Cassytha filiformis (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Cassytha filiformis L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 35 (1753).
Family: Cassythaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 48

Vernacular names

  • Dodder laurel, seashore dodder, woe vine (En).
  • Liane sans tête, liane sans fin, liane ficelle (Fr).
  • Brunei: akar janjang (Sengkurong)
  • Indonesia: tali puteri (Javanese), sangga langit (Sundanese), akar pengalasan (Bangka)
  • Malaysia: chemar batu
  • Philippines: kaduad-kawaran (Tagalog), barutbarut (Iloko), malabohok (Tagalog, Bikol, Bisaya)
  • Thailand: khiang kham (eastern), khueang kham khok (north-eastern), chong naang khlee (peninsular)
  • Vietnam: dây tơ xanh, tơ hồng xanh.

Origin and geographic distribution

C. filiformis is widespread in the tropics of both hemispheres; in the Old World it is distributed from Africa to Asia, central and southern China, Japan, through South-East Asia and northern Australia.


Throughout its distribution area, C. filiformis is considered astringent and diuretic. In India, Vietnam, China and also in Central America, an infusion of the stems is taken as a tonic, for biliousness, piles, diarrhoea and spermatorrhoea. Externally, the stems are used for cleaning ulcers and an infusion as an eyewash. In Indonesia, the pounded stems are given as a vermifuge and for other intestinal troubles. In Java, the stems are also used for headache, malaria, fever, nephritis, oedema, hepatitis, and urinary problems. In Brunei, a decoction of the stems is drunk or applied to the skin to relieve itch and eczema. In the Philippines, a decoction of the plant is taken to hasten parturition, and to prevent haemoptysis. In Fiji, a drink made with crushed stems in water is drunk to treat indigestion, difficult parturition and to reduce fever. It is also taken for haemorrhoids, to treat sinusitis and to promote menstruation. In Peninsular Malaysia and India, the stems are dried, powdered and mixed with sesame oil to make a mucilaginous hair tonic, but this use may be attributed to the luxuriant hair-like appearance of the stems. In several African countries, the whole plant is used for treating venereal discharges, urethritis, diarrhoea, gonorrhoea and syphilis. It also has a widespread reputation for use against parasitic conditions of the skin and scalp. In southern Nigeria, a decoction is taken by women to suppress lactation after a stillbirth.

In East Africa, the pounded stems of C. filiformis are used to prepare a brown dye.

Production and international trade

C. filiformis is only traded on a local scale.


C. filiformis (especially the stem) contains a series of alkaloids belonging to the aporphine type, biosynthetically derived from the amino acid phenylalanine. These include: actinodaphnine, N-methylactinodaphnine, cassameridine, cassamedine, cathafiline, cathaformine, cassyformine, cassyfiline, cassythidine, filiformine (oxyaporphine type), isoboldine, laurotetanin, lysicamine, ocoteine and predicentrine. Further phytochemical investigations also revealed the presence of the lignan (+)-diasyringaresinol, together with positive reactions for tannins, saponins and leucanthocyanins.

Several of these isolated alkaloids show pharmacological activities, e.g. laurotetanin is a tetanizing drug which produces cramps, and in high doses, death. Cathafiline, cathaformine, actinodaphnine, N-methylactinodaphnine, predicentrine, and ocoteine exhibited significant inhibitory activity of rabbit platelet aggregation induced by adenosine diphosphate, arachidonic acid, collagen and platelet-activating factor (PAF) in vitro. In addition, actinodaphnine and N-methylactinodaphnine also exhibited strong inhibition of the contraction of aortic preparations in vitro, induced by K+ and norepinephrine, and ocoteine was found to be a selective α-1-adrenoceptor blocking agent by using the rat thoracic aorta preparation (competitive antagonism of phenylephrine-induced vasoconstriction) in vitro. Methanolic and aqueous extracts had marked uterotonic effects both in vitro and in vivo which could be compared to that of oxytocin.

Finally, an ethanol extract exhibited molluscicidal activity at a dose of 100 ppm, and a methanol extract exhibited anti-trypanosomal activity against Trypanosoma vivax, when administered intraperitoneally to mice.


  • A perennial, twining parasitic or hemiparasitic plant, stems filiform, 3-8 m long, much branched, often matted together, glabrous or pubescent, dark green, brown, yellow or orange; haustoria small.
  • Leaves reduced to tiny scales, spirally arranged, early caducous.
  • Inflorescence an axillary, short, lax spike, 1.5-4 cm long, rachis rather thick.
  • Flowers small, bisexual, sessile, protogynous, bracts 3, small, ciliate, perianth persistent; sepals 3, triangular-ovate, about 2 mm large, apex obtuse, not fleshy; petals 3, ovate-oblong, about 3 mm × 2 mm, concave, valvate, somewhat fleshy, white or yellowish; stamens in 4 whorls of 3, fertile stamens 9, anthers basifixed, 2-celled, dehiscent by uplifting valves, white, filaments laterally expanded, 2 outer whorls almost equal, eglandular, anthers introrse, third whorl with 2 glands at base, anthers extrorse, fourth whorl staminodal, small, yellow; ovary superior, hairy, style short, erect, stigma capitate or slightly 3-parted.
  • Fruit a globose drupe, 6-9 mm in diameter, surrounded by fleshy perianth, slimy, black when ripe, narrow orifice at apex.
  • Seed 1, with hard seed coat; endosperm absent, embryo well differentiated, straight.

Growth and development

C. filiformis is a hemiparasite when the stems contain chlorophyll, the green colour often being more pronounced on young stems. It becomes a holoparasite when the chlorophyll disappears, and the stems turn yellow or orange. It attaches itself by means of its haustoria indiscriminately to various herbs and shrubs, often forming dense mats that can kill the host. In India 42 species of host plants have been determined, in the Philippines 36 species from 25 families and in the Bahamas 81 host species from 45 families. In Java, C. filiformis is found flowering and fruiting throughout the year.

Other botanical information

Cassytha comprises about 17-20 species, distributed throughout the tropics of the Old World. In Australia, 15 species are found, of which 13 are endemic. C. filiformis is rather often confounded with Cuscuta (Convolvulaceae), which is similar in habit, but has 5-merous flowers, with a tubular corolla and fruit which is an ovoid or globose capsule. Cassytha is often treated as an aberrant genus of Lauraceae, but cladistics confirm its status as a separate family.


C. filiformis occurs especially on the seashore and areas immediately behind the shore, often forming a dense blanket over thickets. Occasionally, it is found in the interior, but not higher than 600 m altitude. It is found both in moist and dry regions.

Propagation and planting

C. filiformis is propagated by seed. The seeds have dormancy, and germinate only after softening by microbial action. The fruits are dispersed by sea currents and by birds.

Diseases and pests

As C. filiformis is a parasite on many plant species, it is considered a weed, and e.g. in young coconut plantations it can do considerable damage by extracting plant sap from the host and by covering the host with a dense mat of stems. C. filiformis is a host for citrus mosaic virus and citrus yellow corky vein, and has been found to transmit the virus from one Citrus species to another. A mycoplasma-like organism causing root wilt in coconut, and normally transferred by a lace bug (Stephanitis typicus), may also be transmitted through C. filiformis to Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don. The larvae of the lepidopteran Zetona delospila from Australia feed specifically on Cassytha.


C. filiformis is harvested from the wild, when needed.

Handling after harvest

C. filiformis is normally used fresh, but can also be dried for later use.

Genetic resources and breeding

Because C. filiformis is a widespread species, growing on a wide range of hosts, it is not likely to be threatened by genetic erosion.


Several alkaloids from C. filiformis (actinodaphnine, ocoteine and laurotetanin) display interesting pharmacological activities, which could be of use especially in experimental pharmacological research. In order to evaluate their possible potential as lead compounds in the future development of new clinically active substances, more information is required, for instance on their toxicology.


  • Aguwa, C.N., 1987. Uterotonic activity of Cassytha filiformis. Fitoterapia 58(5): 291-294.
  • Chang, C.W., Ko, F.N., Su, M.J., Wu, Y.C. & Teng, C.M., 1997. Pharmacological evaluation of ocoteine, isolated from Cassytha filiformis, as an alpha 1-adrenoceptor antagonist in rat thoracic aorta. Japanese Journal of Pharmacology 73(3): 207-214.
  • Parker, C. & Riches, C.R., 1993. Parasitic weeds of the world. Biology and control. CAB International, Wallingford, United Kingdom. pp. 222-224.
  • Quisumbing, E., 1978. Medicinal plants of the Philippines. Katha Publishing Co., Quezon City, the Philippines. pp. 318-320.
  • Weber, J.Z., 1981. A taxonomic revision of Cassytha (Lauraceae) in Australia. Journal of the Adelaide Botanical Garden 3(3): 187-262.
  • Wu, Y.C., Chang, F.R., Chao, Y.C. & Teng, C.M., 1998. Antiplatelet and vasorelaxing actions of aporphinoids from Cassytha filiformis. Phytotherapy Research 12, Suppl. 1: 539-541.

Other selected sources

  • [74] Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink Jr, R.C., 1964—1968. Flora of Java. 3 volumes. Noordhoff, Groningen, the Netherlands. Vol. 1 (1964) 647 pp., Vol. 2 (1965) 641 pp., Vol. 3 (1968) 761 pp.
  • [135] Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Revised reprint. 2 volumes. Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Vol. 1 (A—H) pp. 1—1240, Vol. 2 (I—Z) pp. 1241—2444.
  • [142] Calvin, M., 1987. Fuel oils from euphorbs and other plants. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 94: 97—110.
  • [152] Chafe, U.M., Daneji, A.I. & Ibrahim, M.A., 1994. Preliminary observations on the acute toxicity and antitrypanosomal activity of Cassytha filiformis L. in mice. Tropical Veterinarian 12(3/4): 147—157.
  • [407] Heyne, K., 1950. De nuttige planten van Indonesië [The useful plants of Indonesia]. 3rd Edition. 2 volumes. W. van Hoeve, 's-Gravenhage, the Netherlands/Bandung, Indonesia. 1660 + CCXLI pp.
  • [685] Mohana Rao, P.R., 1980. Seed and fruit anatomy of Cassytha filiformis L. with comments on its systematic position. Israel Journal of Botany 28(1): 44—50.
  • [696] Morton, J.F., 1981. Atlas of medicinal plants of Middle America. Bahamas to Yucatan. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, United States. 1420 pp.
  • [757] Okunji, C.O. & Iwu, M.M., 1988. Control of Schistosomiasis using Nigerian medicinal plants as molluscicides. International Journal of Crude Drug Research 26(4): 246—252.
  • [872] Sasikala, M., Mathen, K., Govindankutty, M.P., Solomon, J.J. & Geetha, L., 1988. Transmission of a mycoplasma-like organism from Cocos nucifera with root (wilt) disease to Catharanthus roseus by Cassytha filiformis. Netherlands Journal of Plant Pathology 94(4): 191—194.
  • [1069] Wijayakusuma, H.M.H., Dalimartha, S. & Wirian, A.S., 1994. Tanaman berkhasiat obat di Indonesia [Medicinal plants in Indonesia]. Vol. 3. Pustaka Kartini, Jakarta, Indonesia. 143 pp.


  • Trimurti Hesti Wardini