The Meliaceae family is well represented in Southern and Eastern Africa and Madagascar. Plants range in size from magnificent forest trees to small shrubs. Certain species are important as timber trees and they have wide-ranging uses in ethnomedicine in the region, prompting extensive investigation. Twenty-two of the fifty-one genera of the Meliaceae occur in the geographic area under review, and, of these, the chemistry of forty-four species, from nineteen genera, has been investigated. Compounds isolated include limonoids, mono-, di-, sesqui-, and triterpenoids, coumarins, chromones, lignans, flavonoids and other phenolics Relatively few of the compounds and extracts from these species have been screened for biological activity, probably due to the limited screening facilities available in the area. However, properties including cytotoxicity against tumour cell lines, insect anti-feedant and anti-malarial activity, and uterotonic activity suggest that further extensive biological screening of compounds from this family is warranted. The similar chemistry of the genera Ptaeroxylon and Cedrelopsis support their grouping together in the distinct family Ptaeroxylaceae. Examination of the chemistry of species from this family suggests a close relationship with the Cneoraceae family
Natural Products Research Group, Department of Chemistry, University of Natal, Durban, 4041, South Africa.