The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Duboisia hopwoodii F. v. Mueller


Pituri Bush




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Cestroideae, Anthocercideae/Salpiglossideae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies





Anthoceris hopwoodii

Duboisia piturie Bancroft

Folk Names


Bedgerie, bedgery, camel poison, emu plant, pedgery, petcherie, picherie, pitchery, pitchiri, pitjuri, pitschuri, pituri,126 pituribaum, pituri-busch, pituri bush, pituristrauch, pizuri, poison bush



It is possible that the Aborigines have been using the psychoactive pituri bush for hedonistic and ritual purposes since the settlement of Australia. The plant and its dried, fermented leaves were a valuable article of trade and played an important role in the indigenous economy.

The plant was first described in 1878 by the great German/Australian botanist Ferdinand J. H. von Mueller (1825–1896), who also recognized it as the source of pituri (Hartwich 1911, 518*). In 1879, an alkaloid was isolated and was named piturine. Only in recent decades has the plant become the focus of more detailed studies.



Duboisia hopwoodii is found primarily in the Australian interior. The plant is not found either in the Victoria Desert or in Tasmania (Barnard 1952, 5).



This and other Duboisia species are propagated by seeds or cuttings from the branch ends (Barnard 1952).



This branched, evergreen shrub has a woody stem and can grow as tall as 2.5 to 3 meters. Its wood is yellow and has a noticeably vanilla-like scent. The green leaves are lineal/lanceolate (12 to 15 cm long, 8 mm wide), entire, and tapered at the petioles. The white, sometimes pink-spotted flowers are campanulate (up to 7 mm long) and occur in clusters at the branch ends. Flowering occurs between January and August. The fruit is a black berry (6 mm long) containing numerous tiny seeds.


Duboisia hopwoodii is easily confused with other

Duboisia species and also can be mistaken with

Anthoceris spp. (Solanaceae).

Psychoactive Material



Preparation and Dosage


The leaves are collected in August when the plant is flowering and are hung up to dry or roasted over a fire. They are either chewed as quids (cf. pituri) or rolled together with alkaline substances into cigars for smoking: “The Australian Aborigines sometimes smoke moistened pituri leaves mixed with plant potash” (Stark 1984, 98*).

The pituri quids consist of chopped Duboisia hopwoodii leaves mixed with acacia leaves (cf. Acacia spp.), “small, dried berries, and unopened flower buds in the form of a caper” (Maiden 1888, 370). Duboisia hopwoodii leaves also can be chewed by themselves, although the effects are not considered particularly strong. It is said that the addition of the plant ashes is what brings out the full stimulating effects.

Ritual Use


See pituri.



The rock art—paintings, spray paintings, and rock carvings—of the Aborigines can be traced back to the earliest times. Spiritlike wondjinas, Dreamtime animals, magical totems, “x-rays,” and visions of the Milky Way are all among the earliest works of Aboriginal art. The abstract paintings found on bark bast (in Arnhem Land) appear to be very old.

The semi-abstract art of the rain forest peoples in the region of Cairns (North Queensland) also has a long tradition. They used natural pigments to paint especially their war shields: “All of the images represented food for daily use and medicines or antidotes that are obtained from a wide variety of trees. Each one of these drawings is associated with a story with a certain meaning” (Hollingsworth 1993, 115). It is certain that pituri and corkwood (Duboisiaspp.) were depicted in this manner, for the rain forest peoples used them as inebriants, medicines, and fish poisons.

In the nineteenth century, some Aborigines adapted European painting techniques and began to orient themselves around European art. It was only in the mid-twentieth century that a contemporary Aboriginal style of its own developed, borrowing from the ritual sand paintings of the “outback” tribes. These contemporary Aboriginal paintings appear extremely psychedelic to the eyes of many Western observers. They usually portray Dreamings, and also often primordial beings associated with the clan of the painter or his family members. Many of these paintings tell the myths of the Dreamtime and show the Dream paths or “song lines” of the ancestors. They appear to show what the Dream soul of the painter sees as it flies over the Dream land. They are cartographies or topographies of the Dreamtime. The artist, e.g., Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (sometimes called “the Van Gogh of Aboriginal art”), sees himself as a “cartographer of the Dreaming” (Johnson 1994, 47). The Aboriginal art not only records the effects of the Dreamtime on our contemporary world but also creates them anew with every painting and every piece. The art is the reality of the Dreaming. Colin McCormick has said that some of the Aboriginal painters creating this type of art are inspired by pituri inebriation.

Sometimes Dreamings of particular plants are depicted. Some plants appear as totems or ancestor spirits, while others appear symbolically, often simply as individual points in the Dreamings. Theoretically, all plants, including pituri, are totems and can be represented. Clifford Possum has produced a painting, Corkwood Dreaming (1982), that has a very psychedelic appearance (Johnson 1994, ill. 34, pp. 94, 95, 165). It is the Dream of his mother. Since the term corkwood can refer to many different plants, and not just to species of Duboisia (e.g., also Hakea spp.127), it is uncertain whether this painting is a secret “pituri Dreaming.”

Plants are often simply suggested by lines, points, and dabs of color. In his autobiographical novel Songlines, Bruce Chatwin describes how an Aborigine painted “pitjuri” (“Pitjuri is a mild narcotic which Aboriginals chew to suppress hunger”) as a “squiggle” in the center of a painting (Chatwin 1988, 260). It is only through the artist’s explanation that one can decipher the meaning of the squiggle.


The Australian pituri tree (Duboisia hopwoodii) in bloom. The tiny inflorescences are almost invisible. (Photographed in North Queensland)


“Pituri is an entryway to the Dreamtime.”




“In order to understand the Australian Aborigines, in order to recognize the illuminating power that radiates from the multidimensional depths of their paintings—which the Western observer usually regards as childlike and primitive—you must also know about pituri (Duboisia hopwoodii). With this nightshade, a person can find an entryway into the primordial ‘Dreamtime,’ the place of the totem animals, the original images that eternally exist.”








(1993, 341*)








Medicinal Use


Pituri is now regarded as a bush medicine, a wild medicinal plant that “bushwalkers” use as an analgesic (Cherikoff 1993, 171*; Lassak and McCarthy 1992, 33*).



Duboisia hopwoodii contains various potently stimulating as well as toxic alkaloids: piturine (possibly identical to nicotine), duboisin, D-nor-nicotine, and nicotine (Hicks and LeMessurier 1935). The presence of nicotine is contested but possible (Peterson 1979, 178*). D-nor-nicotine is regarded as the primary constituent (Barnard 1952, 12; Bottomley et al. 1945). Dried leaves can contain between 2.4 and 5% nicotine/nornicotine. Gas chromatography has also demonstrated the presence of myosmine, N-formylnornicotine, coti-nine, N-acetylnornicotine, anabasine, anatabine, anatalline, and bipyridyl (Luanratana and Griffin 1982).

The root has been found to contain the hallucinogenic tropane alkaloid hyoscyamine (Kennedy 1971). Traces of scopolaminenicotine, nornicotine, metanicotine, myosmine, and N-formylnornicotine have also been detected (Luanratana and Griffin 1982).



Carl Lumholz compared the effects of Duboisia hopwoodii to those of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and opium (Papaver somniferum) (1889, 49). Carl Hartwich, who studied Duboisia hopwoodii intensively, wrote that the plant’s effects “are inebriating, it invokes passionate dreams. It also takes away . . . feelings of hunger and thirst” (Hartwich 1911, 834*). These effects reminded him of the effects of coca (Eythroxylum coca).

When the leaves are smoked alone, they produce an effect similar to that of marijuana (see Cannabis indica). There have also been reports of “invigorating, mildly psychedelic and erotic properties of the plant” (Stark 1984, 98*).

Commercial Forms and Regulations





See also the entries for Duboisia spp., Nicotiana spp., Goodenia spp., and pituri.


Barnard, Colin. 1952. The Duboisias of Australia. Economic Botany 6:3–17.


Bottomley, W., R. A. Nolte, and D. E. White. 1945. The alkaloids of Duboisia hopwoodiiAustralian Journal of Science 8:18–19.


Chatwin, Bruce. 1988. The songlines. New York: Penguin.


Hicks, C. S., and H. LeMessurier. 1935. Preliminary observations on the chemistry and pharmacology of the alkaloids of D. hopwoodiiAustralian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science 13:175–78.


Hollingsworth, Mark. 1993. Die Cape-York-Halbinsel und Nord-Queensland. In Aratjara: Kunst der ersten Australier (exhibition catalogue), 109–15. Cologne: DuMont.


Johnson, Vivien. 1994. The art of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. East Roseville, New South Wales: Craftsman House (Gordon and Breach Arts International).


Kennedy, G. S. 1971. (–)-Hyoscyamine in Duboisia hopwoodiiPhytochemistry 10:1335–39.


Luanratana, O., and W. J. Griffin. 1982. Alkaloids of Duboisia hopwoodiiPhytochemistry 21:449–51.


Lumholz, Carl. 1889. Among cannibals. London: John Murray.


Maiden, Joseph Henry. 1888. Some reputed medicinal plants of New South Wales. Proceedings (Linnean Society of New South Wales), 2nd ser., 3 (24): 367–71.


Senft, Em. 1911. Über Duboisia hopwoodiiPharm. Praxis 1.


Duboisia spp. and Hybrids


Corkwood Trees




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Cestroideae, Anthocercideae/Salpiglossideae Tribe

The genus Duboisia is composed of just three species (D’Arcy 1991, 78*), all of which are native to Australia and two of which are endemic (Haegi 1979). The genus is closely related to the generaAnthocerisAnthotroche (both endemic to Australia), and Brunfelsia (cf. Duboisia hopwoodii). In Australian English, all of these are known by the name corkwood because of their corklike bark (Dowling and McKenzie 1993, 151f.*).

The constituents of Duboisia appear to be extremely variable with regard to the concentration, distribution, and mixture ratio, and this has produced considerable confusion in the phyto-chemical literature. The alkaloid content depends upon a number of factors: location of the plant, time of collection, and the existence of chemical races and hybrids (Dowling and McKenzie 1993, 153*). In addition to nicotineand nicotine derivatives, all species of Duboisia have been found to contain the following tropane alkaloids: hyoscine (= scopolamine), hyoscyamine, norhyoscyamine, tigloidine, valeroidine, poroidine, isoporoidine, butropine, valtropine, 3α-tigloyloxytropane, 3αacetoxytropane, norhyoscine, apohyoscine, tropine (= tetramethylputrescine), 6-hydroxyhyoscyamine. Most of these tropanes also occur in the genus Datura. Today, corkwoods (Duboisia spp.) are used by the international pharmaceutical industry to manufacture agents for the treatment of travel sickness (Lewington 1990, 149*).

Various (?) Duboisia species are also found on Papua New Guinea. The Papuas smoke and even chew these along with both indigenous and introduced tobacco species (Nicotiana suaveolensN. fragransNicotiana tabacumNicotiana spp.). The Papuas discovered the Duboisia leaves and their effects partially on their own, while their use and even the plant material was introduced into New Guinea via trade relationships with the Torres Strait Islands.

Duboisia leichhardtii F. Muell.—Leichhardt’s corkwood


This bushlike tree, which has a straight trunk and can grow as tall as 7.5 meters, is the least known of all Duboisia species. The 0.5 to 1.5 cm long flowers are the most distinct feature of this species; the petals are long, slender, and tapered at the ends. This corkwood species thrives only in clayey and sandy soils. Its natural range is restricted to central and western Queensland and western New South Wales (Dowling and McKenzie 1993, 152*; Morton 1977, 299*). The concentration of tropane alkaloids contained in the species is quite high and can be increased through breeding and hybridization (Luanratana and Griffin 1980a). The dried leaves contain approximately 1.4% alkaloids, primarily scopolamine (Morton 1977, 299*). It is not yet known whether this species was or is used by the Aborigines.

Duboisia myoporoides R. Br. [syn. Natalaea ligustrina Sib.]—corkwood, onungunabie, ngmoo


This evergreen, shrublike tree can grow as tall as 15 meters. It has lanceolate leaves 10 cm long and 3 cm wide. The small flowers are white and have five pinna. The fruits are 0.5 cm long, oval, and greenish yellow in color. They turn black when ripe. Both the flowers and the fruits develop in July (the winter or rainy period). Corkwood is a typical rain forest tree of the Australian east coast (Pearson 1992, 95*). It grows in clayey and sandy soils, and sometimes even on sandy beaches near the coast (Dowling and McKenzie 1993, 152ff.*).

The leaves of this Duboisia species, which is also known as eye-plant or elm, are used as an alternative for Duboisia hopwoodii as pituri or as a pituri substitute. The Aborigines obtained a “stupefying drink” from corkwood (Cribb and Cribb 1984, 222*) and used the alkaloids in other ways as well (Pearson 1992, 95*; Stark 1984, 76*).

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Australian raw drug was used as a substitute for Atropa belladonna. The preparation Duboisia (an essence of the fresh leaves of D. myoporoides) is an important homeopathic agent (Schneider 1974, II:44*). The Aborigines of New Caledonia use the fresh leaves as an antidote for ciguatera poisoning (Bourdy et al. 1992; Dufva et al. 1976; Ott 1993, 376*).

“The Australian Aborigines bored holes into the trunk of the corkwood tree, which they then poured water or another liquid into and allowed to stand overnight. The next morning, they drank the juice, which was so potent that it produced an inebriated state with noticeably erotic sensations.”







Botanical illustration of Duboisia myoporoides. (From Köhler’s Medizinalpflanzen, 1887/89)


It has long been known that Duboisia myoporoides contains large amounts of scopolamine (Emboden 1979, 146*); in fact, this species is now grown commercially as a source of scopolamine for the pharmaceutical industry (Morton 1977, 294*). The alkaloids nicotine, nornicotine, atro-pine, and scopolamine have been detected in all parts of the plant. The main alkaloids in the leaves are scopolamine and hyoscyamine (Cougoul et al. 1979). Approximately two mouthfuls of leaves contains 50 mg of nicotine and 20 mg of scopolamine (Ott 1993, 376*). Also present are tropine, 3α-acetoxytropane, α-alkylpiperidine alkaloids (e.g., pelletierine), and myrtine. The roots contain a quinolizidine alkaloid as well as β-phenethylamine derivatives (Bachmann et al. 1989). Providing root cultures or the plant with certain tropane precursors, e.g., putrescine, ornithine, arginine, and tropine, has been found to substantially increase the biosynthesis of scopolamine (Yoshioka et al. 1989).

The Australian mistletoe (Benthamia alyxifolia), which lives as a parasite on Duboisia myoporoides, apparently accumulates scopolamine in its leaves as a result.

Duboisia myoporoides R. Br. x Duboisia leichhardtii F. Muell.—hybrid corkwood


In Australia, the two treelike Duboisia species have been bred to produce a hybrid that is grown on large plantations as a source of alkaloids. This hybrid has been found to be especially rich in tropane alkaloids and therefore useful for commercial cultivation (Luanratana and Griffin 1980a, 1980b). The hybrid has the advantage of being almost devoid of nicotine and sometimes developing scopolamine concentrations as high as 3% (Morton 1977, 301*). Several methods for influencing and increasing the alkaloid content have been discovered and developed (Luanratana and Griffin 1982). The hybrid (presumably) plays no part in Aboriginal ethnobotany.


Because of the corklike bark of Duboisia myoporoides, this nightshade has been given the name corkwood. (Photographed in North Queensland)



Flower of Duboisia leichhardtii F. v. Muell. (Drawing by C. Rätsch)




See also the entries for Duboisia hopwoodii, pituri, and scopolamine.


Bachmann, P., L. Witte, and F.-C. Czygan. 1989. The occurrence of β-phenethylamine derivatives in suspension culture of Duboisia myoporoidesPlanta Medica 55:231.


Bourdy, G., et al. 1992. Traditional remedies used in the Western Pacific for the treatment of ciguatera poisoning. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 36 (2): 163–74.


Cougoul, N., E. Miginiac, and L. Cosson. 1979. Un gradient métabolique: Rapport Scopolamine/ Hyoscyamine dans les feuilles du Duboisia myoporoides en fonction de leur niveau d’Insertion et du stade de croissance. Phytochemistry 18:949–51.


Dufva, E., et al. 1976. Duboisia myoporoides: Native antidote against ciguatera poisoning. Toxicon 14:55–64


Griffin, W. J., H. P. Brand, and J. G. Dare. 1975. Analysis of Duboisia myoporoides R. Br. and Duboisia leichhardtii F. Muell. Journal of Pharmaceutical Science 64 (11): 1821–25.


Haegi, L. 1979. Australian genera of the Solanaceae. In The biology and taxonomy of the Solanaceae, ed. J. G. Hawkes et al., 121–24. London: Academic Press.


Luanratana, O., and W. J. Griffin. 1980a. Cultivation of a Duboisia hybrid. Part A. Nutritional requirements and effects of growth regulators on alkaloid content. Journal of Natural Products 43 (5): 546–51.


———. 1980b. Cultivation of a Duboisia hybrid. Part B. Alkaloid variation in a commercial plantation. Journal of Natural Products 43 (5): 552–58.


———. 1982. The effect of a seaweed extract on the alkaloid variation in a commercial plantation of a Duboisia hybrid. Journal of Natural Products 45 (3): 270–71.


Yoshioka, Toshiro, Hikaru Yamagata, Aya Ithoh, Hiroshi Deno, Yasuhiro Fujita, and Yasuguki Yamada. 1989. Effects of exogenous polyamines on tropane alkaloid production by a root culture of Duboisia myoporoidesPlanta Medica 55:523–24.