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Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia

Print version ISSN 0102-695X

Rev. bras. farmacogn. vol.23 no.2 Curitiba Mar./Apr. 2013  Epub Feb 01, 2013 

Anatomy of leaf and stem of Erythrina velutina



Márcia M. B. da SilvaI; Asaph S. C. O. SantanaI; Rejane M. M. PimentelII; Flávia C. L. SilvaIII; Karina P. RandauI; Luiz A. L. SoaresI

ILaboratório de Farmacognosia, Departamento de Ciências Farmacêuticas Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Brazil
IILaboratório de Fitomorfologia Funcional, Departamento de Biologia/Botânica, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Brazil
IIILaboratório de Botânica Aplicada, Centro de Educação e Saúde, Universidade Federal de Campina Grande, Brazil





Erythrina velutina Willd., Fabaceae, known as "mulungu", is a tree of tropical regions, as northeastern Brazil. Its bark is used in folk medicine as tranquilizer, sedative and insomnia. This study aimed to characterize the stem and leaf anatomy and to provide subsidies to quality control of the plant drug due to its wide use in folk medicine as well as its differentiation from other species with the same popular name. Samples were collected at Cuité, in Paraíba State, Brazil, fixed in FAA50, semipermanent slides were made, following usual procedures in plant anatomy. The stem shows a cylindrical contour, covered by a uniseriate epidermis covered by a thickened cuticle. It shows claviform glandular and branched trichomes with uniseriate stalk. Secretory cavities are into the phloem. The leaf epidermis has branched and glandular trichomes and anisocytic and paracytic stomata, on both sides, with predominance of branched trichomes and stomata on abaxial surface. Secretory cavities in stem and leaf, types of trichomes and stomata, its location and distribution constitute diagnostic characters for this specie. The structural characterization of the stem and leaf allows its distinction from other ones of this genus, ensuring safety for commercial pharmacological uses, allowing certification of the authenticity of raw material.

Keywords: Erythrina velutina; Fabaceae; morphoanatomy; mulungu




Comprising more than 650 genera and 18000 species, the Fabaceae (Papilionoideae) family is widely distributed throughout the world, especially in tropical and subtropical regions. According to Joly (1998) is one of families with the greatest representative numbers in the dicotyledons. Among the genres with native species, more common in the northeast region are Phaseolus, Crotalaria, Erytrhina, Andira, Sophora, Indigofera and Mucuna, among others (Judd et al., 1999).

The Erythrina genus comprises about 120 tropical species in warm-temperate regions and is divided into five subgenres and 26 sections. In Brazil, there are 12 known species, of which eight are located in the northeast. Erythrina velutina Willd., Fabaceae, presents the botanic synonym Corallodendron velutinum Willd., Erythrina aculeatissima Desf., Erythrina splendida Diels and Chirocalyx velutinus Walp. It is popularly known as suinã, mulungu, canivete and cork tree (Lorenzi & Matos, 2008). It can be found in a variety of biomes in the national territory. Popular medicine indicates the use of several Erythrina genus species as a tranquilizer, sedative, insomnia control and aid in the treatment of inflammatory processes.

Phytochemical studies demonstrated that the plants belonging to the Erythrina genus are sources of tetracyclic alkaloids of the Erythrina flavonoids type, especially isoflavones, pterocarpanos, flavanones and isoflavanonas (Cabral, 2009), coumarins and saponins (Da Cunha et al., 1996; Rabelo et al., 2001; Virtuoso, 2005; Corrêa et al., 2008; Sousa et al., 2008).

Due to phytochemical employment, this study aim to characterize the anatomy of the leaf and stem of Erythrina velutina, in order to provide quality control subsidies for the plant drug, as well as its differentiation from other species with the same name popular denomination.


Material and Methods

Plant Material

The plant material was collected on the Campus of the Federal University of Campina Grande, City of Cuité, located in the Paraiba State-Brazil, in the Curimatau region during the flowering period. The voucher specimen was deposited in the Herbarium UFP Geraldo Mariz, under registration number 63.317.


The samples were fixed in FAA 50, and subsequently semipermanent histological slides were prepared, containing crosssections and paradermal sections of the material previously prepared, following normal plant anatomy procedures (Sass, 1951; Johansen, 1940).

The cross sections of the leaf blade and petiole median regions were obtained, by free hand, using a common razor blade and, as support material, petiole marrow from the embaúba (Cecropia sp.). Portions of the leaf-blade were cleared in sodium hypochlorite solution at 30% and stained with safranin and astra (Johansen, 1940) for analysis of epidermal cells in front view.

The stomata and trichome classification followed Metcalfe & Chalk (1950, 1983). The analyses were carried out in digital images captured by optical microscope (Olympus) coupled with a digital camera (Sony); the density of stomata was determined through the use of an image analysis program, Image Tool (Wilcox et al., 2002).

Microchemical tests were performed on fresh material: Sudam III for lipophilic substances (Sass, 1951) ferric chloride for phenolic compounds (Johansen, 1940) and Dragendorff reagent for alkaloids (Furr & Mahlberg, 1981).



Macroscopic features

Erythrina velutina Willd., Fabaceae, is a tree up to 15 m high, aculeate or thorny, and deciduous. The stem bark is smooth to slightly rough. The leaf is ternate with an obtuse apex and symmetrical base. The inflorescence is fascicle type, presenting orangish flowers. The fruit is a legume, with an acute apex and base, with 1-3 seeds. The seeds are reniform, presenting a dark-red to orange-red color (Figure 1).



Microscopic features

Anatomical description of the stem

In cross-sectional view, the young stem presents a cylindrical contour (Figure 2a) with a layered epidermis coating, covered by thickened cuticle (Figure 2b). Claviform glandular trichomes (Figure 2c) and branched tector trichome. (Figure 2d) with uniseriate stalk were observed.



The angular collenchyma (Figure 2b) is observed immediately under the epidermis with 4-5 layers of cells. A band of collenchyma fibers is found, with 1-2 cells thick, about 4-6 layers of cortical parenchyma with many intercellular lacunas. Styloid and prismatic crystals (Figure 2b) are seen inside of subepidermal cells and in cortical parenchyma. Inside the central cylinder, collateral vascular bundles with fiber caps on the phloem and medullar parenchyma are found. The styloid crystals are also present in large quantities into the parenchyma cells within the vascular bundles and the medullary region.

The secondary growth is evidenced by the presence of phellogen in the cortex (Figure 3a) and vascular cambium in the central cylinder. Phellogen formation does not continuously occurs, and can be found in some areas, just under the epidermis (Figure 3a). Groups of fibers, forming a band over the phloem, were found in the stem cortex (Figure 3b).



The vascular bundles are collateral, with varying sized secretory cavities in the phloem (Figure 3c). In the region of the phloem, the secretory structures have various sizes (Figure 3d). The identification of the substance inside of these secretory cavities was not possible, which have an internal coating by periclinal flat or convex cells, arranged in a single layer (Figure 3d).

Anatomical Description of the petiole

The petiole presents a uniseriate epidermis, branched trichomes, covered by a thickened cuticle, followed by three to four layers of angular collenchyma. The external cortical parenchyma cells exhibit inter cellular spaces of various dimensions (Figure 4a, 4b). Prismatic and styloid crystals were observed inside the collenchyma, cortical parenchyma, and phloem and xylem cells (Figure 4c, 4d, 4e). Sclerenchyma fiber caps surrounding the crystalliferous sheath cells in the vascular bundles (Figure 4f). There are, approximately, 12 collateral vascular bundles, with 4-5 cells of thickness circumference with lignified cell walls.



Anatomical Description of the leaf-blade

The leaf-blade, in front view, epidermis with predominance of branched and glandular trichomes and paracytic and anisocytic stomata on both surfaces (Figure 5a-d). In the adaxial surface, epidermal cells on the veins have prismatic crystals on their interior. The anticlinal walls of epidermal cells are sinuous on both surfaces (Figure 5a-d). The stomata density on the abaxial surface was 264.60±16.83 and on the adaxial surface was 46.60±8.82 (Figure 5e-f).



In cross-sectional view, the leaf-blade presented branched trichomes with uniseriate stems (Figure 6b). The epidermis surface, on the abaxial surface, presents large furrows in the leaf vein region (Figure 6c). The mesophyll is of the dorsiventral type, with three layers of palisade parenchyma and a number of varied layers of spongy parenchyma, with large inter cellular spaces. The mesophyll presents two layers of colourless parenchyma cells, between palisade and spongy (Figure 6a). Prismatic crystals are present inside the uniseriate layer of cells that involve the fibre cap around the vascular bundles on the mesophyll interior. The vascular bundle is collateral closed, with angular collenchyma over and under the veins. The vascular bundles, in the lower caliber leaf vein region of the show sheath extensions in the direction of the adaxial surface and fiber cap on the xylem and the phloem (Figure 6c). Secretory cavities are present in the vascular bundles, always associated with the phloem, both in the mesophyll as in the petiole. These cavities are always delimited by a uniseriate epithelium of small flattened periclinal cells (Figure 6d).



Histochemical tests indicated the presence of phytoconstituents of lipid droplets, alkaloids and phenolic substances in stem and in leaf of E. velutina. In the Stem (Figure 7a-d) and in the leaf (Figure 7e-j), phenolic compounds were found in secretory cavities inside the phloem (Figure 7a) and in branched trichomes (Figure 7c and 7i). Alkaloids is present in parenchyma cells and secretory cavities (Figure 7b), in glandular and tector trichomes (Figure 7d) and in capitate glandular trichome (Figure 7g). The lipid droplets were marked with Sudam III in cuticle (Figure 7e-f) and branched trichomes (Figure 7j). The color absence was performed by a control (Figure 7h).




Several representatives of the genus Erythrina show pharmaceutical importance, such as E. cristagalli, E. falcata, E. speciosa and E. verna, and are frequently used in popular medicine. Due to the similarities among the species, with the same pharmaceutical application, with external leaf (blade and petiole) and stem morphology of Erythrina velutina Willd., Fabaceae, showing similar structures to those described for the genus in the literature (Almeida, 2010; Almeida, 2011; Carvalho, 2008; Farmacopéia Brasileira, 2010; Gratieri-Sossela, 2005), the morphological and anatomical description of this species allows distinguish it among other species of this genus. Glandular and tector trichomes, paracytic stomata, dorsiventral mesophyll, and crystals were referenced to the Fabaceae family by Metcalfe & Chalk (1950) and were confirmed in this study for Erythrina velutina. Branched trichomes with uniseriate peduncle are characteristic for the Erythrina genus, according to Metcalfe & Chalk (1950), however, E. cristagalli present no epidermis adorned with trichomes (Gratieri-Sossela, 2005). Similar to E. velutina, E. falcata and E. speciosa it also exhibits this same type of trichome (Almeida, 2010; Almeida, 2011). In addition, E. velutina has uniseriate pluricellular and bifurcated tector trichomes. Glandular, multicellular and peltate trichomes were referenced for Centrolobium tomentosum, another genus from to the same family (Erbano & Duarte, 2012).

Considering the types of stomata found in E. velutina (paracytic and anisocytic), the same were found in C. tomentosum, E. speciosa and E. falcate (Almeida, 2010; Almeida, 2011; Erbano & Duarte, 2012). In the latter species, in addition to paracytic stomata, anomocytic stomata were found. In Holocalyx balansae, a species also from the Fabaceae family; anisocytic stomata were found (Ló & Duarte, 2011), as well as in E. velutina.

A greater quantity of stomata was observed on the abaxial surface of the epidermis, similar to that recorded for Centrolobium tomentosum, E. speciosa, E. falcata and Holocalyx balansa (Almeida, 2010; Almeida 2011; Erbano & Duarte, 2012; Ló & Duarte, 2011). Greater stomatal density on the abaxial surface is common in species that occur in xeromorphic environments, a fact explained as a feature that minimizes water loss by ostiolar evapotranspiration (Esau, 1974; Cutter, 1986).

Sinuous anticlinal walls were observed in E. falcata, E. speciosa and E. cristagalli (Almeida, 2010; Almeida, 2011; Gratieri-Sossela, 2005), similar to that found in E. velutina in this study.

Cells containing crystals inside it in the cortical and/or medullar parenchyma is classified as crystalliferous, according to Metcalfe & Chalk (1950). Cristaliferous' cells are found in the internal and external cortical and medullar parenchyma of E. velutina, always predominant in the styloid type. The genus E. velutina, unlike other species, as well as in E. speciosa, E. falcata and E. verna presents a sheath of crystalliferous cells involving the fibres over the vascular bundles, along the veins (Almeida, 2011).

The presence of secretory structures is indicative of substance production by the plant (Fahn, 1990) and, in the case of E. velutina is associated with the production of resins according Metcalfe & Chalk (1950). The secretory ducts are associated with the phloem in the vascular bundles of the stem in E. velutina; the same was not observed for other species of the Erythrina genus and even for species of other Fabaceae genus (Almeida, 2010; Almeida, 2011; Erbano & Duarte, 2012, Ló & Duarte, 2011). Secretory structures in Fabaceae are mainly related with fruits (Paiva et al., 2008), extrafloral nectaries (Paiva & Machado, 2006) and trichomes (Paiva, 2009); secretory cavities in leaves were described by diferent authors (Fahn, 1979; Metcalfe, 1983; Metcalfe & Chalk, 1983; Langenheim, 1967).

Dorsiventral mesophyll type is also recorded in the literature for the Erythrina genus, as in C. tomentosum and H. balansae, with the exception of E. cristagalli, for which some authors classified as isobilateral (Almeida, 2010; Almeida, 2011; Gratieri-Sossela, 2005).

The type of vascular bundle found in E. velutina (bicollateral in closed arc form) was similar to that found in E. falcata and different from a semi closed arc, as found in E. cristagalli (Almeida, 2010; Almeida, 2011; Gratieri-Sossela, 2005). It is characteristic of these species have layers of achlorophyllous cells or with little chloroplasts between the palisade and spongy parenchyma, or between the palisade layers as in the E. cristagalli. The presence of secretory cavities for these species was not cited. Fiber caps on the xylem and phloem as well the crystals into the cells of vascular bundle sheaths also have been described for E. cristagalli (Gratieri-Sossela, 2005). Great grooves on the abaxial epidermis can be a diagnostic character to E. velutina, since it is the most evident anatomical feature that distinguish it from others.

Leaves of E. falcata and E. cristagalli show the presence of prismatic crystals was also reported inside the phloem (Almeida, 2010; Almeida 2011; Gratieri-Sossela, 2005), differing from E. velutina that not have a sheath around the sclerenchyma fiber caps.

Histochemical tests evidenced phenolic compound in secretory cavities inside the phloem and branched trichomes. The phenolic compounds are heterogeneous groups of substances that are present in almost all plants, inside the vacuole, cytoplasm or consisting the wall cell (Fahn 1979).

The Sudam reaction detected total lipids in cuticle and branched trichomes The presence of alkaloids in parenchyma cells and secretory cavities in the stem, in glandular, tector and capitate glandular trichomes in the leaf are according to the literature findings to the genus Erythrina (Virtuoso, 2005). The same was true to indolic alkaloids, mainly the erythrinic type (Almeida, 2010). The occurrence of alkaloids is a chemiotaxonomical character in the Papilionoideae subfamily. There are registers of quinolizidic, dipiperidinic and pirrolizidinic types, isolated and identified at approximately 60 genera of this subfamily (Kinghorn & Smolenski, 1981).

The presence of secretory cavities in the stem and leaf, types of trichomes and stomata, its location and distribution in the leaf epidermis constitute diagnostic-characters that are important for an accurate and safe identification for E. velutina.



The authors are grateful to FACEPE (PPP/2006), CNPq (470179/2009-0, 312537/2009-3, 483870/2011-0), CAPES and Anvisa for financial support in the form of Grants and Fellowship Awards. We also thank Leonardo dos Santos Costa for the sampling and photos of the species. RMMP is sponsored by CNPq-Brasil.


Authors contributions

MMBS (MSc student) and ASCOS (undergraduate student) contributed in plant sample identification, confection of herbarium, running the laboratory work, analysis of the data and drafted the paper. RMMP, FCLS, KPR contributed to data analysis and discussion. LALS contributed to discussion and critical reading of the manuscript. All laboratorial activities were supervised by KPR and LALS. All the authors have read the final manuscript and approved the submission.



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Luiz Alberto L. Soares
Laboratório de Farmacognosia, Departamento de Ciências Farmacêuticas Universidade Federal de Pernambuco
Av. Prof. Arthur de Sá, s/n, Cidade Universitária, 50740-521 Recife-PE, Brazil
Tel: +55 81 3076 4774
Fax: +55 81 21268578

Received 18 Jul 2012
Accepted 11 Nov 2012

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