemia (HL60) cells. The methanolic extracts derived from the flower and fruits of C. guianensis were analysed spectrophotometrically against α,α-diphenyl-α-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH), 2,2'-azino-bis(3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulphonic acid) or ABTS, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), nitric oxide (NO), Lipid peroxide, superoxide and hydroxyl radical at both young and matured stages by Gupta et al., 2014. They observed that the methanol extracts from young fruits have better free radical scavenging potential than the matured ones.

Anthelmintic and antinociceptive: Rajamanickam et al., 2008 evaluated the anthelmintic activity of chloroform, acetone and ethanolic flower extracts of Couroupita guianensis against adult earthworm Pheritima phosthuma and found that the alcoholic extract was the most effective when compared to the standard drug Piperazine citrate. Pinheiro et al., 2010 studied the antinociceptive effects of C. guianensis crude ethanol extract (CEE) and its fractions in three analgesic models (acetic acid-induced contortions, tail flick, and hot plate). They found that C. guianensis CEE and its fractions have antinociceptive properties which are controlled, at least partly, by opioid and cholinergic systems and nitric oxide pathway.

Diabetes control: C. guianensis was also been found to be effective in controlling diabetes. Crude methanolic extract of the flowers of C. guianensis was used to test antidiabetic activities in normoglycemic and alloxan-induced diabetic mice while the aqueous and methanol extracts of the flowers of C. guianensis were tested upon alloxan-induced diabetic mice (Morankar et al., 2013).

Analgesic and can cure ulcers: The analgesic activity of C. guianensis was evaluated by Geetha et al., 2004. They did this using tail-flick method. The potency of various flower and bark extracts were compared with paracetamol and it was found that the plant was almost equipotent to paracetamol in analgesic activity. In 2012, Elumalai et al. for the first time evaluated the anti-ulcer properties of cannon ball tree. They investigated the anti-ulcer activity of ethanol extracts of C. guianensis leaves on pylorus ligation and ethanol-induced ulcer models in experimental mice. They observed that ethanol extract of the plant at a dose of 150 and 300mg/kg developed profound inhibition of the gastric ulcers.

Nanotechnology: Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter in the atomic, molecular and supra-molecular levels. More precisely, if we look at the definition of nanotechnology as given by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, U.S., which defines nanotechnology as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers, we get a clearer picture of the term. Nanotechnology is now-a-days being used to solve the unsolved mysteries of medical science in many ways like imaging, sensing, target-drug delivery systems and artificial implants.

Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) that have a wide range of applications in medicinal, pharmaceutical, agricultural and water purification industries can be produced either chemically or biologically. However, the chemical production of AgNPs is hazardous to the environment hence biological synthesis of AgNPs is being encouraged since it is less cumbersome, inexpensive and eco-friendly. An interesting use of AgNPs is in antimicrobial coating, wound dressing and biomedical devices where low amount of silver ions are released to provide protection against bacteria. In 2013, Devaraj et al. developed AgNPs from C. guianensis leaf extracts and studied the cytotoxicity of the synthesized nanoparticles on MCF-7 breast cancer cell lines and found them to be quite effective in cancer prevention.

Similar attempt was made to synthesized gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) via green chemistry route from the fruit extracts of cannon ball tree in 2016 by Sathishkumar et al. where they focused mainly on the antioxidant properties and radical scavenging activities of the synthesized AuNPs.

Conclusion: Cannon ball tree is a highly useful plant with almost all parts being used in various medicinal formulations. An extensive study on C. guianensis has revealed the presence of many chemical constituents that have myriad medicinal and pharmacological properties. The use of natural plant products as medicine is in great demand and active plant extracts are continuously being screened for new drug discovery. C. guianensis plant extracts can be exploited as a potential medicine for treating various bacterial and fungal infections, ulcers; as antioxidants; for preventing cancer; for controlling diabetes and many others. Thus this plant serves as a depository of chemo-diversity for production of medicines. This can provide a niche to the scientists to develop drugs in the near future that are beneficial to the society at large.



Elumalai, A., Naresh, V., Eswaraiah, M.C., Narendar, P. and Kumar, R. (2012). Evaluation of Antiulcer Activity of Couroupita guianensis Aubl. leaves. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2(2): 64-66.

Al-Dhabi, N.A., Balachandran, C., Raj, M.K., Duraipandiyan, V., Muthukumar, C., Ignacimuthu, S., Khan, I.A. and Rajput, V.S. (2012). Antimicrobial, antimycobacterial and antibiofilm properties of Couroupita guianensis Aubl. fruit extract. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 12(242): 1-8.

Devraj, P., Kumari, P., Aarti, C. and Renganathan, A. (2013). Synthesis and Characterization of Silver Nanoparticles Using Cannonball Leaves and Their Cytotoxic Activity against MCF-7 Cell Line. Journal of Nanotechnology. vol. 2013, Article ID 598328, 5 pages.

Geetha, M., Saluja, A.K., Shankar, M.B. and Mehta, R.S. (2004). Analgesic and Anti-inflammatory Activity of Couroupita guianensis Aubl. Journal of Natural Remedies. 4(1): 52-55.

Gupta, S.K., Ghosal, M., Choudhury, D. and Mandal, P. (2014). Assessment of Antioxidant Activity and Polyphenolic Content of Couroupita Guianensis during Flower and Fruit Maturation. International Journal of Recent Scientific Research. 5(5): 1-8.

Morankar, P.G., Dhake, A.S., Kumbhare, M.R., Ushir, Y.V., Surana, A.R. and Patil, S.D. (2013). An evaluation of the antidiabetic effects of couroupita guianesis aubl. flowers in experimental animals. Indo American Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. 3(4): 3114-3122.

Pinheiro, M.M.G., Bessa, S.O., Fingolo, C.E., Kuster, R.M., Matheus, M.E., Menezes, F.S. and Fernandes, P.S. (2010). Antinociceptive activity of fractions from Couroupita guianensis Aubl. leaves. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 127(2&3): 407-413.

Premanathan, M., Radhakrishnan, S., Kulangiappar, K., Singaravelu, G., Thirumalaiarasu, V., Sivakumar, T. and Kathiresan., K. (2012). Antioxidant & anticancer activities of isatin (1H-indole-2, 3-dione), isolated from the flowers of Couroupita guianensis Aubl. Indian J Med Res. 136(5): 822-826.

Rajamanickam, V., Rajasekaran, A., Darlin quine, S., Jesupillai, M. and Sabjtha, R. (2009). Anthelmintic activity of the flower extract of Couroupita guianensis. The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine. 8(1): 107-111.

Satishkumar, G., Jha, P.K., Vignesh, V., Rajkuberan, C., Jeyaraj, M., Selvakumar, M., Jha, R. and Sivaramakrishnan, S. (2016). Cannonball fruit (Couroupita guianensis, Aubl.) extract mediated synthesis of gold nanoparticles and evaluation of its antioxidant activity. Journal of Molecular Liquids. 229-236.

Umachigi, S.P., Jayaveera, K.N., Ashok Kumar, C.K. and Kumar, G.S. (2007). Antimicrobial, Wound Healing and Antioxidant potential of Couroupita guianensis in rats. Pharmacologyonline. 3: 269-281.