FACTS ABOUT THE PLANTS
Mitrogyna speciosa Korth (Family Rubiaceae) is in Thailand also known as „Kratom“, and in Malaysia as “Biak-Biak”. In the streets it is known as “Thang”, “Kakuam”, “Thom” and “Ketum”. The kratom tree is native to the swampy areas of West Africa and the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Kratom grows in Thailand mainly in the central and southern regions of the country and is hardly seen in the north. The plants of the genus Mitragyna were by mistake put under the genera Nauclea, Sarcocephalus, Stephegyne and Uncaria. The most plants of this genus are treelike plants with straight and branched stems up to 100 feet high. Mitrogyna speciosa plants can likewise grow up tp100 feet tall, but reach in average only a height of about 54 feet. The species Mitrogyna speciosa was named by Pieter Willem Korthals, who documented this plant for the first time, named this species Mitragyna speciosa, because the pistil of the first specimen he investigated looked like a bishop’s miter. Kratom is botanically as well as chemically closely related to Pausinystalle yohimbe, a tree of West Africa, the bark of which contains the indole alkaloid yohimbine. In addition botanical similarities exist with Coryanthe, Cinchona, and Uncaria, which reach up to the biochemical level. Mitragyna speciosa has yellow, globular flower heads with each up to 120 florets, which as buds are covered by many overlapping leaflets (bracteoles). The sympodial inflorescence is dichotomously branched. The fruit of the tree, Mitragyna speciosa Korth, contains many small, flat seeds. The young shoots have 10 to 12 opposite leaves arranged in an alternating pattern. Each pair is accompanied by two intrapetiolar stipules, which are flat in the beginning and shield the bud at the tip of the branch (Shellard, 1974).
The flowers are, as already mentioned, globular and yellow. The dark green, shiny leaves are oval and pointed. They can grow up to 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. The stalks of the leaves of each plant can be either red or green. Both have the same profile of alkaloids although it is told that the leaves with the green stalks have a stronger effect. Australian growers have found, that red and green (also called white) stalks of leaves develop in trees at different times, despite the fact that all of these trees were derived through cloning from the same tree. Kratom is an evergreen tree, though it drops it leaves with the change of seasons, when it is not grown in its indigenous habitat. In its natural environment one can observe an increased dropping of leaves during the dry season, while in the rainy season more new leaves are formed. But overall one may state, that leaves are dropped and regrown during the entire year (Shellard, 1974).
This plant has a rare twofold characteristic, a stimulating effect combined with a sedative effect. Both are based on the alkaloids found in the leaves (Babu et al., 2008).