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Cassia fistula L.

Purging cassia, Indian laburnum, Golden-shower

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Widely planted as a handsome ornamental tree, the plant is being considered as a firewood source in Mexico. The reddish wood, hard and heavy (spec. grav. 0.9), strong and durable, is suited for cabinetwork, farm implements, inlay work, posts, wheels, mortars, etc. The bark has been employed in tanning, often in conjunction with avaram. The drug "cassia fistula", a mild laxative, is obtained from the sweetish pulp around the seed.

Folk Medicine

According to Hartwell (1967-1971), the plants are used in folk remedies for tumors of the abdomen, glands, liver, stomach, and throat, cancer, carcinomata, and impostumes of the uterus. Reported to be aperient, astringent, laxative, purgative, and vermifuge, Indian laburnum is a folk remedy for burns, cancer, constipation, convulsions, delirium, diarrhea, dysuria, epilepsy, gravel, hematuria, pimples, and glandular tumors (Duke and Wain, 1981). Ayurvedic medicine recognizes the seed as antibilious, aperitif, carminative, and laxative, the root for adenopathy, burning sensations, leprosy, skin diseases, syphilis, and tubercular glands, the leaves for erysipelas, malaria, rheumatism, and ulcers, the buds for biliousness, constipation, fever, leprosy, and skin disease, the fruit for abdominal pain, constipation, fever, heart disease, and leprosy. Yunani use the leaves for inflammation, the flowers for a purgative, the fruit as antiinflammatory, antipyretic, abortifacient, demulcent, purgative, refrigerant, good for chest complaints, eye ailments, flu, heart and liver ailments, and rheumatism, though suspected of inducing asthma. Seeds are considered emetic. Konkanese use the juice to alleviate ringworm and blisters caused by the marking nut, a relative of poison ivy. Leaf poultices are applied to the chilblains so common in the upper Sind; also used in facial massage for brain afflictions, and applied exter- nally for paralysis and rheumatism, also for gout. Rhodesians use the pulp for anthrax, blood poisoning, blackwater fever, dysentery, and malaria. Gold Coast natives use the pulp from around the seed as a "safe and useful purgative" (Kirtikar and Basu, 1975). Throughout the Far East, the uncooked pulp of the pods is a popular remedy for constipation, thought to be good for the kidneys "as those who use it much remain free of kidney stones" [Heyne as cited in Perry (1980)]. A decoction of the root bark is recommended for cleansing wounds. In the West Indies, the pulp and/or leaves are poulticed onto inflamed viscera, e.g. the liver. The bark and leaves are used for skin diseases: flowers used for fever, root as a diuretic, febrifuge; for gout and rheumatism.


According to Roskoski et al (1980), studying Mexican material, the seeds contain 5.31% humidity, 4.55% ash, 24.00% crude protein, 4.43% crude fat, 6.68% crude fiber, and 50.36% carbohydrates with a 81.17% in vitro digestibility. The foliage contains 11.21% humidity, 6.39% ash, 15.88% crude protein, 6.65% crude fat, 20.01% crude fiber, 39.86% carbohydrates with a 88.43% in vitro digestibility. In comparison, the FAO (Gohl, 1981) reports the leaves to contain, on a zero moisture basis, 17.6 g protein, 7.8% g fat, 66.8 g total carbohydrate, 30.2 g fiber, 7.8 g ash, 3,270 mg Ca, and 330 mg P per 100 g. Flowers contain ceryl alcohol, kaempferol, rhein, and a bianthroquinone glycoside, which on hydrolysis, yields fistulin and rhamnose. Leaves contain rhein, rheinglucoside, and sennosides A and B. The rootbark contains tannin, phlobaphenes, and oxyanthraquinone substances, which probably consist of emodin and chrysophanic acid; also contains (bark and heartwood) fistuacacidin, barbaloin, and rhein. Stembark contains lupeol, beta-sitosterol, and hexacosanol.


Deciduous tree 10 m tall, the bole to 5 m, to 1 m DBH. Leaves alternate, pinnate, 30-40 cm long, with 4-8 pairs of ovate leaflets, 7.5-15 cm long, 2-5 cm broad, entire, the petiolules 2-6 mm long. Flowers yellow, in long drooping terminal clusters (racemes); petals 5, yellow; sepals 5, green, the individual flower stalks 3-6 cm long. Stamens 10, three with longer stalks. Fruits pendulous, cylindrical, brown, septate, 25-50 cm long, 1.5-3 cm in diameter, with 25-100 seeds. Seeds lenticular, light brown, lustrous.


Reported from the Hindustani Center of Diversity, Indian laburnum, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate mild drought, poor soils, and slopes. (2n = 24, 26, 28).


Native of tropical Asia, widely cultivated and naturalized in the tropics including West Indies and continental tropical America.


Ranging from Tropical Thorn to Moist through Subtropical Thorn to Moist Forest Life Zones, Indian laburnum is reported to tolerate precipitation of 4.8 to 27.2 dm (mean of 96 cases = 14.2), annual temperature of 18.0 to 28.5°C (mean of 94 cases = 25.5), and pH of 5.5 to 8.7 (mean of 23 cases = 7.1). Hortus III (1976) assigns it to Zone 10 in the United States.


Although soaking the seeds in sulfuric acid results in highest germination, puncturing the seed coat proved to be the simplest, most effective method to break dormancy in Mexican studies. Seedlings planted in plastic bags containing 7 kg soil, survived transplant quite well. Cuttings did not take readily in the Mexican studies. According to Nalawadi et al (1977), Cassia fistula seeds were either soaked in concentrated H2SO4 for 5-20 minutes and then soaked in water for 24 hours, or soaked in water alone for 24 hours. Seeds soaked in water alone failed to germinate, but soaking in acid for 20 minutes resulted in 84% germination. Additional soaking in water did not further improve germination.


Timber or firewood can be felled as needed. It is usually more practical to harvest in the dry season, making it easier to suncure or airdry the timber or bark. Besides other farm duties tend to be less pressing then, at least in the garden, once irrigation is accomplished.

Yields and Economics

Among the tanners of Dindigul, Coimbatore, and other places in South India, the bark, being favored by the tanners, was collected from the forests at the rate of 200-500 MT/year in South India alone.


The plant is being considered for fuelwood, weighing slightly over800 kg/m.

Biotic Factors

Apparently this is not one of the nodulated species of Cassia. Certain factors may militate against nodule formation. Root hairs are uncommon; when present, they are sparse and thick walled. Simple phenolic compounds, tannins, quinones and derivatives occur in the overlapping cortical root cells. It is assumed that these cell layers present a physicochemical barrier because of their role in thwarting nematode gall formation (Allen and Allen, 1981). Agriculture Handbook #165 reports the tarspot, Phyllachora canafistulae, in Maryland, near its northern limit. Very susceptible to attack by scale insects. Browne (1968) lists: Fungi. Phelospora cassiae, Polyporus anebus, Trametes incerta. Angiospermae, Cuscuta reflexa, Loranthus sp. (?), Viscum articulatum. Coleoptera, Acmaeodera stictipennis, Adoretus bimarginatus, Adoretus caliginosus, Adoretus lasiopygus, Anomala bengalensis, Anomala polita, Anomala rugosa, Anomala tristis, Apogonia villosella, Aristobia approximator, Bruchus pisorum, Caryedon serratus Cephaloserica thomsoni, Colasposoma semicostatum, Holotrichia problematica, Hypomeces squamosus, Idionycha excisa, Myllocerus pubescens, Schizonycha ruficollis, Sophrops cotesi, Steraspis speciosa. Hemiptera, Acudaleyrodes rachipora, Aonidiella orientalis, Euphalerus vittatus, Eurybachys tomentosa, Otionotus oneratus, Oxyrhachis formidabilis, Oxyrhachis mangiferana, Oxyrhachis tarandus, Parlatoreopsis chinensis, Pinnaspis aspidistrae, Pinnaspis buxi. Lepidoptera, Anarsia idioptila, Archips micaceanus, Buzura suppressaria, Catopsilia crocale, Catopsilia florella, Catopsilia pomona, Catopsilia pyranthe, Cleora acaciaria, Cryptophlebia illepida, Cusiala raptaria, Dasychira mendosa, Diaphania conclusalis, Ericeia inangulata, Euproctis scintillans, Fodina stola, Hypanartia blanda, H. hecabe, Hyposidra talaca, Kotochalia doubledaii, Nephopteryx rhodobasalis, Omiodes surrectalis, Phaleri raya, Phalera sangana, Pilocrocis milvinalis, Selepa discigera, Semiothisa emersaria, Spatularia mimosae, Stauropus alternus, Stegasta variana, Suana concolor, Thosea cana, Thylacoptila paurosema, Trachylepidia fruticassiella, Xyleutes persona, Zeuzera coffeae. Orthoptera, Schistocera gregaria.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update July 3, 1996