Acalypha villicaulis (PROTA)
Acalypha villicaulis Hochst.
- Protologue: Sched. Schimperi Iter. Abyss., sectio secunda, coll. no.: 737 (1842).
- Family: Euphorbiaceae
- Acalypha brachiata Krauss (1845),
- Acalypha petiolaris Hochst. ex C.Krauss (1845),
- Acalypha senensis Klotzsch (1861),
- Ricinocarpus petiolaris (Hochst. ex C.Krauss) Kuntze (1891).
Origin and geographic distribution
Acalypha villicaulis occurs from Senegal east to Ethiopia and south to South Africa and Swaziland.
The Tenda people of Senegal place the chopped leaves on wounds to improve healing. The steam of a leaf decoction is inhaled to treat fever. Leaf ash in water is taken to treat elephantiasis. In Rwanda the pounded leaves, twigs and flowers are applied to snakebites. The fresh or dried aerial parts are crushed and the decoction drunk to treat liver diseases. In East and southern Africa a leaf infusion is applied to wounds and sores. In Uganda a leaf maceration is taken to treat epilepsy. A root infusion is given to children who suffer from burning urine. A root decoction is widely taken to treat diarrhoea, and also to treat cough, as an aphrodisiac, and to prevent premature ejaculation. In southern Africa a root decoction is drunk as an abortifacient and contraceptive. The root powder or paste with fat is applied to treat itch. In Namibia a root decoction is taken to treat cough. The pounded and heated leaves are applied to wasp stings. In Zimbabwe a root decoction is taken to treat bloody diarrhoea, asthma and male sterility. In Senegal and Zimbabwe the water in which roots are soaked is used to bathe constipated babies; the water may also be drunk.
Monoecious perennial herb or small shrub up to 2 m tall, with woody rootstock; stems erect, ascending or decumbent, hairy. Leaves arranged spirally, simple; stipules subulate-filiform, 1.5–4(–6) mm long, glandular at base; petiole 1–3(–5) cm long, hairy, with 2 glands at base; blade ovate-lanceolate to lanceolate, (2–)5–12.5(–14) × 1–4 cm, base cordate, apex acuminate, margins coarsely toothed, membranous, shortly hairy on both surfaces, more hairy along the midrib, 7-veined at base and with 5–8 pairs of lateral veins. Male inflorescence an axillary, solitary raceme up to 12 cm long, many-flowered; female inflorescence a terminal, solitary, head-shaped spike up to 3 cm long, peduncle short, bracts transversely ovate, c. 0.5 cm × 1 cm, toothed, with glandular hairs, enlarging in fruit. Flowers unisexual, petals absent; male flowers with pedicel c. 1 mm long, calyx 4-lobed, minute, almost glabrous, yellowish green, stamens 8, free, anthers curled, yellow; female flowers sessile, sepals 3, ovate-lanceolate, c. 1 mm long, ciliate, ovary superior, c. 1 mm in diameter, 3-lobed to globular, 3-celled, styles 3, free, c. 1.5 mm long, fringed, red. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule c. 4 mm × 5 mm, sparingly hairy, splitting into 3 cocci, each 2-valved and 1-seeded. Seeds ovoid-globose, c. 2.5 mm × 2 mm, smooth, dark grey, caruncle depressed-hemispherical.
Other botanical information
Acalypha comprises about 460 species and occurs throughout the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate regions, excluding Europe. In tropical Africa about 65 species occur and in Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands about 35 species. Several other small perennial Acalypha species with male and female flowers in separate inflorescences have medicinal uses.
In Burundi a root decoction of Acalypha ambigua Pax, occurring from Burundi south to Namibia and Zimbabwe, is drunk or used as an enema or in a vapour bath to treat insanity and possession. The plant is widely browsed by livestock.
Acalypha allenii Hutch. occurs in south-eastern Africa; in Zimbabwe an infusion of the pounded roots mixed with bone meal is taken to treat oedema. Root paste is used as an enema to treat diarrhoea of children. A root infusion is drunk as an aphrodisiac.
Acalypha villicaulis is widespread in open woodland and grassland, and also in coastal and lakeshore grassland, sometimes in riverine and submontane forest, from sea-level up to 2200 m altitude.
Acalypha villicaulis has a large distribution area and is common. It is therefore not threatened by genetic erosion.
Acalypha villicaulis has many medicinal uses, especially in eastern and southern Africa to treat diarrhoea and cough, and externally to treat wounds. The species will remain of local importance only though, unless research into the chemical composition and pharmacology gives interesting results.
- Gelfand, M., Mavi, S., Drummond, R.B. & Ndemera, B., 1985. The traditional medical practitioner in Zimbabwe: his principles of practice and pharmacopoeia. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe. 411 pp.
- Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
- Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1996. Euphorbiaceae, subfamilies Phyllantoideae, Oldfieldioideae, Acalyphoideae, Crotonoideae and Euphorbioideae, tribe Hippomaneae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 1–337.
- Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
- Ramathal, D.C. & Ngassapa, O.D., 2001. Medicinal plants used by Rwandese traditional healers in refugee camps in Tanzania. Pharmaceutical Biology 39(2): 132–137.
- Stäuble, N., 1986. Etude ethnobotanique des Euphorbiacées d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 16: 23–103.
- Tabuti, J.R.S., Lye, K.A. & Dhillion, S.S., 2003. Traditional herbal drugs of Bulamogi, Uganda: plants, use and administration. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88: 19–44.
- G.H. Schmelzer, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article
Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Acalypha villicaulis Hochst. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 17 November 2020.
- See the Prota4U database.