Family Ericaceae A L de Jussieu 1789 nom conserv the Heath Family

Physical description: The family Ericaceae consists of 125 genera and 3500 species of shrubs and treelets known to contain iridoid, phenolic glycosides and tannins. Ericaceae are widespread in temperate and subtropical regions and in tropical mountains. Note that the presence of iridoids in Ericaceae suggests that the family should be classified in the Asteridae rather than Dilleni-idae. In this family the leaves are simple, small, firm and without stipules. The flowers are perfect, regular, hypogynous and arranged in bracteate racemes. The calyx and corolla consist of 3-7 sepals and petals. The corolla is tubular and often urceolate, and 5-lobed. The andrecium consists of 2 whorls of 5 stamens attached directly to a nectary disc. The anthers are dorsifixed, tetraspo-rangiate, dithecal and open by apical pores. The gynecium consists of 2-10 carpels united to form a compound and plurilocular ovary which encloses several ovules attached to axile (below) and parietal (above) placentas. The fruits are dehiscent capsules, berries or drupes. The seeds are small and winged.

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Arbutin Hydroquinone

Pharmaceutical interest: Belonging to the family Ericaceae are numerous outdoor shrubs and rock-garden plants such as Rhododendron and Erica. Other examples of useful Ericaceae are Erica arborea L. (briar root wood) and Ledum groenlandicum Oeder (Labrador tea). A number of Ericaceae, including Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng. (Bearberry, French Pharmacopeia, 10th Edition), Arbutus unedo L. (arbousier), Chimaphila umbellata Nutt. (herbe a pisser), Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull. (Scotch heather) L. and Erica cinerea L. (twisted heath) are used in Western medicine to promote urination and to treat urinary tract infections. This property is attributed to phenol glycosides such as arbutin, the precursor of hydroquinone. Note that hydroquinone inhibits the synthesis of melanin and has been used more or less successfully to bleach the skin. Gaultheria procumbens L. (tea berry) is the source of wintergreen oil which is rich in methyl salicylate. The berries of Vac-cinium myrtillus or blueberry, bilberry (Myrtillus, Swiss Pharmacopoeia, 1934) are used to extract anthocyanins. Note that several Ericaceae, especially the

Rhododendron species, are neurotoxic on account of unusual tetracyclic diter-penes known as grayanatoxins. Of recent interest are flavonoids from Rhododendron dauricum which demonstrated potent anti-HIV activity in vitro. About 20 species of plants classified within the family Ericaceae are used for medicinal purposes in the Asia-Pacific. These are often used to treat rheumatism and skin infection, and to stop itchiness.

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