A short, scrawny bush known for its purported aphrodisiac properties, is fast disappearing from Uganda's Mabira Forest Reserve, one of the country's last remaining rain forests, scientists have said.
The roots of the Citropsis articulata, also known as the sex tree, is believed to cure impotence, but poachers rushing into harvest it are pushing it to the edge of extinction, scientists said at a symposium in Kampala last week.
Mauda Kamatenesi, a botanist at Uganda's Makarere University, said the loss of the plants would not only do irreversible damage to the rain forest, but would also deprive scientists of the opportunity to 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. The people say that the medicines work," said Kamatenesi.
She said 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 neighbours often took 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.
"If these plants are lost, it would be a burden. The forest caters to many people," said Senfuma.
Kamatenesi said in addition to the sex tree, several other medicinal plant species including the Prunus africana, a tree commonly used to treat malaria and some forms of cancer, are also being depleted.
"In a few years many medicinal plants will be very scarce in Ugandan forests," National Geographic quoted her as saying.