Poikilospermum Zipp. (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Poikilospermum Zipp. ex Miquel

Protologue: Ann. mus. lugd.-bat. 1: 203 (1864).
Family: Cecropiaceae
Chromosome number: x= unknown; 2n= unknown

Major species and synonyms

  • Poikilospermum amboinense Zipp. ex Miquel, Ann. mus. lugd.-bat. 1: 203 (1864), synonyms: Conocephalus amboinensis (Zipp. ex Miquel) Warb. (1894), Poikilospermum forbesii (Moore) Merrill (1934), P. hirsutum (H.J.P. Winkl.) Merrill (1934).
  • Poikilospermum suaveolens (Blume) Merrill, Contr. Arn. Arb. 8: 47 (1934), synonyms: Conocephalus suaveolens Blume (1825), C. violaceus (Blanco) Merrill (1905), Poikilospermum amoenum (King ex Hook.f.) Merrill (1934).

Vernacular names

  • P. amboinense : Indonesia: tali ayer (Malay).
  • P. suaveolens : Indonesia: mentawan (Malay), besto (Javanese), areuy kakejoan (Sundanese)
  • Malaysia: akar setawan, centawan, mentawan (Peninsular)
  • Philippines: anopol (Igorot, Bikol), hanopol, kanupul (Tagalog)
  • Cambodia: krâpë rôô
  • Thailand: airai (Bangkok), charai (peninsular), khaman (south-eastern)
  • Vietnam: sung dây, rum thơm.

Origin and geographic distribution

Poikilospermum comprises some 20 species and is found from north-eastern India and southern China to New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. It is absent from the Lesser Sunda Islands. P. amboinense is found in the Moluccas, New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago (New Britain). P. suaveolens is widespread and is found in India, Indo-China, south-eastern China, Thailand, the Nicobar Islands, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, the Moluccas and the Philippines.


Both Poikilospermum species have limited use as a stimulant. Tribal communities smoke short sections of the aerial roots of P. amboinense as cigarettes. The aerial roots and stems may be used as a source of potable water in the forest. Medicinal applications are reported from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. They include the use of the stem juice to cure eyesore, of decoctions and juice from pounded leaves to treat fever and kidney problems, and of poultices of leaves and roots to treat fever and itch. Leaves smeared with oil and heated are applied to the abdomen to treat complaints after childbirth. Furthermore, pounded stems are administered in a wash to exterminate head vermin, and aerial roots are smoked to cure nose ulcers. The fibrous bark is used as a rope.

Production and international trade

P. suaveolens is not traded internationally. Production is from wild plants only. Dried sections of the roots are sold by local herbalists as traditional medicine. Tribal communities collect the roots for smoking.


Epiphytic, dioecious, evergreen, stout and woody climbers or scramblers. Leaves arranged spirally; stipules connate, intrapetiolar, grooved on the back; petioles grooved above; blade simple, usually coriaceous, margin entire, cystoliths of adaxial surface arranged in circular groups, those of the abaxial surface arranged along veins, either punctiform or elongate in shape. Inflorescence axillary, cymose, branched one to many times, capitate or non-capitate; peduncle bracteate; flowers unisexual, generally small; male flower with 2-4(-5) tepals; stamens 2-4, opposite the tepals; pistillode present; female flower with 4-toothed or 4-lobed perianth; ovary superior, 1-locular with a single ovule, stigma subsessile. Fruit a small achene with mucilaginous mesocarp.

  • P. amboinense : Leaf blade elliptical or ovate to broadly ovate, (10-)15-30(-40) cm × (5-)10-15(-20) cm, base rounded to distinctly cordate, apex acuminate, glabrescent. Flowers in agglomerations with a solitary terminal flower in the ultimate dichotomies; male flower sessile; tepals 4; stamens 4; female flower sessile to subsessile; perianth minutely 4-toothed; stigma peltate. Achene with persistent perianth at base.
  • P. suaveolens : Leaf blade broadly ovate to elliptical or obovate, 10-40 cm × 6-25 cm, usually glabrous, base cuneate to distinctly cordate, apex acute to obtuse. Flowers in pseudo-umbellules; male flower sessile; tepals (2-)4, strongly incurved; stamens (2-)4; female flower pedicellate; perianth 4-lobed; stigma ligulate. Achene entirely covered by the persistent perianth.

Growth and development

Poikilospermum species usually start as an epiphyte, developing a profusely branching root system. After their roots reach the ground the plants start scrambling from branch to branch on the host and to neighbouring trees as well. In Java, P. suaveolens has been observed bearing flowers in all months of the year. Pollination is presumably by wind. A single record from the Botanical Gardens in Bogor states that the flowers of P. suaveolens are visited by the olive-backed sunbird ( Nectarinia jugularis ). The mucilaginous mesocarp suggests epizoochorous seed dispersal, presumably by birds.

Other botanical information

The two Poikilospermum species are distinctly different and belong to different subgenera. P. amboinense is characterized by a non-capitate inflorescence, female flowers with 4-toothed perianth, capitate stigma, and mature achene usually greatly exserted from the persistent perianth. P. suaveolens is characterized by a capitate inflorescence, female flowers with 4-lobed perianth, ligulate stigma, and mature achene usually entirely enclosed by the persistent perianth. P. naucleiflorum (Roxb. ex Lindl.) Chew (synonym Conocephalus naucleiflorus Roxb. ex Lindl.) has frequently incorrectly been treated as conspecific with P. suaveolens , from which it is distinct because of its greatly ramified inflorescence and its stigma being much shorter than the ovary. P. suaveolens is highly polymorphic and many taxa described as new species have proved to be conspecific with it. Poikilospermum seems to take a rather isolated position within the Cecropiaceae ; it is sometimes classified in the Urticaceae .


Poikilospermum species are quite common in forests, often beside rivers and streams. P. amboinense occurs up to 550 m altitude, whereas P. suaveolens is found up to 1500 m. The latter prefers more open forest and brushwood, but is rare in monsoon forest.

Propagation and planting

Poikilospermum can be propagated by seed and probably vegetatively by cuttings as well.

Diseases and pests

In its natural habitat Poikilospermum grows very well with no evidence of any diseases or pests.


Harvesting aerial roots from wild Poikilospermum plants for drinking water, traditional medicine or cigarettes does not cause any apparent harm to the plants. Roots regenerate quickly and new branches are formed near the cut ends.

Handling after harvest

Aerial roots of Poikilospermum can be sun dried and should be kept under dry and airy conditions and free from insect pests.

Genetic resources and breeding

There are no known germplasm collections and breeding programmes of Poikilospermum .


Since the use of Poikilospermum is very local, there are at present no prospects for its further development.


  • Berg, C.C., 1989. Systematics and phylogeny of the Urticales. In: Crane, P.R. & Blackmore, S. (Editors): Evolution, systematics, and fossil history of the Hamamelidae. Vol. 2. "Higher" Hamamelidae. The Systematics Association Special Volume No 40B. Clarendon Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. pp. 193-220.
  • Bonsen, K. & ter Welle, B.J.H., 1983. Comparative wood and leaf anatomy of the Cecropiaceae (Urticales). Bulletin du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 4esér., 5, section B, Adansonia: 151-177.
  • Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Slightly revised reprint of the 1935 edition. Vol. 1. Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 659-660.
  • Chew, W.L., 1963. Florae Malesianae Precursores 34. A revision of the genus Poikilospermum (Urticaceae). The Gardens' Bulletin, Singapore 20(1): 1-96.
  • Heide, F., 1927. Observations on the pollination of some flowers in the Dutch East Indies. Dansk Botanisk Arkiv 5(3): 1-42.
  • Heyne, K., 1927. De nuttige planten van Nederlandsch-Indië [The useful plants of the Dutch East Indies]. 2nd edition. Vol. 1. Departement van Landbouw, Nijverheid en Handel in Nederlandsch-Indië. pp. 579, 587.
  • Kubitzki, K., 1993. Cecropiaceae. In: Kubitzki, K., Rohwer, J.G. & Bittrich, V. (Editors): The families and genera of vascular plants. Vol. 2. Flowering plants. Dicotyledons. Magnoliid, Hamamelid and Caryophyllid families. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. pp. 243-246.
  • Ng, F.S.P. & Low, C.M., 1985. Yield of drinkable water by Poikilospermum and other forest plants. Nature Malaysiana 10(2): 4-7.
  • Perry, L.M., 1980. Medicinal plants of East and Southeast Asia: attributed properties and uses. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. p. 422.
  • Ridley, H.N., 1924. The flora of the Malay Peninsula. Vol. 3. Apetalae. L. Reeve & Co., London, United Kingdom. pp. 356-358.


H.C. Ong & Wardah