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The use of medicinal plants for curing ailments has been in practice since ancient times (Aslam and Afridi, 2018). The selection of plants for drug development is in tradition from historic time as they contain bioactive and medicinally useful compounds, such as alkaloids and terpenoids, and presently 28,187 plant species are recorded as being of medicinal uses (Willis, 2017).
Bixa orellana belonging to family Bixaceae commonly known as ‘annatto’ or ‘lipstick tree’ native to South America, Central America and Carib¬bean islands is a tropical ornamental plant with traditional uses. In Asia plant is mainly grown in India, Philippines and Sri Lanka. In India the plant is popularly known as ‘Sinduri’ or ‘latkan’ and its English name is ‘annatto’ while in German it is called ‘orlean’. The plant is mainly grown for the seed which produces orange-red colour powder with Brazil, Peru and United States being the largest producer and exporter; whereas Western Europe and Japan being the main market. The water soluble norbixin extract, vegetable oil extracts, and solvent-extracted bixin are in great demand throughout the world and this along with roots, bark and leaves are used in food, cosmetics and pharma industries.
The introduction of new drugs of natural origin has drawn attention in identifying (C Kumar and Pandey, 2015; A Pandey et al, 2017), exploring and preserving various medicinal plants (G Pandey et al, 2017, H Pandey, 2018, E Pandey et al, 2018), with novel bioactive compounds and potentiality to prepare drug formulations (B Pandey, 2017, D Pandey, 2017, F Pandey et al, 2017). Thus it becomes necessary to assess morphological features and phytochemical investigation for quality standardization of this socio-economical and world wide popular plant species. Therefore this study was designed for morphological evaluation, phytochemical assessment and traditional uses of the plant.
The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree with 2 to 8 m height. The leaves are simple, opposite with acute apex and base and average size 7.5 cm in length and 4.6 cm breadth (Radhika et al 2010), stipulate, and spirally arranged, scaly during young stage and become glabrous at maturity. Fresh leaves and leaf powder are green in colour with slightly bitter taste (Radhika et al 2010). Bark is tough, smooth and light or dark brown in colour. Flowers pedicelate terminal branched panicles with 8 to 50 flowered, fragrant, 4-6 cm across; pedicel scaly, thickened at the apex, bearing 5-6 large glands; having 4 to 5 free and obovate sepals, caduceus and covered with scales; petals are 4 to 7, obovate with scaly stalks; stamens infinite; 1.6 cm long pistil with superior ovary; 12-15 mm long style; bi-lobed stigma.
Plants produces three different flower hues viz pink, purple, and white which, metamorphosis into red, greenish-red, and green coloured fruit. Based on these characteristics along with the pigment profile three fruiting varieties- ovate red, conical greenish-red, and hemispherical green were observed and among these ovate red-coloured fruit variety were found to be superior in all morphological aspects (Akshatha et al 2011). Flowering takes place mainly in spring and fruiting in summer season. Fruits are spherical or ovoid capsule, bi-valved; seeds oval and angular, and numerous with bright orange-red coats.
Plant requires a sunny, humid weather with an average temperature and annual rainfall of 20–26°C and 1250–2000 mm respectively. Under unevenly distributed rainfall, irrigation becomes necessary for the plant. It generally prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soils and also preforms well in limestone or a coral base. A study observed that 3 years old plant shows higher seed yield up to 2483 kg/ha (Kanjilal and Singh 1996).
The plant can be propagated by seeds or stem cuttings. The seeds require optimum storage conditions and germination generally starts 30-45 days. Seed germination shows significant reduction with the passage of time (Singh et al., 2016). Mature seeds directly germinate from fresh fruits in 7 to 10 days under moist conditions. Ovate red-coloured fruit variety possess highest number of seeds i.e., 46 showing highest yields 1.5 to 2.0 kg of seeds per plant with ≤ 2.13% (w/w) (Akshatha et al 2011). Vegetatively propagated plant flowers early and bear fruit within two years. Insect pollinated fruits mature within 5 to 6 months and plant shows seed production in 4 to 12 year and retain productivity for more than 20 years.
The phytochemical and pharmacognostic investigations of plant parts reveal various volatile and bio-active compounds. The plant mainly contains terpenes, terpenoids, carotenoids, apocarotenoids, sterols, and aliphatic compounds (Shahid-ul-Islam et al 2016). The aqueous and ethanolic extracts of the plant shows phenols, tannins, terpenoids, glycosides, flavonoids, saponins and alkaloids (Dike et al. 2016, Padhi and Panda, 2016), with no traces of carbohydrates, whereas petroleum ether extract yielded only flavonoid, tannin and glycoside (Padhi and Panda, 2016). The GC-MS analysis of aqueous extract of the plant suggests that acetic acid was the major constituent (Yong et al. 2013). GC−MS analysis accompanied with mass spectral database and Kovats indexes, detected 107 volatile compounds from water- and oil-soluble plant extracts, out of which 56 were tentatively identified whereas 51 were positively identified (Galindo-Cuspinera et al 2002). The hydrodistillation of various plant parts and GC-FID and GC/MS analysis identified 21 volatile compounds with 40.8 – 94.9% sesquiterpenes (Giwa-Ajeniya et al 2016).
The micromorphological studies of the leaf powder shows simple and compound raphide shaped calcium oxalate crystals and starch grains whereas physicochemical investigation reveals 28.5% w/w acid detergent fiber, 60.7% w/w moisture content, 5.66% w/w total ash, 0.66% w/w acid insoluble ash, 2.33% w/w water soluble ash, 8.4% w/w alcohol soluble extractive value, 12.2 % w/w water soluble extractive value and 8.57 % w/w ether soluble extractive value (Radhika et al 2010). The aqueous leaf extract shows presence of flavonoids (21.89 g), glycosides (31.86 g), tannins (11.11 g) and phenols (121.89 g) (Dike et al. 2016), and beside all these the solvent extract also shows presence of terpenoids, saponins, steroids and hydroquinone (Bhatnagar et al 2015).
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