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ulkata - Polyalthia longifolia (Sonn.) Thwaites

ulkata :

Polyalthia longifolia Polyalthia longifolia, the false ashoka native to India, is a lofty evergreen tree, commonly planted due to its effectiveness in alleviating noise pollution. It exhibits symmetrical pyramidal growth with willowy weeping pendulous branches and long narrow lanceolate leaves with undulate margins. The tree is known to grow over 30 ft in height.


The False ashoka was cultivated and gained popularity in British India for nostalgic reasons because it resembled the Mediterranean cypress, and also in order to be used to make ship masts

Taxonomical Classification

Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom: Streptophyta
Superdivision: Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida - Dicotyledons
Family: Annonaceae
Genus: Polyalthia
Species: Polyalthia longifolia

Allied species:

Guatteria longifolia (Sonn.) Wall. 
Unona longifolia (Sonn.) Dunal 
Uvaria altissima Pennant 
Uvaria longifolia Sonn


Sanskrit: Ashoka, Putrajiva
English: mast tree, cemetery tree false ashoka, the Buddha tree, Indian mast tree, and Indian fir tree.
Hindi: Debdaru
Urdu:    الٹا اشوک 
Telugu: Ashoka, ashokamu, asodham, asoka, asokam, asokamu, asvattamu, asvatthamu, daevadaaru, devadaru, nara mamidi, naramaamidi, nettlingum
Bengali: Debdaru
Marathi: Ashok
Konkani: Asok
Oriya: Debodaru
Gujarathi: Asopalav
Tamil: Nettilinkam நெட்டிலிங்கம் Vansulam
Malayalam: araNamaram: അരണമരം
Kannada: Ubbina
Assamese: (উনবৈ) or Debadaru (দেৱদাৰু)
Chinese: She-kan
French: Faux ashoka
Nepal: Nwakali ashok
Sinhalese: Owila


There are two varieties in cultivation. The more striking, var. pendula, has a straight slim trunk and short branches that droop, resulting in a narrow columnar shape not usually seen in tropical trees. The less common variety, var. angustifolia, has branches that are more wide-spreading, forming a pyramidal crown. The bark is grey and smooth.


Polyalthia is derived from a combination of Greek words meaning ‘many cures’ with reference to the medicinal properties of the tree while Longifolia, in Latin, refers to the length of its leaves


Synonyms in Ayurveda: ulkata, kashtadaru

Polyalthia is the Greek word for poly, meaning much or many and althia from àltheo, meaning to cure, which showed its multiple health benefit. 

Rasa: Katu Tikta
Guna: Laghu Ruksha
Veerya: Ushna
Vipaka: Katu
Karma: Depana Jwarahara-useful in fever, Kaphahara Krimighna Kushtagna-useful in skin diseases, Pittahara

antibacterial, antifungal, cytotoxic, antiulcer, hypotensive, laxative, anti-inflammatory properties


It performs best on sites with full to partial sun exposure and on rich, free-draining clay-loam, loam, sandy-loam and loamy-sand soils of a slightly acid to neutral nature, generally with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. Young plants need protection from winds, especially under hot, dry conditions but once established have good tolerance to drought.


It  is generally  propagated  through seeds,  but  occasionally  through  soft wood  cuttings and air layering


Most germinate within two to three weeks and the young seedlings cared for in a nursery for around a year before being planted out. Care should be taken when transplanting to not damage the delicate roots. 


 Leaf oil composed of sesquiterpene derivatives: allo-aromadendrene, caryophyllene oxide, ß-caryophyllene, ß-selinene, a-humulene and ar-curcumene. 
• Phytochemical study on the hexane extract of the stem bark led to characterization of clerodane and ent-halimane deiterpenes, two of which have shown antibacterial and antifungal activities.
• Preliminary studies of seeds showed a rich source of alkaloids, tannins, phenols, flavonoids, and carbohydrates. 
• Elemental analysis of seeds and leaves revealed large amounts of zinc, copper, iron, and manganese, in larger amounts in the leaves than in the seed. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash were present in negligible amounts. 
• Elemental analysis of leaves (L) and seeds (S) yielded nitrogen 1.05% L, 0.91% S; phosphorus 0.08% L, 0.11% S; potash 0.31% L, 0.40%; zinc 42.0ppm L, 44.0ppm S; copper 163.0ppm L,120.0ppm S; iron 204.0ppm L, 125.0ppm S; and manganese 312.0 ppm L, 8.0 ppm S. 
• Phytochemical screening of ripe and unripe pericarp yielded the presence of flavonoids, saponins, steroids, glycosides, and tannins in both extracts. Terpenoids and alkaloids were not detected

Parts used for medicinal purpose

Bark, Leaves, ,


The decoction is taken in a dose of 50-100 ml in a day.


False Ashok tree, is wrongly equated with the name Asoka by some, and is often used as a substitute or as an adulterant to the genuine Asoka bark. But it is not advisable to use false Ashok as substitute of True Ashok. It is completely different from true Ashok tree, which is Saraca asoca


Polyalthia longifolia is sometimes incorrectly identified as the ashoka tree (Saraca indica) because of the close resemblance of both trees.

One might mistake it as a tree with effectively no branches, but in fact a Polyalthia allowed to grow naturally (without trimming the branches out for decorative reasons) grows into a normal large tree with plenty of shade.

Commercial value:

It is very effective in reducing noise pollution 


An evergreen tree with a straight trunk, conical crown and slender drooping branches, about 10-25 m tall. Bark dark grayish brown, branches sparsely puberulous when young, glabrous when mature. Leaves simple, alternate, narrow lanceolate or linear lanceolate, 15-25 x 2-4 cm across, base slightly acute or cuneate, margin wavy or undulate, apex long acuminate, membranous, coriaceous, faintly aromatic, shining dark green, glabrous above, paler glaucous beneath, lateral veins 25-30 on either side of the midrib, impressed above, prominent on the midrib beneath, very slightly on the veins beneath, reticulate veinlets fine and close, petiole pubescent, about 0.8-1.5 long. Flowers bisexual, axillary, solitary or fascicled on very short umbels from axils of fallen leaves, yellowish green, about 2.5-3 cm long, pedicels slender, tomentose, about 1-1.5 cm long, bracts submedian. Sepals 3, broadly ovate or triangular, base connate, apex acute, pubescent, about 1-2 x 1-1.5 mm across. Petals 6, in 2 series, valvate, outer petals, slightly narrower than the inner petals, lanceolate, base broad, apex acuminate, yellowish green, fleshy, glabrous inside, about 6-7 x 2 mm across, inner petals base broader than outer petals, about 10-15 x 2.5 mm across. Stamens numerous, about 1 mm long, anthers broad, dorsal, connectives convex flat on top. Carpels many, base slightly broad, linear, puberulous, stigma sessile. Ripe carpels, subglobose or ellipsoid monocarps, obtuse at base and apex, green when young, dark purplish black when ripe, about 2 x 1 cm across, stalk stout, about 1-1.5 cm long, Seeds 1, pale brown to light brown, longitudinally grooved, ovoid.


 Transverse section of the leaf through the midrib showed bowl shaped abaxial parts and straight adaxial side. Both the adaxial and abaxial epidermal layers were single layered thin walled cubical cells. The epidermal cells wide, polygonal, thin walled and the walls  were straight or slightly wavy. The epidermal cells followed by four to six layers of angular collenchyma cells on both the sides. In the midrib region, vascular bundle is encircled by a schlerenchymatous ring . Bundle sheath, xylem and phloem are clearly visible Inflorescences axillary, fasciculate and shortly pedunculate, racemose, or umbelliform and sessile, mostly many flowered

Geographical distribution:

Found natively in India and Sri Lanka. It is introduced in gardens in many tropical countries around the world. It is, for example, widely used in parts of Jakarta in Indonesia and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago.


 It does not require pruning in order to maintain its tall, straight, main trunk with short, drooping branches.
Grows naturally in sub-humid to humid subtropical and tropical climates, generally frost-free areas with annual lows of 16 to 25 °C, annual highs of 25 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 800 to 3000 mm and a dry season of 8 months or less.

Plant conservation:

LC (NCS)-2012

General Use:

 In traditional medicines various herbal preparations are being used for treating dueodenal ulcers. The plant has been used in traditional system of medicine for the treatment of fever, skin diseases, diabetes, hypertension and helminthiasis.

Therapeutic Uses:

It has bitter, acrid, cooling, febrifuge, and anthelminthic properties. In many parts of India, it is used for treating fever, mouth ulcers, rheumatism, menorrhagia, scorpion sting, diabetes, vitiate conditions of vata, and pitta, and skin disease. The bark is given to treat excessive mensuration, and white discharge.

Systemic Use:

The pulp of flowers is used as a remedy for dysentery




Polyalthia longifolia is a versatile plant which is used to treat rheumatism, menorrhagia, scorpion sting, diabetes, skin disease, hypertension, helminthiasis and also in treatment for the digestive system

Clinical trials:

1. Detection of Amino Acids from the seeds of Polyalthia longifolia / Kavita S. Mundhe et al / International Journal of ChemTech Research, Vol.1, No.2, pp 298-299 , April-June 2009

2. A New Clerodane-Type Butenolide Diterpene from the Bark of Polyalthia longifolia / J. Nat. Prod., 1992, 55 (2), pp 256–258 / DOI: 10.1021/np50080a021

3. New antimicrobial alkaloids from the roots of polyalthia longifolia var. pendula / Faizi S, Khan RA et al /PLANTA MEDICA Vol: 69 Issue: 4 Pages: 350-355 / APR 2003 

4. Sesquiterpenes-Rich Essential Oils of Polyalthia longifolia Thw. (Annonaceae) from Nigeria / Akinola O. Ogunbinu, Isiaka A et al / 

5. Assessment of anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective potency of Polyalthia longifolia var. pendula leaf in Wistar albino rats / A. Tanna et al / Journal of Natural Medicines / Volume 63, Number 1 / January, 2009 / DOI 10.1007/s11418-008-0288-2

6. Evaluation of anti-ulcer activity of P. longifolia in experimental animals / P. malairajan et al / Indian J Pharmacol. 2008 June; 40(3): 126–128. / doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.42306.


1. Green Synthesis of Silver Nanoparticles Using Polyalthia longifolia Leaf Extract along with D-Sorbitol: Study of Antibacterial Activity / S. Kaviya, J. Santhanalakshmi, B. Viswanathan / Journal of Nanotechnology, Volume 2011 (2011)

3. Study on the comparative antibacterial activity of Polyalthia longifolia (Debdaru) leaf extracts to some selective pathogenic bacterial strains / Anzana Parvin, Jesmin Akter, Md. Mehedi Hassan, Nirupam Biswas* International Journal of Biosciences, Vol. 3, No. 5, p. 17-24, 2013

4. Laxative Activity of Ethanolic Extract of Polyalthia longifolia Bark in Experimental Animals / S Balamuruganvelu, B Geethavani, KR Premlal2, S Jaikumar, M Kalyani, S Sengottuvelu* / Journal of Pharmaceutical, Chemical and Biological Sciences, May 2014; 2(1):01-04

5. Antipyretic activity of Polyalthia longifolia Benth. & Hook. F. var. pendula (Annonaceae) on lipopolysaccharide-induced fever in rats / K Annan, RA Dickson, K Sarpong, C Asare, K Amponsah, E Woode / Journal of Medical and Biomedical Sciences, Vol 2, No 1, 2013.

6. Antiulcer And Antiinflammatory Activity Of Fresh Leave Extracts Of Polyalthia Longifolia In Rats / Sharma RK*, Mandal S, Rajani GP, Gupta N, Srivastava DP / International Journal of Drug Development & Research, Vol. 3 | Issue 1, Jan-Mar 2011


Seek medical guidance for use during pregnancy and lactation 

Toxicity studies:

The toxicological studies done on Fake Ashok shows, acute oral administration of the leaf is not toxic, and safe in a single dose. The concluded that crude powder, and the extracts of P. longifolia leaf are considered as safe in acute condition up to 3.2 g/kg dose level.

Use in other system of medicine:

- No reported folkloric medicinal use in the Philippines.
- In Indias traditional system of medicine, used for fever, skin diseases, hypertension and helminthiasis. - Bark used as febrifuge.
- In Nigeria, plant is used for skin disease, fever, diabetes and hypertension.
- Fiber: Bark is a good source of fiber.

The herb healers from Uthiramerur, use the stem bark extract orally for  indigestion plus the traditional healers of Trinulveli, as treatment for diarrhoea and  dysentery . The Kavirajes practitioners administer the bark or crushed whole plant as  antiseptic for most fungal infections 


P. longifolia is one of the most important indigenous medicinal plants in Indian medicinal literature is found throughout Malaysia and widely used in traditional medicine as febrifuge and tonic

Photos of ulkata -

Polyalthia longifolia

KEY WORDS: ulkata, false asuka tree, Polyalthia longifolia

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