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    Plants synthesize a wide range of bioactive secondary metabolites to defend against pests and pathogens. Red alder (Alnus rubra) bark, root, and leaf extract have a long history of use in traditional medicine and hygiene. Diarylheptanoids, especially oregonin ((5S)-1,7-bis(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-5-(β-D-xylopyranosyloxy)-heptan-3-one), have been identified as major bioactive constituents. Diarylheptanoids have become a focus of research following reports of their antioxidant, antifungal, and anti-cancer activities. Recent data suggest that high oregonin concentration is associated with resistance of red alder leaves to western tent caterpillar (Malacosoma californicum) defoliation. Here we test effects of this compound directly on leaf-eating insects. Purified oregonin was examined in insect choice and toxicity tests using lepidopteran caterpillars. The compound exhibited significant anti-feedant activity against cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni), white-marked tussock moth (Orgyia leucostigma), fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea), and M. californicum at concentrations corresponding to oregonin content of the most resistant alder clones in previous experiments. Toxicity tests were carried out with cabbage looper larvae only, but no contact or ingested toxicity was detected. Our results suggest that oregonin at levels found in red alder leaves early in the growing season may contribute to protecting red alder from leaf-eating insects.


    Carmen S Lea, Stephen G Bradbury, C Peter Constabel. Anti-Herbivore Activity of Oregonin, a Diarylheptanoid Found in Leaves and Bark of Red Alder (Alnus rubra). Journal of chemical ecology. 2021 Feb;47(2):215-226

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    PMID: 33475940

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