1. Family: Apocynaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Pachypodium Lindl.
      1. Pachypodium lealii Welw.

        The bottle tree owes its name to the unusual swollen shape of its trunk. Like other pachypodiums, this succulent stem of the plant acts as a water store that enables it to tolerate the hot, dry environments in which it grows. Its sap is highly toxic.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    The bottle tree owes its name to the unusual swollen shape of its trunk, which acts as a water store. Traditional hunters in northern Namibia have used its highly toxic sap as an arrow poison.

    The bottle tree owes its name to the unusual swollen shape of its trunk. Like other pachypodiums, this succulent stem of the plant acts as a water store that enables it to tolerate the hot, dry environments in which it grows. Its sap is highly toxic.

    There are two subspecies of Pachypodium lealii, found more than 1,000 kilometres apart in Africa. They share many characteristics, but also have a different habit of growth. Due to this and the large distance that separates the two subspecies, most botanists treat Pachypodium lealii subsp. saundersii as a separate species, P. saundersii.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Pachypodium lealiiis found in northwestern Namibia, southwestern Angola and northwestern Botswana, while Pachypodium saundersii is found in South Africa, Swaziland, southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe. 

    Description

    Growing to a height of 1 to 8 m, with a swollen trunk and covered in slender spines, the narrow branches of this shrub or tree spread sparsely from the top of the trunk, whilst the leaves are in spiral clusters towards the tips. At flowering time, the leaves drop off, and long, pointed buds at the ends of the leafless branches open into attractive, sweet-smelling, white flowers, flushed with purple on the undersides.

    The conspicuous fruits are borne in V-shaped pairs of cylindrical follicles that split down one side to shed numerous seeds, each tufted at one end with a plume of hair that aids dispersal. The two species P. lealii and P. saundersiishare many of the same characteristics. However, while Pachypodium lealiigrows up to eight metres tall and has velvety leaves, Pachypodium saundersii rarely grows over 1.5 metres and has glossy leaves.

    Pachypodium lealiiflowers from May to November, with a peak in August in the middle of the dry winter, while Pachypodium saundersiitends to flower earlier in the year, from February through to May.

    Threats and conservation

    Neither Pachypodium lealiior Pachypodium saundersii appear to be under significant threat, but the lack of young specimens, and the removal of wild plants for trade, is a concern in Namibia. Both plants are listed on Appendix II of CITES, which makes it an offence to trade these plants internationally without a permit.

    Uses

    Traditional hunters in northern Namibia have used the highly toxic sap of the bottle tree as an arrow poison, and have carved drinking bowls from the wood to poison unwitting birds.

    Cultivation

    This species is reportedly the most difficult to cultivate of the continental African species of Pachypodium. It is not currently grown at Kew. The trickier Pachypodiums such as P. lealiican be grafted onto the rootstock of a more robust species such as P. lamereito avoid roots rotting off.

    Distribution
    Angola, Botswana, Namibia
    Ecology
    Occurs in arid or semi-arid environments, amongst dry scrubby vegetation on rocky hillsides or outcrops.
    Conservation
    Listed on Appendix II of CITES.
    Hazards

    As with other members of the Apocynaceae family, the sap of this plant is extremely toxic.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Angola, Namibia

    Common Names

    English
    Bottle tree

    Pachypodium lealii Welw. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Sep 19, 2008 Curtis [05], Namibia K000450293
    Jan 1, 1997 Baum, H. [21], Namibia K000234114
    Jan 1, 1997 Welwitsch [1510], Angola K000234115 isotype

    First published in Trans. Linn. Soc. London 27: 45 (1869)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2014) Strelitzia 34: 1-158. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [2] Mannheimer, C.A. & Curtis, B.A. (eds.) (2009) Le Roux and Müller's field guide to the trees and shrubs of Namibia , rev. ed.: 1-525. Macmillan Education Namibia, Windhoek
    • [3] (2008) Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [5] Govaerts, R. (2003) World Checklist of Selected Plant Families Database in ACCESS . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

    Literature

    • [4] Curtis, B.A. and Mannheimer, C.A. (2005). Tree atlas of Namibia. National Botanical Research Institute of Namibia, Windhoek.
    • [6] Court, D. (2000). Succulent Flora of Southern Africa. A.A. Balkema Publishers, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
    • [7] Rapanarivo, S.H.J.V., Lavranos, J.J., Leeuwneberg, A.J.M. & Röösli, W. (1999). Pachypodium (Apocynaceae). Taxonomy, Habitats and Cultivation. A.A. Balkema Publishers, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
    • [8] Van Wyk, B. and Van Wyk, P. (1997) Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
    • [9] CITES (March, 2009).
    • [10] PlantZAfrica.com (March, 2009), Pachypodium lealii.

    Sources

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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