Rauvolfia vomitoria

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Local names:
English (swizzle stick), Yoruba (asofeyeje)

Rauvolfia vomitoria is a shrub or small tree up to 8 m. Older parts of the plant contain no latex. The branches are whorled and the nodes enlarged and lumpy.

Leaves in threes, elliptic-acuminate to broadly lanceolate.

Flowers are minute, sweet-scented, branches of inflorescences are distinctly puberulous with hardly any free corolla lobes.

Fruits are fleshy and red in colour.

The generic name Rauvolfia (sometimes mis-spelt Rauwolfia), commemorates a 16th century German physician, Leonhart Rauvolf, who travelled widely to collect medicinal plants. The specific epithet vomitoria refers to the purgative and emetic properties of the bark.


Occurs naturally in gallery forests but is mostly found in forest regrowth where fallow periods are prolonged. R. vomitoria is associated with palms, Trema guineensis and Combretum spp., and is one of the last species to disappear in this particular seral stage. R. vomitoria is considered endangered.

Native range
Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Uganda

Tree management

Roots for medicinal use may be harvested non-destructively annually by cutting them 10 cm from the taproot.

Occurs naturally in gallery forests but is mostly found in forest regrowth where fallow periods are prolonged. R. vomitoria is associated with palms, Trema guineensis and Combretum spp., and is one of the last species to disappear in this particular seral stage. R. vomitoria is considered endangered.

Wild seedlings are successfully transplanted and cultivated. Propagation by cuttings is possible. Natural stump regrowth is possible in this species. It can be propagated vegetatively using single-node, leafy stem cuttings or root cuttings treated with NAA, Indole Butyric acid and Giberrelic acid at 50, 100 or 150 p.p.m. alone and in all combinations (1:1 ratio).

Poison:  The members of this family usually have toxic properties. In Gabon, the bark and root powder, are mixed with water or palm oil to kill fleas and vermin. The root bark extracts are reportedly poisonous.

Not a preferred browse species, crude protein content 9.3% (Mecha et al. 1980).

Apiculture:  The sweet-scented flowers are frequented by bees.

Used as firewood for instance in Sierra Leone.

Fibre:  R.vomitoria bark yields a good bast fibre.

Timber: Kakapenpen yields a white and fine grained wood which reddens with age and has a fairly hard heartwood. This wood is a substitute for boxwood.

Shade or shelter:  A good shade provider.

Tannin or dyestuff:  A yellow dye is obtained from the bark.

Medicine:  This tree is used medicinally in many African countries. R. vomitoria is used by Nigerian traditional healers to treat psychiatric patients. The dried root of R. vomitoria, administered orally at (doses of 400, 600 or 800 mg/day), showed antipsychotic effects. Overall side effects are minimal. R. vomitoria is used to treat leprosy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The seed extract is procured for general ilness. Amyrin palmitate, present in a Ghanaian antiarthritic herbal preparation with R. vomitoria has curative properties. The bark has purgative and emetic properties. The root extracts have arbotifacient properties.

Nitrogen fixing:  Forms root nodules with vesicular arbiscular mycorrhiza.

Ornamental:  Widely planted as an ornamental and avenue tree.

It is suitable for live fences. The pliable branches are used to support bird traps.

Intercropping:  The tree is a wild host of the pathogen causing ‘collar crack’ of cacao. Despite these reports it is used as a shade bearer for young cacao trees and as a support for vanilla in Gabon. 

Latex or rubber:  A latex exudes from the young stems.

Other services:  In Ivory Coast, the ‘Serpent Sect’ of the Man region consider the plant fetish. The young twigs with the side branches trimmed short serve as mixers for drinks, hence the English name swizzle stick.