This predominantly tropical family consists mainly of climbing or twining shrubs, but also trees. There are some 650 species in 120 genera.
Outside the tropics, several species may be found in cultivation as greenhouse ornamentals. Jacaranda mimosaefolia D.Don (syn. Jacaranda ovalifolia R.Br.), for instance, is often grown for its foliage. The Chilean Glory Flower (Eccremocarpus scaber Ruiz & Pavón) is half-hardy in temperate regions, whilst Campsis radicans Seem. and Catalpa bignonioides Walter are commonly grown in the open in milder areas of Britain and northern Europe.
Many species yield valuable timber.
Many of the timbers derived from members of this family contain any or all of the dermatitic compounds lapachol (formerly known as tecomin), deoxylapachol, and lapachenole (formerly known as lapachonone). The presence of sesamin, which has been shown to be involved in sesame oil contact allergy (Sesamum indicum L., fam. Pedaliaceae), has also been reported from at least one species. Persons working with the wood are therefore at risk.
- Arrabidaea chica Verlot
- (syn. Bignonia chica Humb. & Bonpl.)
A red pigment from the leaves has been used as a body paint by South American Indians (Howes 1974).
- Bignonia L.
Only one species, Bignonia capreolata L. (syn. Doxantha capreolata Miers) is now retained in this genus (Willis 1973).
- Campsis Lour.
- Trumpet Creeper, Cowitch
There are two species in this genus. Campsis radicans Seem. (syn. Tecoma radicans Juss.) is native to south-eastern USA, whilst Campsis chinensis Voss (syns Tecoma grandiflora Lois., Bignonia chinensis Lam.) is indigenous to eastern Asia. The hybrid group between these two species is commonly referred to as Campsis x tagliabuana Rehder (syn. Tecoma tagliabuana Vis.).
A number of texts refer to dermatitis caused by handling the flowers or leaves of Campsis radicans (Pammel 1911, Muenscher 1951, Gardner & Bennetts 1956, McCord 1962, Hardin & Arena 1974) but there appear to be no properly documented case reports.
- Catalpa Scop.
This is a genus of 11 species of trees and shrubs, natives of East Africa and of North and South America. Several species are of horticultural value. Some species yield useful timber.
- Catalpa bignonioides Walter
- Indian Bean, Catalpa
The emanations from the fragrant flowers are said to be toxic and to irritate the skin and mucous membranes (White 1887, Pammel 1911, Weber 1937, Hurst 1942, Muenscher 1951), but evidence seems to be inconclusive.
This is the most popular species of Catalpa in cultivation.
- Catalpa ovata G.Don
- (syn. Catalpa kaempferi Siebold & Zucc.)
The wood from this species has been found to contain deoxylapachol (Inoue et al. 1979), a potent contact allergen (Schulz et al. 1977).
- Catalpa speciosa Warder
- Western Catalpa
Handling the flowers has reportedly produced dermatitis (Pammel 1911, Muenscher 1951). All listings appear to stem from anecdotal reports received by White (1887).
- Crescentia alata Kunth
- (syn. Parmentiera alata Miers)
A decoction of the leaves is reported to be used for promoting the growth of the hair (Standley 1926).
- Cybistax donnell-smithii Seib.
- (syn. Tabebuia dönnell-smittii Rose)
- Prima Vera
The wood of this species is known in the trade as white mahogany (Standley 1926). An extract of veneer produced from the wood was found to contain lapachenole as a major constituent. Lapachol was also present, but only as a minor constituent (Burnett & Thomson 1968). Lapachenole is a potent contact allergen (Schulz et al. 1977).
- Cydista aequinoctialis Miers
- (syn. Bignonia aequinoctialis L.)
This neotropical vine exhales a strong odour of garlic (Allium sativum L., fam. Alliaceae) when crushed (Standley 1926).
- Dolichandrone crispa Seem.
Prakash & Singh (1980) report the presence of lapachol in the heartwood of this species. Lapachol is a known elictor of contact dermatitis (Schulz et al. 1977).
- Haplophragma adenophyllum Dop.
- (syns Heterophragma adenophyllum Seem., Bignonia adenophylla Wall.)
Both the heartwood and the roots of this species contain lapachol (Singh et al. 1972, Joshi et al. 1979), a known elicitor of contact dermatitis (Schulz et al. 1977).
- Jacaranda Juss.
Some 50 species are known from Central and South America and the West Indies. Many are highly ornamental.
Unfortunately, the term jacaranda is used for the wood from certain trees in the family Leguminosae such as Dalbergia nigra Allemão and Machaerium scleroxylon Tul. It is therefore impossible to interpret case reports of dermatitis in which the responsible species was not botanically identified.
The wood of certain Jacaranda species has been used as a substitute for boxwood (see Buxaceae). Jacaranda chelonia Griseb. wood is used in cabinet making.
Krogh (1964), whilst investigating contact allergy to teak dust (Tectona grandis L.f., fam. Labiatae) in workers at a furniture factory, demonstrated contact sensitivity to lapachol, and noted that Jacaranda wood dust also had sensitising properties because of its lapachol content.
- Jacaranda acutifolia Humb. & Bonpl.
- Jacaranda mimosaefolia D.Don
- (syn. Jacaranda ovalifolia R.Br.)
The wood from these species has been listed as irritant (Schwartz et al. 1957).
- Jacaranda brasiliana Pers.
- (syn. Bignonia brasiliana Lam.)
This is one of many species known as jacaranda. It is said to contain lapachol (Krogh 1964), a known elicitor of contact dermatitis (Schulz et al. 1977).
Sandermann & Barghoorn (1956) list Bignonia brasiliana as a species capable of causing contact dermatitis.