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Acta Amazonica

Print version ISSN 0044-5967On-line version ISSN 1809-4392

Acta Amaz. vol.37 no.1 Manaus  2007 



Chemical composition and acaricidal activity of the leaf and fruit essential oils of Protium heptaphyllum (Aubl.) Marchand (Burseraceae)1


Composição química e atividade acaricida do óleo essencial das folhas e frutos de Protium heptaphyllum (Aubl.) Marchand (Burseraceae)1



Wendel José Teles PontesI; José Cândido Guerra de OliveiraI; Cláudio Augusto Gomes da CâmaraI; Adelmo C. H. R. LopesI; Manoel Guedes Correia Gondim JúniorII; José Vargas de OliveiraII; Reginaldo BarrosII; Manfred Oswald Erwin SchwartzIII

ILaboratório de Produtos Naturais Bioativos, Departamento de Química, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Av. Dom Manoel de Medeiros s/n, CEP 52171-900, Recife, Pernambuco. Fone 3320 6381. e-mail:
IIDepartamento de Agronomia, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco - UFRPE, Av. Dom Manoel de Medeiros s/n, CEP 52171-900, Recife, Pernambuco
IIIDepartamento de Química Fundamental, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco. Cidade Universitária, CEP 50740-540 Recife, Pernambuco




Essential oils from leaves and fruits of Protiumheptaphyllum collected in Tamandaré beach Pernambuco/Brazil were analysed by GC/MS and tested for toxicity and repellent effect against the two spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae). The major constituent identified in the fruits was a-terpinene (47.6 %) whereas oil from leaf contained mainly sesquiterpenes such as 9-epi-caryophyllene (21.4 %), trans-isolongifolanone (10.7 %) and 14-hydroxi-9-epi-caryophyllene (16.7 %). The fruit oil was found to be more effective against the mite when compared to the leaf oil. Both showed mortality properties and oviposition deterrence in higher concentration (10 µl.l-1 air), but only the essential oil from fruits induced repellence on T. urticae.

KEYWORDS: Protium heptaphyllum, essential oil, Tetranychus urticae, acaricidal activity


O óleo essencial das folhas e frutos de Protiumheptaphyllum coletada em Tamandaré-Pernambuco foi analisado por CG/EM e testado sua toxicidade e efeito repelente contra ácaro rajado (Tetranychus urticae). O constituinte majoritário identificado nos frutos foi a-terpineno (47,6 %) enquanto que nas folhas foram os sesquiterpenos 9-epi-cariofileno (21,4 %), trans-isolongifolanona (10,7 %) and 14-hidroxi-9-epi-cariofileno (16,7 %). O óleo dos frutos foi mais eficiente contra o ácaro, comparado com o óleo das folhas. Ambos os óleos revelaram propriedades de mortalidade e deterrência de oviposição na maior concentração (10 µl.l-1 air) e apenas o óleo essencial dos frutos induziu repelência no T. urticae.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Protium heptaphyllum, óleo essencial, Tetranychus urticae, atividade acaricida




The family Burseraceae is a well-known source of exudates and oleoresins rich in volatile substances which are used for many purposes, e.g. perfumery. In the Neotropical region, this family is largely represented by the genus Protium. This is the principal genus in the family, which comprises about 135 species and is one of the most widespread genera in South America (Khalid, 1983). Andrade-Lima (1966), studying the parallel development between the floras of the Brazilian Northeast and that of the Amazon, found that many plant genera and species are common in both regions. This parallel development is supported by the refuge theory, developed by Vanzolini (1970) and Ab'Saber (1970). They justified the origin of these vegetation islands as a consequence of the separation of the Amazonian Hiléa, which during the glacial eras when the South-American climate as well as the global climate was drier and colder than today, retreated to small island forest formations in the middle of an immense savannah, isolating the flora and fauna into different bioma. The posterior drying in glacial periods, and the consequent retreat of the forests, is today's witness of these forest formations in the Brazilian Northeast and Amazonia. So, some genera and species found in forest formations in Pernambuco are directly linked to the rate of how they grow in the Amazonian region. This is the case of Protium heptaphyllum (Aubl.) Marchand (Burseraceae) (Loureiro et al., 1978).

P.heptaphyllum is a medicinal plant with the popular names breu, breu branco verdadeiro, which grows widely in the Amazonian region and other parts of Brazil in sandy, wet and dry soils, like the Restinga Region of the Brazilian Northeast. In these areas, this species is popularly known as amescla (Ceará, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte), almesca in Bahia, and amescla and almécega in Pernambuco (Loureiro et al., 1978). In popular medicine, this species is considered an important therapeutic agent which is used as anti-inflammatory, analgesic, expectorant and healing of wounds. It is also used in the paint industry and covering of boats (Costa, 1975; Corrêa, 1987; Pott & Pott, 1994; Siani et al., 1999a). Other applications include production of oil resins rich in essential oils used as incense or insect repellent (Pernet, 1972; Corrêa, 1987).

Some pharmacological studies using the oil resin verified the therapeutical efficacy, which, by their surprising results, proved their usefulness as anti-inflammatory, antinoceptive, antineoplasic and gastro protective (Oliveira et al., 2004a,b,c; Siani et al., 1999a). The oil composition of the aerial parts and resin of P. heptaphyllum have been previously reported from a specimen collected in two regions of Brazil: Manaus in the North (Siani et al., 1999a,b; Zoghbi & Maia, 1995) and Ceará in the Northeast (Bandeira et al., 2001).

Due to its high volatility, the essential oils could be used to control pests found in closed environments, such as greenhouses (Aslan et al., 2004). Recently, studies of essential oils have been made to evaluate its acaricidal (Kim et al., 2004) and insecticidal properties (Choi et al., 2005), especially for stored-product pest control (Bouda et al., 2001; Huang et al., 2000; Kim et al., 2003). This paper reports the chemical composition of the oils from leaves and fruits of P. heptaphyllum, a plant collected in the restinga region on the Tamandaré beach-Pernambuco, as well as its acaricidal activity against the two-spotted mite Tetranychus urticae.




Leaves and fruits of P. heptaphyllum were collected in the biological reserve of Guadalupe, Tamandaré beach on the south coast of Pernambuco, Brazil, in December 2004. A sample was deposited in the Herbarium Vasconcelos Sobrinho of the Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco (UFRPE) under the number 46329. Fresh leaves and immature fruits were submitted to hydrodistillation for 2 h, and the oils were collected by a modified Clevenger-type apparatus. The oils were separated from water, dried with Na2SO4, and stored in sealed vials at low temperature before analysis. Yields were calculated from weight of fresh material. The yield was calculated through the relation of the volatile oil volume from the Clevenger-type equipment to the mass of plant material used in the extraction. All experiments were repeated three times.


Gas chromatography (GC) analyses were performed on a Hewlett Packard 5890 SERIES II equipped with a flame ionization detector (FID) and a J & W Scientific DB-5 fused silica capillary column (30 m x 0.25 mm x 0.25mm); programmed oven temperature was 50ºC - 250 ºC at 4ºC at min-1, integrating purposes. Injector and detector temperatures were 250ºC and 280ºC, respectively. Hydrogen was used as carrier gas, flow rate 1.5 ml min-1, split mode (1:10). A 1.5 µl solution of about 10 mg of oil in ethyl acetate was injected. The retention indices were obtained by co-injecting the oil sample with a C11-C24 linear hydrocarbon mixture (retention index from 900 to 1099 range was obtained by extrapolation)

The essential oil analysis was carried out using a Shimadzu QP5050 quadrupole GC/MS fitted with the same column and temperature programme as that for the GC experiments. The carrier gas was helium, flow rate 1.5 ml.min-1, split mode (1:50). 1 µl of 1/100 diluted solution in ethyl acetate was injected. Mass spectra were taken at 70 eV. Scanning speed was 0.5 scan.s-1 from m/z 40 to 650.

The essential oils were analysed by GC and GC/MS; identification was made on the basis of retention indices comparison (Van den Doll & Kratz, 1963), as well as by the computerized matching of the obtained mass spectra with those stored in the NIST mass spectral library of the GC/MS data system and other published mass spectra (Adams, 1995) and percentage compositions were obtained from electronic integration measurements without taking into account relative response factors.


The tests were made in the Laboratório de Produtos Naturais Bioativos of Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco (LPNB / UFRPE) at a temperature of 25 ± 2 ºC, relative humidity of 70 ± 8 % and 12 h photophase.


The mite T. urticae used for the bioassay was reared in plants of Canavalia ensiformes by the Laboratório de Acarologia Agrícola of the Agronomic Department of UFRPE at a temperature of 27 ± 0.5 ºC, relative humidity of 75 ± 5 % and 12 h photophase.


The method to evaluate the activity of essential oils on mites was adapted by Tunç & Sahinkaya (1998), Aslan et al. (2004) and Çalmasur et al. (2005).

Glass recipients having a capacity of 2.5 l were used as test chambers. T. urticae adult females were collocated in leaf disks of 2.5 cm diameter of Canavalia ensiformes leaves, in a Petri dish (9 cm) having 4 filter paper disks saturated with water to maintain the leaf turgor and avoid the exit of mites. The arrangement consisted of a Petri dish having three leaf disks with 10 mites each.

In the experiment, one arrangement per recipient was used. By an automatic pipette, the desired oil quantities were applied on filter paper (5 x 2 cm) fixed on the inner surface of the cover. Each cover received 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 µl of essential oil which corresponds to 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 µl.l-1 of air, respectively. The control contained no oil. The exposure period for the oils was 24, 48 and 72 h. The experiment consisted of six treatments and three repetitions.

Evaluation was made at the end of each exposure period. Mites incapable of moving a distance superior to their body length after a slight touch with a fine brush were considered as dead. Fecundity was evaluated by counting the eggs collocated on the leaf disks. Data obtained in these experiments were submitted to a variance analysis comparing mean values with the Tukey test (P = 0.05) calculated by the Software SANEST 3.0.


The repellence tests were made according to the modified method described by Kogan & Goeden (1970). Leaf disks of Canavalia ensiformes of 4.5 cm diameter were used to evaluate the repellence of the essential oils. Half of the disk was immersed for 5 seconds in an ethanol solution of the essential oil in three concentrations (0.25, 0.5, 0.75 and 1.0 %), and after drying, the other half of the disk was immersed in pure ethanol, which served as control. Each half circle was immersed in such a way that an area of 0.3 cm between the two halves, where the mites were collocated, remained intact. The leaf was collocated on filter paper on polyethylene foam wetted by water. 10 female adults of mites were put on each disk, each treatment was repeated 10 times.

The evaluation was made after 24 h, where the number of mites present on each half of the leaf disk was counted. Mites found in the neutral area during the evaluation were considered as repellent or attracted, based on their proximity to the blank or to the treatment. The Repellent Index (RI) of the oils was calculated according to the equation: RI = 2G/(G + P) proposed by Kogan & Goeden (1970), where G = number of mites in the treatment and P = number of mites in the control. The security interval used to consider oil as repellent or not was obtained based on the mean value of RI and the respective standard deviations (SD). In other words, if the mean value of the RI was 1 - SD, the oil is repellent, while a mean value higher than 1 + SD, the oil is attractant, and for mean values between 1 SD and 1 + SD, the oil is indifferent.




The best yield of the essential oils was obtained by fruit extraction (1.3 %, v/w). The essential oil of leaves, obtained with 0.7 % (v/w) yield, was yellow, while that of the fruits was colourless.

The oil analysis by GC and GC/MS permitted the identification of 57 compounds representing 96.4 and 98.0 % of the essential oil constituents from the fruits and leaves, respectively. These analyses also revealed that the major identified components in the leaves were the sesquiterpenes: trans-9-epi-caryophyllene (21.4 %), trans-isolongifolanone (10.7 %) and 14-hydroxi-9-epi-b-caryophyllene, whereas the monoterpene, a-terpinene (47.6 %), for the fruits, was the principal constituent. The chemical compounds found in these oils are shown in Table 1.

The chemical investigation of the essential oil of P. heptaphyllum collected from the Tamandaré beach in Pernambuco revealed a large quantity of sesquiterpenes (84.4 %) in the leaf oil, whereas the fruit oil revealed a predominance of monoterpenes (92.1 %). These data are consistent with the ones reported for the P. heptaphyllum species, which grow in different regions of Brazil. The leaf oil composition of P. heptaphyllum, from the state of Amazonas - Brazil (Zoghbi & Maia, 1995), revealed more than 45 % of sesquiterpenes, whereas the major components were b-elemene (22.1 %) and b-caryophyllene (11.1 %). On the other hand, the fruit and leaf oil from the specimen collected from Ceará Brazil was found to be entirely monoterpenoid (91.6 %), by the predominance of a-pinene (71.2 %) and sesquiterpenes with 18.6 % of ß-caryophyllene, respectively (Bandeira et al., 2001).

A comparison of the chemical profile of the essential oils of the P. heptaphyllum species with the ones reported for samples collected in different places in Brazil (Amazonas and Ceará) permits the identification of chemeotypes which belong to the same biosynthetical pathway of caryophyllene. For the essential fruit oil, the major constituent in the sample coming from Ceará is part of the biosynthetic pathway of pinene, while the monoterpene identified as major constituent in the Pernambuco sample is part of the pathway of terpinene. The amount and variation of the oil composition in plants are heavily influenced by climatic factors and geographical parameters as well as genetic factors (Machado et al., 2003; Siani et al., 2004).



The vapours of the essential oils of leaves and fruits of P. heptaphyllum are toxic for T. urticae when concentration and exposure times were increased.

The fruit oil is more toxic for mites, provoking a mortality of 63.3 %, when submitted to oil concentrations of 10 µl.l-1 of air after 72 h of exposure (Table 2). No significant difference was found between the mite mortality for 24 h or 48 h, when applying the same oil concentrations. The minimum oil concentration necessary to promote significant mite mortality is 8 µl.l-1 of air, when submitted to oil action for 24, 48 and 72 h.

The major mortality provoked by the leaf oils was 41.0 % at the highest concentration of 10 µL L-1 of air (Table 2). No significant difference of the toxic action of the oils' vapour was found, when submitted to the same concentrations for 24, 48 and 72 h.

The essential fruit oil of P. heptaphyllum is more efficient against mites than the essential leaf oil, as can be seen by the higher mortality. But all oils are active in higher concentrations (8 and 10 µL L-1 of air), as can be seen by the significant difference to the control.


The essential fruit oil is responsible for the lowest mean value of eggs per leaf disk (16.0) at 72 h exposure time, compared to the other oil (Table 3). The minimum fruit oil concentration necessary for reducing significantly the mite fecundity in 24 h exposure is 4 µl.l-1 of air. For more than a 24 h exposure, the smallest tested concentration (2 µl.l-1 of air) is sufficient to reduce oviposition.

Exposure to the leaf oil results in a major reduction of the mean egg value (32.0) at the highest tested concentration (10 µl.l-1 of air) in 24 h exposure (Table 3). This is the minimum oil concentration necessary to reduce significantly the egg's quantity deposited by mites in 24 h and 72 h. These results indicate that the mites submitted to fruit and leaf essential oils of P. Heptaphyllum did not stop oviposition, but drastically reduce fecundity.


As shown in table 4, the essential fruit oil of P. heptaphyllum is the only one having repellent action of the mite. The smallest used oil concentration in this test (0.25 %) does not show repellent activity. Concentrations equal to and higher than 0.5 % of the essential fruit oil did provoke repellence.



The oils analysis by GC/MS, which resulted in á-terpinene (47.6 %) as the major constituent of the fruit essential oil of P. heptaphyllum and other compounds in smaller quantity, like á-pinene (1.1 %), limonene (3.7 %), suggests a probable action of theses volatile components by their acaricide property and repellent action, as well as by their action on oviposition. The literature shows the relating action of these substances in essential oils or isolated as insecticides (Viegas Júnior, 2003; Choi et al. 2005) and acaricides (Aslan et al., 2004; Çalmasur et al., 2005; Iori et al., 2005).



The chemical investigation of the essential oil of P. heptaphyllum collected in Tamandaré beach in Pernambuco was consistent with the ones reported for the P. heptaphyllum species which grows in different regions of Brazil. The results obtained suggest that the essential fruit oil of P. heptaphyllum shows high toxicity for T. urticae as the essential leaf oil at a dose of 10 µl for a minimum exposure of 72 h, or at a dose of 20 µl for 24 h exposure. The fumigant activity of the essential oil of leaves and fruits inhibit the oviposition of mites, reducing the egg number with the smallest tested concentration (2 µl.l-1 of air) for a minimum exposure period of 24 h.

Acaricidal activity of the essential oils is a promising way to control pests in closed environments. Further studies should be made to evaluate the cost/benefit ratio of the use of these oils in large scale for the protection of species cultivated in commercial greenhouses. These data represent the first reported study of the acaricidal activity of the essential leaf and fruit oils of P. heptaphyllum.



The authors would like to thank the following: CAPES for financial support to the first author, CNPq for financial support; Rodrigo Leandro B. Coitinho for discussing and suggesting the statistical analysis of the data; and Prof. Argus Vasconcelos de Almeida for revising the bibliography.



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Recebido em 06/10/2006
Aceito em 10/01/2007



1 This paper is part of the MSc thesis of Wendel J. T. Pontes, Pós-graduação em Entomologia Agrícola da UFRPE

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