Madder (Family Rubiaceae)

 

Rubiaceae is a family of flowering plants, variously called the Mad-

der Family, Bedstraw Family or Coffee Family. Other common

plants included are gardenia, cinchona (whose bark contains quinine),

sweet woodruff, partridgeberry, gambier, ixora, and noni. A number

of traditionally accepted families (Dialypetalanthaceae, Henriquezi-

aceae, Naucleaceae, and Theligonaceae) are now incorporated with-

in the Rubiaceae. Currently, there are about 611 genera and more

than 13,000 species in Rubiaceae. It is the fifth largest family of

flowering plants by number of genera, and the fourth or fifth largest

by number of species.

 

Species are concentrated in warmer and tropical climates around the

world. The greatest number of species occur in Colombia, Venezuela

and New Guinea. When adjusted for area, Venezuela was the most

diverse, followed by Colombia and Cuba. A large number of poorly

studied species exist as understorey shrubs in Madagascar and are

threatened with habitat destruction.

 

The most economically important member of the family, and the

world's second most important commodity (after petroleum) are the

two species of shrub Coffea canephora (also known as Coffea

robusta) and Coffea arabica, used in the production of coffee. The

bark of trees in the genus Cinchona is the source of a variety of alka-

loids, the most familiar of which is quinine, one of the first agents

effective in treating malaria. Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a small

herbaceous perennial that contains coumarin—a natural precursor of warfarin—and the South American plant Psychotria ipecacuanha is

the source of the emetic ipecac. Psychotria viridis is frequently used

as a source of dimethyltryptamine in the preparation of ayahuasca, a

psychoactive decoction. Originally from China, the common gardenia

(Gardenia jasminoides) is a widely grown garden plant and flower in

frost-free climates worldwide. Several other species from the genus

are also seen in horticulture. The genus Ixora also contains plants

seen cultivated in warmer climate gardens. The New Zealand native
Coprosma repens is a commonly used plant for hedges. The South
African Rothmannia globosa is seen as a specimen tree in horticul-

ture. Rose madder, the crushed root of Rubia tinctorum, yields a red

dye, and the tropical Morinda citrifolia yields a yellow dye.

 

 

Back to Inventory of Herb/Forb Families and Species

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