Cibotium barometz (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Cibotium barometz (L.) J. Smith

Protologue: London Journ. Bot. 1: 437 (1842).
Family: Dicksoniaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 136


  • Polypodium barometz L. (1753),
  • Aspidium barometz Willd. (1810),
  • Dicksonia baranetz Link (1841).

Vernacular names

  • Scythian lamb, Tartarian lamb, golden lamb (En)
  • Indonesia: penawar jambi, paku simpai, bulu jambe
  • Malaysia: penawar jambi, bulu pusi, bulu empusi
  • Philippines: borabor (Ilokano), salagisog (Bikol), tinampa (Igorot)
  • Thailand: kut phipa (northern), wan kai noi (central), ninla phosi (peninsular)
  • Vietnam: cẩu tích, lông cu li, ráng cát tu, cây lông khỉ.

Origin and geographic distribution

C. barometz occurs from north-eastern India to southern China and Taiwan, throughout continental South-East Asia and to Sumatra, Java, the Philippines and north to the Ryukyu Islands.


The golden-coloured hairs on the rhizome and young parts of C. barometz and other Cibotium species have long been used in China, South-East Asia and elsewhere as a styptic to stop bleeding. In China and Japan an extract of the rhizome ("gouji") is used as an antirheumatic, to stimulate the liver and kidneys, to strengthen the spine, to expel wind and dampness, and as a prostatic remedy. On indication of deficiency of the liver and kidneys, manifested as pain in the lower back and knees, gouji is used with the bark of the hardy rubber tree ( Eucommia ulmoides Oliv.), teasel root ( Dipsacus sp.) and cyathula root ( Achyranthes bidentata Blume). When accompanied by invasion of wind and dampness, manifested as soreness and pain in the lower back and knees and motoric impairment, gouji is used with cinnamon twigs, bigleaf gentian root ( Gentiana macrophylla Pall.) and futokadsura stem ( Kadsura japonica Dunal). In the Philippines, the stem is used to treat topical wounds and ulcers. In Malaysia an infusion of the leaves is said to cure fainting. The hairs have also been used to stuff pillows and cushions; such pillows are very cool during warm nights and are well suited to use in the tropics, but the hairs easily break when they become dry and they can irritate the skin and lungs when they pass through the pillow case. In general, all Cibotium species have also ornamental value and, e.g. crowns with croziers are cut for table decoration. In China a diluted solution of plant parts is used to control aphids and spider mites. The hairy rhizome of C. barometz is supposed to have given rise to the fable of the Scythian lamb (Tartarian lamb, vegetable lamb) which was said to grow on a stalk like a plant and to devour plants (or just air) around it. The suggestion is that a piece of the rhizome of C. barometz , with 4 stipes attached, inverted, may have had a lamb-like appearance. Such pieces of rhizome were sold from a very early date for their hairs which will staunch a bleeding wound. They were also used as charms hung in houses to ward off evil. Such pieces are still sold as charms in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan. When forests were cleared in Peninsular Malaysia in the 1970s, many such tree ferns became accessible to collectors who cut off their apices and sold them in pots as Golden Chicken plants, to be used as table ornaments and charms. The vendors claimed that these plants would keep the house cool, ward off evil and cure certain illnesses.

Production and international trade

In the past the golden yellow hairs (variously called "pili cibotii", "agneau de Scythie" or "golden moss") of C. barometz were a much-traded medicinal commodity, for which around 1900 a new, strong, worldwide demand arose because its styptic qualities were far better than those of chemical products. Its common trade name was "penawar jambi". Interest declined, however, in South-East Asia as supply was unable to meet demand at the time. No further information exists on its current use, but there is still international trade in the hairs, e.g. a single French company is known to process 100 kg of "pili cibotii" per year. Dried rhizome parts ("rhizoma cibotii") are offered for sale by companies selling herbals. In its trade as an ornamental there is some confusion with Macrothelypteris torresiana Gaud. In the medicine trade it is also known by the Chinese name "gou ji" as well as "chain fern", which is normally associated with Woodwardia sp.


A chemical analysis of C. barometz in Japan revealed that 100 g of the aboveground parts contained 11 mg pterosin R, 24 mg onitin, 75 mg onitin-2'-O-β-D-glucoside, and 13 mg onitin-2'-O-β-D-alloside. The rhizome also contains up to 8% (but usually much less) of an oil, of which palmitic acid and linoleic acid were the major constituents. In the rhizomes of several Cibotium species starch is present in extractable amounts. In Hawaii it is extracted from C. chamissoi Kaulf., but in general it is only extracted in case of serious food shortage.


  • A large tree fern with stem usually creeping and, like the petiole bases, covered with stiff, golden hairs.
  • Caudex (trunk) massive, prostrate to erect, up to 2-3 m long, the young parts at the top very densely covered with shiny golden-brown hairs up to more than 4 cm long, young plants softly hairy throughout.
  • Leaves in a tuft at the apex of the trunk; petiole stout, sometimes attaining 2 cm in diameter, more than 1.5 m long in larger ones, brownish, bases hairy like the caudex, the rest tomentose when young, glabrescent when old; lamina bipinnately compound, ovate to elliptical in outline, up to 2 m × 1 m, under side glaucous, upper side darker green, at underside the veins with pale, entangled, flaccid, appressed hairs (young plants hairy throughout); rachis brown, densely covered with pale to ferrugineous hairs; pinnae many, alternating, pinnate-pinnatifid, in outline oblong to lanceolate, the largest ones up to 80 cm × 25 cm, stalk 0.5-1 cm long, apex acuminate; pinnules numerous, often with a few pairs of tertiary leaflets at the base, deeply pinnatifid throughout, very shortly stalked or subsessile at distal parts of pinnae, linear-lanceolate, 10-15 cm × 1.5-2.5 cm, broadly cuneate to subtruncate at base, gradually narrowing towards acuminate apex; ultimate divisions oblong, oblique to subfalcate, 0.8-1.4 cm × about 3 mm, acute at apex, shallowly but distinctly dentate at margin; veins distinct, oblique, once (or twice in larger lobes) forked, sparsely hairy below.
  • Sori protected by two indusia which are alike in texture and different from the green lamina; outer indusium deflexed so that the sorus appears to be on the underside of the lobe, permanently round; inner indusium at maturity bending back towards the costule and elongating, becoming oblong; the two indusia joined together for a short distance at their bases, thus forming a small cup, terminal on usually unbranched lower veins, 2-4 or more pairs on a lobe on the largest leaves, parallel to edge of lobes; paraphyses long and numerous; sporangia gradate, annulus oblique and opening laterally.
  • Spores with equatorial ridge, annulate or annulotrilete; exine with proximal face bearing 3 rows of short laesural ridges, distal face with a distal ridge.

Growth and development

When a spore of C. barometz germinates it first develops the gametophyte which has no remarkable features except for its primitive antheridia. Although C. barometz usually develops as a prostrate creeper, sometimes the stem apex is ascending.

Other botanical information

Cibotium Kaulfuss comprises 11 species, 3 in Asia, 2 in Central America and 6 in Hawaii, and has also been classified in Culcitaceae, Cyatheaceae, Cystodiaceae and Thyrsopteridaceae , indicating its somewhat isolated position because it is old and primitive and phylogenetic relations are not clear as a result of extinction. The name "barometz" derives from the Russian "baran", a lamb, "baranets", a diminutive form; some authors prefer the more correct spelling "baronetz" for the name of this species, but Linnaeus used "barometz".

In Indonesia, hairs of the related tree fern Dicksonia blumei (Kunze) Moore have been used as a substitute for those of C. barometz as a styptic for bleeding wounds. D. blumei is only found at altitudes of 1500-2500 m in Indonesia (Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi) in mountain forest. It has a trunk up to 6 m in length with leaves up to 3 m long; the substitute hairs are pale (some are reddish), slender, rigid and spreading and can be found as an undercoat of the petiole base, on the lower surface of pinna-rachis and costae; the petiole base is clothed with much longer spreading red-brown shining hairs 3-5 cm long. It is likely that hairs of other Dicksonia species (there are 7 in South-East Asia, particularly in New Guinea) have being used similarly.


C. barometz grows on open hill slopes and stream banks in tropical evergreen forest at 500-800 m altitude, and in lower mountain forest at 1000-1600 m altitude, preferably on non-calcareous soils. It becomes prolific in areas where the forest is disturbed. The thick, prostrate caudex is not killed by light burning.

Propagation and planting

C. barometz grows from spores and in the wild it possibly chiefly spreads by the establishment of new plants on landslides. In the Botanic Garden of Singapore it grows well amongst old coral rocks in moderate shade.


C. barometz is not cultivated commercially. The plant is hardy and easily grown. It will grow in sun or shade, needs good drainage and responds to mulch and extra water during dry periods.


The hairs of C. barometz are harvested whenever needed. For medicinal use, the rhizomes are dug in autumn.

Handling after harvest

The harvested rhizome of C. barometz is cleaned of soil and the fibrous roots are removed, then soaked in wine for one day, steamed, cut into slices, dried in the sun and used or stored.

Genetic resources and breeding

In most countries where it occurs naturally, C. barometz is becoming rare due to the uncontrolled collection of the rhizome parts for medicinal purposes. C. barometz has been included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which means that no export is allowed (except for spores and seedling or tissue cultures obtained in vitro) without a prior permit issued by the CITES committee. C. barometz needs protection and germplasm collection. Breeding programmes do not exist but cultivation for medicinal and ornamental purposes is recommended.


In the past C. barometz was an important source of medicine in China, Europe, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, and it is still being used in South-East Asia in traditional medicine. Research on the possibilities for its domestication also outside its natural habitat may be considered to meet the increasing demand for its hairs and as an ornamental.


  • Devol, C.E. & Shieh, W.-C., 1994. Dicksoniaceae. 1. Cibotium. In: Huang, T.-C. (General Editor): Flora of Taiwan. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Pteridophyta and Gymnospermae. Editorial Committee of the Flora of Taiwan, Taipei, Taiwan. pp. 140-143.
  • Holttum, R.E., 1963. Cyatheaceae. 4. Cibotium. In: van Steenis, C.G.G.J. & Holttum, R.E. (General Editors): Flora Malesiana. Series 2. Vol. 1, Part 2. Martinus Nijhoff/Dr. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, The Netherlands. pp. 164-166. * Holttum, R.E., 1966. A revised flora of Malaya. 2nd Edition. Vol. 2. Ferns of Malaya. Government Printing Office, Singapore. pp. 112-114.
  • Nakato, N., 1987. Notes on chromosomes of Japanese Pteridophytes (1). Journal of Japanese Botany 62(9): 261-267.
  • Tagawa, M. & Iwatsuki, K., 1979. Cibotium. In: Tagawa, M. & Iwatsuki, K. (Volume editors), 1979-1989. Pteridophytes. In: Smitinand, T., Larsen, K. (Series editors): Flora of Thailand. Vol. 3. Forest Herbarium, Royal Forest Department, Bangkok, Thailand. pp. 108-110.
  • Takao, M., Satake, T., Ninomiya, K., Iida, H., Yamauchi, K., Tanaka, N., Saiki, Y. & Chen, C.M., 1980. Pterosin-Derivate aus der Familie Pteridaceae [Pterosin-derivates from the family Pteridaceae]. Phytochemistry 19: 1743-1746.
  • Zamora, P.M. & Co, L., 1986. Guide to Philippine flora and fauna. Vol. 2. Economic ferns, endemic ferns, gymnosperms. Natural Resources Management Center, Ministry of Natural Resources and University of the Philippines, Goodwill Bookstore, Manila, The Philippines. pp. 26-27.


Titien Ngatinem Praptosuwiryo