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about 25 species; see text
Cinchona is a genus of about 25 species in the family Rubiaceae, native to tropical South America. They are large shrubs or small trees growing to 5-15 metres tall with evergreen foliage.
The leaves are opposite, rounded to lanceolate, 10-40 cm long. The flowers are white, pink or red, produced in terminal panicles. The fruit is a small capsule containing numerous seeds.
The name of the genus is due to Linnaeus, who named the tree in 1742 after a Countess of Chinchon, the wife of a viceroy of Peru, who, in 1638, was introduced by natives to the medicinal properties of the bark. Stories of the medicinal properties of this bark, however, are perhaps noted in journals as far back as the 1560s-1570s (see the Ortiz link below).
Cinchona species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including The Engrailed, The Commander, and members of the genus Endoclita including E. damor, E. purpurescens and E. sericeus.
The bark of trees in this genus are the source of a variety of alkaloids, the most familiar of which is quinine, an anti-fever agent especially useful in treating malaria.
Cinchona alkaloids such as quinine (R = vinyl, R’ = methoxy), cinchonidine (R = vinyl, R’ = hydrogen) and dihydroquinidine & dihydroquinine (enantiomers with R = ethyl, R’ = methoxy) and find use in organic chemistry as organocatalysts in asymmetric synthesis.