Croton bonplandianus: Ban Tulsi

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Three-leaved caper, Ban Tulsi, Bonpland’s croton

Ban Tulsi plants are seen very commonly on roadsides and open areas, with small, white flowers on tall racemes. These wild plants grow to a height of 50-60 cms, are well-branched and bushy. It is a wild croton, but because of the resemblance of leaves and flowers to Tulsi or Ocimum Sanctum, this plant is also called Ban Tulsi or Jungle Tulsi.

Leaves are simple, small, and alternate with toothed margins. They are dark green with a smooth surface, 3-5 cms long, and bunched together at the tip of the stem. Ban Tulsi stem is woody towards the base, green and tender towards the tip.

They bloom throughout the year with white or cream-colored flowers having 5 sepals and 5 petals which are small and inconspicuous. Ban Tulsi flowers abundantly, the white flowers held high on tall racemes all over the plant. Male and female flowers are separate, male flowers towards the top of the spikes and female flowers towards the base.

Numerous small white stamens projecting from these flowers make them look like tiny pom-poms. Small insects, bees, and ants help in pollination, after which the plants produce small 3-lobuled, elongated oval capsules which have a warty outer surface. These fruits contain tiny, spongy, ovoid seeds.

Ban Tulsi stem has a milky sap that is at times used in healing small cuts and wounds. Ban Tulsi plants have medicinal uses in Ayurveda and traditional herbal medicine, in the treatment of stomach ailments, cholera, colds, cough, diabetes, jaundice, dropsy, chicken pox, malaria, rheumatism, liver complaints, inflammations, eye diseases and many other common illnesses.

These plants are said to have antibacterial, anticancer, anticoagulant, antioxidant, larvicidal and cytotoxic propertiess. Seen very commonly in the wild, Ban Tulsi plants are used a fuel when they are dry. The ash from burnt plants are also used as a detergent. Leaf extracts are used as pesticides and mosquito repellents.

In India, they are considered invasive weeds since they grow well in wastelands as well as agricultural areas, choking other seedlings. They prefer good sunlight, but are tolerant of bad soil quality, drought, pollution and fluctuating weather conditions.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.