Kratom. Botany.

Kratom. Botany.

Kratom (krathom, ithang, kakuam, thom, ketum, biak, etc.) is the name of the plant Mitragyna speciosa, a tree endemic to Thailand, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. In Thailand, Kratom is mainly grown in the central and southern regions of the country, and the tree is very rarely found in the north.

The genus Mitragyna belongs to the Rubiaceae family, representatives of this genus are found in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and Africa. Botanically and biochemically, Kratom is closest to Yohimbe (Pausinystalia johimbe). Other similar plants are Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa), which has a similar set of active chemical compounds with Kratom, Coffee, and Cinchona tree (the source of quinine). Asian representatives of the genus Mitragyna often grow in jungles, while African ones (which are still sometimes classified as a separate genus Hallea) grow in swamps. Recently, plants of this genus have been classified as several species – Nauclea, Sarcocephalus, Stephegyne, and Uncaria.

Most representatives of this genus are trees, some reach a height of up to 30 or more meters. The genus Mitragyna was named by Pieter Willem Korthals, the official botanist of the Dutch East India Service from 1831 to 1836, because the flowers of the first plants he encountered resembled the shape of a bishop's mitre (from the word miter).

The flowers of the Mitragyna species are characterized by a spherical basket, each of which contains up to 120 flowers. Each flower is surrounded by a large number of overlapping bracts, which protect the growing flowers during the budding phase. The inflorescence is in the form of an umbrella, consisting of oppositely directed flowers. The fruit is a shell filled with a large number of small flat seeds.

A young (just beginning to turn into a tree) plant usually has 10-12 leaves, arranged opposite each other, with adjacent pairs of leaves arranged crosswise. At the base of each leaf, there is a stipule, which initially protects the forming leaf, tightly wrapping it.

Members of Mitragyna are used for medical purposes, as well as for lumber everywhere where they grow. For example, the West African species M. inermis and M. stipulosa are effective traditional remedies for malaria, and scientific studies of the latter, in particular, have shown its effectiveness in the therapy of some types of leukemia. Another species, M. africanus is used in Nigeria to treat mental disorders. African species M. ciliata (also known as M. ledermanni, M. stipulosa, Hallea ciliata, Hallea ledermanni or Hallea stipulosa) is traditionally used to treat inflammation, high blood pressure, headaches, rheumatism, gonorrhea, and various broncho-pulmonary infections.

An adult Kratom tree typically reaches a height of 15.5 meters, with a crown width of more than 4 meters. The trunk has a vertical orientation. The flowers are yellow and grow in spherical groups (we have already examined this in more detail above). The leaves are dark green, glossy, smooth, oval-shaped, pointed at the top, and grow symmetrically on the branch opposite each other. The leaves can be more than 18 centimeters long and 10 centimeters wide. Kratom is an evergreen, not a deciduous tree, so the leaves constantly change: older foliage falls off and new ones grow in its place. However, under certain ecological and climatic conditions (such as prolonged heavy rains), a large amount of demi-season leaf can occur, which loses its psychoactive and medicinal properties. During the dry season, leaf fall occurs more intensely, and new growth is most abundant during the rainy season. When Kratom trees are grown outside their natural tropical habitat, leaf fall occurs at a temperature of approximately 4° Celsius.

Kratom prefers moist, humus-rich soils, so it often grows in marshy areas. Reports from Australian manufacturers state that Kratom prefers partial shade and does not like strong winds, although others report good results growing the plant in full sun. Being evergreens, Kratom trees are consumers of a very large amount of nutrients and require very rich, fertile soil. Plants of this species are very sensitive to drought. Propagation occurs very fresh seeds or cuttings. In the latter case, there is a small chance of infection due to an endogenous fungus that attacks the xylem tissue. In addition to propagation by cuttings, Kratom has been cloned into a separate culture. The first plant grown in this way was recorded in February 2002 by Richard and Claudia Müller-Ebeling in the Vangina Gardens in Australia. Thai researchers believe that a seed grown into a young shoot is unreliable and that half of the plants grown from Kratom seeds will be absolutely useless in terms of extracting any medicinal and psychoactive substances. There are no reliable research data on this fact yet, but the same observation was reported by an employee of the Botanical Preservation Corps.

In recent years, Kratom has been successfully grown outside Thailand from seeds and then often cloned (in Thailand it is banned, but grows everywhere in the wild, uncultured form - ed. Note). Almost all plants available outside Asia are clones, as the seeds have a very short germination period. There are several clones, the most famous of which is the Robert Rifat (Rifat) clone. This plant was grown as part of research organized by Shaman Australis from seeds collected during research work in Thailand by Swedish scientist Claude Rifat. The Rifat clone has a reputation as a very strong and most popular clone outside Asia.

There is some evidence to suggest that growing this plant in a climate colder than its native habitat tends to make the foliage much weaker than regular Kratom grown in the natural tropics of Thailand and Malaysia, but this information is not supported by any scientific data. There is also an opinion that there is a clear dependence between the temperature regime in which the plant is located and the occurrence of active alkaloids in it. Some sources report the formation of Kratom's surfactants as a consequence of the plant's leaf "protective reaction" to UV rays and strong heat, just as, for example, this is the case with the production of psychoactive resin by Hemp inflorescences growing in a hot climate.

It is possible that a similar species, Mitragyna javanica, is used to circumvent Thai legislation that banned Kratom, but it is not as effective. The predominant alkaloid in this plant is mitrajavine, which has not yet been subjected to pharmacological research.

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