for National Geographic News
A short, scrawny bush found deep in Uganda's rain forest is rapidly approaching extinction as poachers rush to harvest it for its purported aphrodisiac properties, scientists say.
The so-called sex tree, Citropsis articulata, is quickly disappearing from Uganda's Mabira Forest Reserve, one of the country's last remaining rain forests, because its roots are believed to cure impotence, experts said last week a symposium in Kampala (see Uganda map).
In addition to the sex tree, other medicinal plant species such as Prunus africana, a tree commonly used to treat malaria and some forms of cancer, are also being depleted, said Mauda Kamatenesi, a botanist at Uganda's Makarere University.
"In a few years many medicinal plants will be very scarce in Ugandan forests," Kamatenesi said.
Loss of the plants would not only do irreversible damage to the rain forest, she said, but it would also deprive scientists of the opportunity to the study the plants' possible medicinal properties.
"The [sex] tree may have other medicinal values apart from treating sexual impotence, and we are losing out if we let these plants go extinct without doing more research," Kamatenesi said. "The people say that the medicines work."
The plants' extinction would also take a toll on local Ugandans who have been using the trees as herbal cures for generations.
Ibrahim Senfuma, a bird-hunting guide who lives near the forest reserve, said he and his neighbors often take the Pronus africana plant to boost immunity and Citropsis articulata to enhance sex drive.
The leaves and roots of the plants are chewed or boiled for tea, he explained.
"If these plants are lost, it would be a burden," Senfuma said. "The forest caters to many people."
The depletion of medicinal plants is not the only threat the Mabira forest is facing.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES