Due to either limited availability or affordability of pharmaceutical medicines, two-third of the world population (mainly in the developing countries) rely entirely on medicinal plants as their primary source of health care (Ayyanar and Ignacimuthu, 2008; Kamanula et al., 2011; Okpuzor et al., 2008). Increased interest in medicinal plants as a re-emerging health aid has been fuelled by the rising costs of prescription drugs in the maintenance of personal health and well-being, and the bioprospecting of new plant-derived drugs. It is predicted that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 80% of the rural population depends on plant traditional remedies (Hoareau and Edgar, 1999).
Currently, medicinal plants are harvested in an unregulated manner from natural stands (Titanji et al., 2008; Zschocke et al., 2000). This puts pressure on natural populations, severely compromising their contribution to health care (Wynberg, 2002). Indeed, the upsurge in market and public demand for medicinal plants exhibits the important risks to medicinal plants today. These include extinction as well as loss of genetic diversity (Hoareau and Edgar, 1999). One such plant in dire need for conservation is E. abyssinica which is a veritable multipurpose tree. Many of Erythrina species are used indigenously as traditional medicines to treat various diseases, such as infections, cough, malaria, inflammation, bronchitis, asthma, and insomnia (Cui et al., 2008). The bark is commonly used in traditional medicine, to treat ulcers, snakebites, sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea, amoebiasis, liver inflammation, stomach-ache, colic, and measles (Yenesew et al., 2004). Alkaloids, benzofurans, flavonoids, chalcone, and other pterocarpans which possess a wide range of antioxidant, antimicrobial, cytotoxic, and anti-inflammatory activity have been reported as constituents of this genus (Nguyen et al., 2009). The foliage is considered a good protein supplement for ruminants (cattle, sheep, and goats) and has also been used as a fodder source for rabbits and pigs (Kass et al., 1993). In Ethiopia, resource-poor farmers with stall-fed sheep and goats used leafy twigs effectively as a cheap source of protein supplement for low-quality diets during the dry season (Aerts, 2008). The roots of trees are infected by rhizobia nodulate and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient in seedlings mulched with E. abyssinica (Anthofer et al., 1997).
The conventional methods used in the propagation of E. abyssinica produce a high degree of genetic variability and consequently decrease the medicinal value of the plant. Besides, the seeds have a low germination rate (Aerts, 2008); furthermore, propagation is restricted to rainy season (Sarasan et al., 2011). On the other hand, micropropagation offers a rapid means of producing large quantity of clonal planting stocks and propagation of some commercial crops and also tree species that are difficult to establish conventionally (Bonga, 1987; Merkle and Dean, 2000; Thorpe et al., 1990). Micropropagation of a wide range of tree species have been successfully achieved (Pankaj and Toshiyuki, 2001). However, numerous recalcitrant forest trees of economic value are still difficult to propagate in vitro (Anna et al., 2010).
There are no documented studies on the micropropagation of E. abyssinica. Consequently, there is need to develop mass propagation protocols which produces true to type plants irrespective of season. This would meet demand for planting materials as well as reduce pressure on natural stands. Such technologies include in vitro propagation techniques that provide a platform for effective propagation of endangered plants.
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