Tabebuia impetiginosa Tabebuia impetiginosa at Germplasm Resources Information Network, Pink Ipe or Pink Lapacho is a native Bignoniaceae tree of America, distributed from northern Mexico south to northern Argentina. It is a common tree in Argentina's northeastern region, as well as in southeastern Bolivia.
It is a conspicuous and well-known species with a long history of human use. Consequently it has a range of local names ''ipe-cavata, ipe-comum, ipe-reto, ipe-rosa, ipe-roxo-damata, lapacho negro, pau d'arco-roxo, peuvaor piuva. The timber is sometimes traded as "brazilwood", which properly refers to the unrelated Pernambuco Tree (Caesalpinia echinata'').
The Pink Lapacho is a rather large deciduous tree, with trunks sometimes reaching 80cm width and 30m height. Usually a third of that height is trunk, and two thirds are its longer branches. It has a large, globous, but often sparse canopy. Leaves are opposite and petiolate, 2 to 3 inches long, elliptic and lanceolate, with lightly serrated margins and pinnate venation.
Its bark is brownish grey, tough and hard to peel. The wood is of a pleasant yellowish colour, barely knotted and very tough and heavy . It's rich in tannins and therefore very resistant to weather and sunLopez et al. (1987). Unfortunately, it is not very useful for furniture since it is so hard to work by hand. It can be found as beams or fullfiling other structural uses where needed outdoors.
Pink Lapacho flowers between July and September, before the new leaves appear. The flower is large, tubular shaped, its corolla is often pink or magenta, though exceptionally seen white, about 2 inches long. There are 4 stamens and a staminode. The fruit consists of a narrow dehiscent capsule containing several winged seeds.
The flowers are easily accessible to pollinators. Some hummingbirds - e.g. Black Jacobin (Florisuga fusca) and Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) - seem to prefer them over the flowers of other Tabebuia species, while for others like the Stripe-breasted Starthroat (Heliomaster squamosus) it may even be a mainstay food source.
Tabebuia impetiginosa, as well as other species of this genus, are trees naturally found in the wild of central to South American forests. It is also used as a honey plant, and widely planted as ornamental tree in landscaping gardens, public squares and boulevards due to its impressive and colorful appearance as it flowers. Well-known and popular, it is the national tree of Paraguay.
The inner bark of Tabebuia impetiginosa is used medicinally Tabebuia avellanedae at University of Sao Paulo. It is dried, shredded, and then boiled, making a bitter brownish-colored tea known as Lapacho or Taheebo. The unpleasant taste of the extract is lessened when taken in pill form, or as tinctures. Lapacho bark is typically used during flu and cold season and for easing smoker's cough. It apparently works by promoting the lungs to expectorate and free deeply embedded mucus and contaminates during the first three to ten days of treatment.
In ethnomedicine Lapacho plays an important role for several South American indigenous peoples. In the past decades it has been used by herbalists as a general tonic and adaptogen. About the 1980s, its was touted as having "almost unbelievable properties" and said to improve quality of life for cancer and inmunodepressed patients However, the main active compound lapachol has since turned out to be toxic enough to kill a human imbibing the quantities required for a therapeutic effect on those diseases. Still, lapachol has strong antibiotic and disinfectant properties, and may be better suited for topical applications. Note that entomedical use of Lapacho and other Tabebuia teas is usually short-term, to get rid of acute ailments, and not as a general tonic. Usefulness as a short-term antimicrobial and disinfectincg expectorant, e.g. against PCP in AIDS patients, is yet to be scientifically studied.
List of plants of Cerrado vegetation of Brazil
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(2005): Beija-flores e seus recursos florais em uma area urbana do Sul do Brasil [Hummingbirds and their flowers in an urban area of southern Brazil]. [Portuguese with English abstract] Revista Brasileira de Zoologia 22(1): 5159. PDF fulltext
(2007): Reproductive toxicity of lapachol in adult male Wistar rats submitted to short-term treatment. Phytother. Res. 21(7): 658-662. (HTML abstract)
(1987): Arboles comunes del Paraguay: Nande yvyra mata kuera. Cuerpo de Paz, Asuncion.
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