Abutilon (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Abutilon Miller

Protologue: Gard. Dict., abr. ed. 4 (1754).
Family: Malvaceae
Chromosome number: x= unknown; A. hirtum: 2n= 14, 36; A. indicum: 2n= 36, 42

Major species

  • Abutilon indicum (L.) Sweet.

Vernacular names

  • Mallow (En)
  • Mauve (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Abutilon is a large genus comprising 100-150 species in the tropics and subtropics. Native species are encountered in all continents. Nine species are known from Malesia, but A. indicum, A. hirtum and A. theophrasti Medic. have gained a pantropical distribution as weeds or for fibre use.


Abutilon is used medicinally and occasionally as a fibre plant. A. indicum leaves contain much mucilage, and are therefore used as a demulcent, a diuretic and a sedative, in Malesia, Thailand and in India. In general, a decoction of the leaves, flowers or seeds is also used to treat fever, colic and diseases of the urinary tract, for cleaning wounds and ulcers and for treating snake bites. In India, the leaves are believed to be an aphrodisiac. In Indonesia, a decoction of the leaves is rubbed on the body against rheumatism. In Peninsular Malaysia, a poultice of the leaves is applied on gums for toothache, and an extract is dropped into the ear for earache. The leaves of A. indicum in decoction are used in the Philippines and in India for enemas and vaginal rinses or lotions. In Indo-China, the leaves, flowers and seeds are applied against colds and headaches, and the juice is given as a medicine against jaundice in newborn babies. In India, an infusion of the roots or the leaves is used as a cooling medicine, and for relieving strangury or haematuria. The bitter bark is astringent and is used as a diuretic. In Thailand, the whole plant is considered a blood tonic, promoting digestion and appetite, the root in decoction relieves cough, leucorrhoea with unpleasant odour and gall bladder dysfunction, and the flower is used as a laxative.

In Malesia, A. hirtum has the same use as A. indicum, as a poultice or bath against kidney gravel, and also for fevers and on ulcers, often mixed with glutinous rice, to ease the pain.

The stems of A. indicum yield a good quality fibre, which resembles that of A. theophrasti, and is suitable for making ropes. In Malesia, it is used in a domestic way, but not commercially. In India and Kenya, the bark of A. hirtum is used to make string.

Production and international trade

In South-East Asia, Abutilon is traded only at a local level by Chinese herbalists.


Upon steam distillation, the flowering tops of A. indicum yield 0.15% of an essential oil, which contains several terpenes, e.g.α-pinene (0.1%), 1:8-cineole (1%), caryophyllene (11.6%), borneol (0.6%), geraniol (13%), geraniol acetate (2%), caryophyllene-oxide (2%), eudesmol (22%) and farnesol (2.8%).

Leaves of A. indicum are rich in mucilage. In general the aerial parts of the plant are a rich source of sugars, amino acids and simple phenolic compounds as vanillic, p-coumaric, p-hydroxybenzoic and caffeic acids. Two sesquiterpene lactones, alantolactone (helenin) and isoalantolactone, were isolated from the aerial parts, which are known contact-allergens. The herb also contains a considerable amount ofβ-carotene, and thus can help to overcome problems of vitamin A deficiency. The seeds contain raffinose and glycerides of linolenic, linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids.

In India, the hexane, benzene, chloroform, ethyl acetate, acetone and ethanol extracts from A. indicum roots were tested against 5 bacteria and 12 fungi. The acetone and ethanol extracts showed significant activity against Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella aeruginosa, Proteus sp. and Staphylococcus sp. The hexane extract showed good activity against P. aeruginosa, and the benzene extract against E. coli and Proteus sp. The ethanol extract also was active against Aspergillus ochraceus, and the hexane extract against A. flavus, A. ochraceus, A. oryzae and A. terreus .

The methanol extract of A. indicum was found to be active as an antifertility agent in a study on uterotropic and uterine peroxidase activities in ovary-ectomized rats. In Pakistan, A. indicum is mentioned as a potential male contraceptive. There are also some reports on the analgesic activity of A. indicum.

Adulterations and substitutes

A decoction of the roots and leaves of Abutilon is used as an emollient in the same way as Sida, Triumfetta and Urena .


  • Annual or perennial herbs or undershrubs, stems and branches pubescent.
  • Leaves alternate, simple, entire or divided, base mostly cordate, palminerved; petiole present; stipules present.
  • Flowers axillary, solitary, or rarely in terminal cylindric panicles, bisexual, 5-merous; pedicels jointed; epicalyx absent; bracts absent; calyx usually campanulate; corolla adnate at base to staminal column and dehiscent, orange to yellow; staminal column usually shorter than the petals, anthers monothecal; styles equalling or twice as many as carpels (mericarps); carpels and style branches 5-40, cells of the ovary with 2-9 ovules.
  • Fruit globular or cylindrical, lobed schizocarp, splitting into 5-40 carpels.
  • Seeds 2-9 per cell, reniform, lying fairly loosely within the carpel, finally falling out.
  • Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Abutilon belongs to the tribe Malveae and is closely related to Wissadula, which has a different habit and inflorescence, and a constriction in the mericarp, so that 2 seeds are present in the upper part, and 1 in the lower part of the mericarp. Some authors recognize a number of subspecies or varieties within A. indicum.


The Malesian species of Abutilon are sun-loving, always occurring in open locations in lowland areas. All appear to prefer drier habitats. The flowers usually open in the afternoon or evening. Abutilon species are feed plants for humming-birds.

Propagation and planting

Abutilon is propagated by seed. In a preliminary study on in vitro propagation of the floral buds and anthers of A. indicum, some callus formation of the explants occurred. Flower buds showed callusing in 25% of the cases in two weeks, when cultured on Bourgin and Nitsch medium with growth adjuvants + 2% sucrose + 1 ppm indole acetic acid, and some further rooting occurred later.

Diseases and pests

Abutilon species are often effective hosts for diseases and pests that attack malvaceous crops. A. indicum is attacked by several powdery mildew fungi. Abutilon is a serious host for several insect pests of cotton, e.g. red cotton bug (Dysdercus koeningii), cotton bollworm (Heliothis armigera) and spotted cotton bollworm (Earias vittella). Root-knot nematodes such as Meloidogyne javanica and M. incognita also frequently attack Abutilon. In Nigeria, A. hirtum is a host for okra mosaic virus. A. indicum can be successfully controlled using phenoxy herbicides.


Abutilon leaves are harvested throughout the year, whole plants are harvested after flowering or fruiting.

Handling after harvest

Whole plants of Abutilon are used fresh or dried.

Genetic resources and breeding

The Abutilon species described here have a wide distribution, and occur also as weeds in disturbed places; therefore they are not likely to be threatened by genetic erosion. Small germplasm collections of A. indicum are kept in the United Kingdom and the United States.


No changes in the current uses of Abutilon species are yet foreseen. Since little information on phytochemistry and pharmacology is available, they will likely remain of local importance.


  • Geda, A. & Gupta, A.K., 1983. Chemical investigation of essential oil of Abutilon indicum. Perfumer and Flavorist 8(3): 39.
  • Johri, R.K., Pahwa, G.S., Sharma, S.C. & Zutshi, U., 1991. Determination of estrogenic-antiestrogenic potential of antifertility substances using rat uterine peroxidase assay. Contraception 44(5): 549-558.
  • Mehta, B.K., Neogi, R., Kotra, S. & Mall, O.P., 1997. Antimicrobial activity of Abutilon indicum. Fitoterapia 68 (3): 273-274.
  • Nataraja, K. & Patil, J.S., 1984. Responses of isolated floral buds and anthers of Abutilon indicum in vitro. Current Science 53(14): 757-759.
  • Quisumbing, E., 1978. Medicinal plants of the Philippines. Katha Publishing Co., Quezon City, the Philippines. pp. 574-575.
  • Van Borssum Waalkes, J., 1966. Malesian Malvaceae revised. Abutilon. Blumea 14(1): 159-177.


Balu Perumal