Habit: Calotropis procera is a woody perennial that produces white or lavender flowers. The branches grows upwards away from the center. The plant has an ash-coloured bark covered with white fuzz.
Root: It has a 3-4 m deep taproot and a secondary root system with woody lateral roots that can rapidly regenerate adventitious shoots, when a part of the plant is injured.
Stem: The younger stems are greyish-green in colour, smooth in texture, and have a covering of whitish coloured hairs. Mature stems have a deeply fissured, cork-like bark that is light brown in colour.
Leaves: The plant has silver-green large leaves that grow on opposite sides on the stem.
Flower: The flowers grow on the stems’ apex and produce fruits.
Fruit: The fruit of Aak is oval and curved at the ends of the pods. The fruit is thick; when opened is the source of fibers that can be used in many ways.
Seed: It has brown, flattened seeds (about 6 mm long and 4 mm wide) that are topped with a tuft (i.e. coma) of long, white, silky hairs (35-50 mm long) which helps in their dispersal.
Visiting Insects – This year we saw locusts eat all the leaves of the aak plant.
A green and yellow grasshopper is a common visitor on the leaves of the aak plant.
Visiting Mammals – Young seed pods, leaves and flowers that are dying can be fed to goats, sheep and camels.
Seed Dispersal: The seed has a parachute of silky hair which allow them to be carried by air.
Where they grow: Found mostly in semi-arid and arid inland areas, as well as in the drier parts of tropical and sub-tropical regions. They are common in India.
Medicinal: All parts of the Aak plant are used in Ayurveda. The principal constituent found in the leaves of the plant is Mudarine. A powerful anti-bacterial enzyme has also been identified in the latex.
Some uses are:
The powdered leaves can help heal wounds faster
The root and leaf of this plant is used for asthma and shortness of breath
Smoke from the bark is inhaled for cough and asthma
The bark of the stem and the root, and the fruit pod is prescribed for liver and spleen diseases.
Its milk acts as a purgative and an emetic agent
The root bark of this plant is very useful in treating digestive problems such as constipation, indigestion and intestinal worms. It stimulates the digestion and stops diarrhoea
A hot poultice made from the leaves can be applied on the joints to relieve arthritic pain and inflammation, and other joint disorders.
Studies have shown that Aak has potential to be used as anti-cancer, anti-coagulant and as an anti-fungal agent.
Agroforestry: The wood yields a fibrous substance that is used for rope, fishing line and thread. It also has tannins, latex, rubber and a dye that are used in industrial practices.
Aak can act as a soil binder and as a nurse crop for more valuable species in afforestation programmes (Orwa et al., 2009; Campolucci et al., 1990). It has been used as source of green manure in rice fields (Orwa et al., 2009; Banta et al., 1984).