Cuscuta kilimanjari (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Cuscuta kilimanjari Lam.

distribution in Africa (wild)
Protologue: Trans. Linn. Soc. Bot., Ser. 2, 2: 343 (1887).
Family: Convolvulaceae


  • Cuscuta chinensis Cufod., non Lam. (1786).

Vernacular names

  • Dodder (En).
  • Cuscute (Fr).
  • Cuscuta (Po).
  • Mlangamia (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Cuscuta kilimanjari occurs from Sudan and Ethiopia through eastern Africa and DR Congo south to Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Limpopo (South Africa). It also occurs in Madagascar.


In Kenya Embu people drink a decoction of the whole plant for the treatment of stomach-ache. Sap from the stem is applied as ear drops to treat ear infections. The Kambu people take a stem infusion against pregnancy-related oedema.

In Kivu province, DR Congo a maceration made from several plants, including Cuscuta kilimanjari, is orally given once a day as a treatment of post-partum paraplegia in veterinary medicine. In the same region, Cuscuta kilimanjari also enters into a complex medicine to prevent or treat agalactia.

In Ethiopia the plant is eaten by cattle. The flowers yield honey.


Twining, herbaceous, obligate stem-parasite, annual or rarely perennial. Roots absent except in seedling. Stems up to 1.5 mm in diameter, yellowish or reddish, almost no chlorophyll, attached to host with haustoria. Leaves reduced to scales. Inflorescence a few-flowered cyme; peduncle with ovate bracts up to 4.5 mm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4–5-merous; pedicel shorter than the flower; calyx cup-shaped, nearly enclosing the corolla, lobes 4–5, ovate to circular, 4–6 mm long, obtuse, rather thick; corolla campanulate, lobes 4–5, ovate or circular, obtuse, shorter than the tube, often revolute, pale cream, a whorl of fringed scales near stamens; stamens 4–5, inserted at the throat and alternating with the corolla-lobes, up to 1 mm long; ovary superior, globose, 4–4.5 mm long, 2-celled, styles 2, shorter than the ovary, often reflexed; stigmas mostly flattened. Fruit a depressed-globose capsule enclosed in persistent corolla, irregularly opening or indehiscent, reddish-brown when dry, usually 4-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid to ovoid, up to 2(–3) mm long, pale yellow-brown or blackish when dry, granular. Embryo and seedling thread-like, without cotyledons.

Other botanical information

Cuscuta is nearly cosmopolitan and comprises yellow, orange, red or rarely green parasitic plants. The highest diversity of the 100–200 species is found in the Americas. It is sometimes treated as the only genus in the family Cuscutaceae, but both morphologic and genetic research have shown that it is correctly placed in Convolvulaceae, subfamily Cuscuteae. In Cuscuta kilimanjari 3 varieties are recognized: var. kilimanjari, var. major Verdc. with larger flowers and endemic to Uganda, and var. rukararana Yunck. which lacks scales and occurs in Rwanda.

Cuscuta chinensis

Cuscuta chinensis Lam. is often mentioned as a medicinal plant in Africa. However, it is a species mainly occurring in Asia and Australia, but is also recorded from Egypt. It may be present in tropical Africa as an adventive, but it is not well-documented. In Madagascar, the stems of Cuscuta chinensis are used as laxative. In Asian medicine the plant is used for similar purposes as Cuscuta australis R.Br., a widespread species in tropical Africa. The medicinal uses of this species are described in a separate article.

Cuscuta hyalina

Cuscuta hyalina Roth occurs from Sudan and Ethiopia south to Namibia and South Africa, and also in the Cape Verde Islands and India. It is parasitic on Trianthema and Tribulus, and occurs in relatively dry localities. The Sukuma people of Tanzania apply a dressing made of the plant on boils and ulcers. In laboratory tests, an acetone extract of the plant acted against Culex mosquitos by interrupting morphogenesis and preventing egg-laying.

Cuscuta planiflora

Cuscuta planiflora Ten. (small-seed alfalfa dodder) has slender yellow or red stems and is widespread throughout North Africa, the Mediterranean region and south-western and southern Asia; it also occurs in tropical Africa from Ethiopia and East Africa to South Africa, Angola and Madagascar. In Namibia, an extract of the stems is drunk against diarrhoea.

Growth and development

Although Cuscuta plants are capable of limited photosynthesis, they obtain nearly all their energy from the host plant. A seedling can survive several days without a host, but if one is not found within 5 to 10 days, the seedling will die. As plants grow, they continually reattach to the host and when other suitable hosts are nearby, shoots spread from host plant to host plant often forming a dense mat of intertwining stems.


Cuscuta kilimanjari occurs as parasite mainly on herbs and shrubs, predominantly on herbaceous Acanthaceae and on Coffea species, at edges of lowland and upland rainforest, bamboo forest and riverine forest, at 500–2600 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

Like all Cuscuta species, Cuscuta kilimanjari is an obligate parasite. It germinates without stimuli from potential host plants. The young seedling develops a root-like support and a thread-like stem. For a very short period it is capable of photosynthesis. The seedling stem twines around until it finds a support and then tightly winds around it. If attached to a suitable host plant, haustoria grow from the stem into the host plant, through which the Cuscuta plant gets all its water and all or nearly all nutrients.


Cuscuta kilimanjari only occurs wild. Where it occurs as a weed, it can be controlled by manual removal.

Genetic resources

Cuscuta kilimanjari is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion. In South Africa its conservation status is listed as ‘of least concern’.


Cuscuta kilimanjari is likely to remain of some importance in traditional medicine. Because it is closely related to several Asian dodders that are important medicinal plants, its chemical composition warrants research. The taxonomy of Cuscuta in Africa including Madagascar needs clarification.

Major references

  • Bussmann, R.W., Swartzinsky, P., Aserat Worede & Evangelista, P., 2011. Plant use in Odo-Bulu and Demaro, Bale region, Ethiopia. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 7(1): 28–48.
  • Gonçalves, M.L., 1987. Convolvulaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 8, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 9–129.
  • Kareru, P.G., Kenji, G.M., Gachanja, A.N., Keriko, J.M. & Mungai, G., 2007. Traditional medicines among the Embu and Mbeere peoples of Kenya. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 4(1): 75–86.
  • Njoroge, G.N. & Bussmann, R.W., 2006. Traditional management of ear, nose and throat (ENT) diseases in Central Kenya. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2: 54–63.
  • Wells, M.J., Balsinhas, V.M., Joffe, H., Engelbrecht, V.M., Harding, G. & Stirton, C.H., 1986. A catalogue of problem plants in Southern Africa, incorporating the National Weed List of South Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 53. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 663 pp.

Other references

  • Baerts, M. & Lehmann, J., 2012. Cuscuta kilimandschari Oliver. [Internet] Prelude Medicinal Plants Database. Metafro-Infosys, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium Accessed September 2012.
  • Chifundera, K., 1998. Livestock diseases and the traditional medicine in the Bushi area, Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo. African Study Monographs 19(1): 13–33.
  • Deroin, T., 2001. Convolvulaceae. Flore de Madagascar et des Comores, familles 133 bis et 171. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 11–287.
  • Kaingu, C.K., Oduma, J.A. & Kanui, T.I., 2011. Practices of traditional birth attendants in Machakos District, Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 137(1): 495–502.
  • Meeuse, A.D.J. & Welman, W.G., 2000. Convolvulaceae. In: Germishuizen, G. (Editor). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 28, part 1. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 138 pp.
  • Mehra, B.K. & Hiradhar, P.K., 2002. Cuscuta hyalina Roth., an insect development inhibitor against common house mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus Say. Journal of Environmental Biology 23(3): 335–339.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Schimming, T., Jenett-Siems, K., Mann, P., Tofern-Reblin, B., Milson, J., Johnson, R.W., Deroin, T., Austin, D.F. & Eich, E., 2006. Calystegines as chemotaxonomic markers in the Convolvulaceae. Phytochemistry 66(4): 469–480.
  • Stefanovic, S., Kuzmina, M. & Costea, M., 2007. Delimitation of major lineages within Cuscuta subgenus Grammica (Convolvulaceae) using plastid and nuclear DNA sequences. American Journal of Botany 94(4): 568–589.
  • Verdcourt, B., 1963. Convolvulaceae. In: Hubbard, C.E. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 161 pp.


  • A.J. Bague Serrano, Commandante Mariano Hernández 100 (Altos), entre Marti y Julio Antonio Mella, Sancti-Spiritus, C.P. 60100, Cuba

Correct citation of this article

Bague Serrano, A.J., 2013. Cuscuta kilimanjari Oliv. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 11 April 2021.