Calotropis procera: Apple of Sodom

Family: Apocynaceae
Common name: Apple of Sodom, Milkweed, Sodom’s apple, King’s crown, Dead sea apple, Rubber bush, Rubber tree

Apple of Sodom is a perennial shrub that produces the most beautiful deep pink and white flowers that look like crown,s giving the plant its name King’s crown. The name Calotropis comes from the Greek word that means ‘beautiful’, and the word procera refers to the waxy leaves and flowers.

The plant has its mention in very old texts, and is believed to be mentioned in biblical texts as well as ancient poems. They are native to various regions of Asia and Africa and can grow in a wide range of habitats, including arid and semi-arid areas.

The Apple of Sodom plant typically reaches a height of 2 to 5 meters with thick, fleshy stems covered with a greyish bark. The leaves are large and alternate, with a lanceolate shape and a waxy texture. They are about 10-15 cm long and 5-8 cm wide. The leaves appear pale green on the upper side and whitish on the underside due to a dense covering of fine hairs.

The flowers of Apple of Sodom are one of its most striking features. They are borne in large clusters, each flower measuring around 5 to 7 cm in diameter. The flowers are star-shaped with five distinct petals that are deep pink towards the tip and pale pink or even white towards the center. The petals are fused at the base, forming a distinct cup-like structure.

The color of the flowers can vary, but they are commonly seen in shades of deep pink, purple or white, with purple being the most prevalent. The fragrance of the flowers is strong and sweet, attracting various insects for pollination.

After the flowers fade, the Apple of Sodom plant produces elongated fruits that contain numerous seeds. The fruits are slender, about 10 to 15 cm long, and filled with silky hairs that aid in wind dispersal. Each fruit can contain hundreds of small, flat seeds that are surrounded by a fluffy, cotton-like material.

The seeds are equipped with tufts of silky hairs that allow them to be carried by the wind over long distances. Once the fruits burst, the fibrous hairs and seeds are ejected out, leaving a thin outer shell.

Apple of Sodom plant is closely related to Calotropis gigantea or Crown flower plants which grow taller, and has broader leaves.

Most parts of the Apple of Sodom plant like leaves, stems, flowers, and roots have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments like wounds, cuts, skin infections, asthma, bronchitis, inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, and hypertension. The leaves are used in poultices to relieve pain and inflammation.

The medicinal uses of Calotropis procera extend beyond its topical applications. The plant has been utilized for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and diuretic properties. They have also shown potential anticancer activity and is being studied for the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

They are not generally grown in gardens due to their toxicity, especially for pets and small animals. These plants grow abundantly in the wild, flowering in large bunches.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings