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Mallotus philippensis (Lam.) Müll. Arg. 1865
pronounced: mal-LOH-tuss fill-ip-PEN-siss
(Euphorbiaceae – the spurge family)
common name: Red Kamala
Mallotus is from the Latin mallus, a lock of wool, referring to the fleecy seed capsule; philippensis means, as you would expect, ‘from the Philippines’. Kamala is the name of the powder obtained from the fruits. In some parts of the world, this shrub is known as Monkey-puzzle, but I have not used this name, as in English it is usually reserved for the conifer Araucaria araucana.
The Red Kamala is a shrub or small tree, and the one photographed is outside the Picnic Bay recreational camp on the Birt Street side. It grows naturally from India, Sri Lanka and South China to the west Pacific and Australia, on the margins of, or within, the tropical and sub-tropical rain forests. This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).
The alternate leaves are lanceolate to elliptic, mostly 4–12 cm long and 2–7 cm broad, with entire margins, the upper surface glabrous, green, often with two glands near the base, the lower surface greyish, hairy and with red surface glands, appearing granular on older and dried leaves; they are 3-veined from the base with lateral veins extending more than midway up the lamina. The petiole is usually 2–5 cm long, and densely hairy.
The 3-locular red capsules are just under 1 cm in diameter, covered thickly with dark red granular glands and a red powder. In parts of India, the powder is collected by rolling the berries about in large baskets until the freed powder sifts through the open wicker-work. The seeds are black, ripening spring to summer.
Kamala is a light, finely granular, very mobile powder of a brownish-red colour, obtained from the glandular hairs of the fruits. It has little odour or taste, but produces a slight sense of acidity in the mouth, and a gritty feeling under the teeth. It is inflammable, and flashes almost like gunpowder when dropped into the flame of a candle. It is insoluble in cold water, but very slightly soluble in hot water. A large proportion of it is dissolved in alcohol, ether, or alkaline solutions. From it is made strong purgatives, and it is also used, especially in India, in the treatment of tapeworms. There is it also used externally in various skin conditions, particularly scabies. Kamala dye is produced for colouring silk and wood. Oil from the seeds is used in paints and varnishes, and as a hair-fixer.
The timber is smooth, grey or light red, moderately hard and close grained, with no distinction between the heartwood and the sapwood. Due to the generally small size of the tree, only small quantities of wood are available, and used for small turnery articles, pen holders, piling, beams and rafters, match splints and boxes, sporting goods, window and door frames, bentwood articles and bobbins. It has also been used for flooring. It is useful for firewood, and sometimes for making farm implements. It is suitable for pulp making for printing and writing paper.
This is a food plant for the Malayan butterfly Megisba strongyle.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken Picnic Bay 2008-2013, Arcadia 2014
Page last updated 25th January 2018