Dicranopteris linearis (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Dicranopteris linearis (Burm.f.) Underw.


Protologue: Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 34: 250 (1907).
Family: Gleicheniaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 78 (diploid), 117 (triploid), 156 (tetraploid)

Synonyms

  • Gleichenia linearis (Burm.f.) C.B.Clarke (1880).

Vernacular names

  • Scrambling fern, false staghorn (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Dicranopteris linearis is distributed from Sierra Leone eastwards to Ethiopia and Kenya and southwards to Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and most of the Indian Ocean Islands. It also occurs in South Africa and from Asia to Australasia and Polynesia (including Hawaii), and is recorded in Brazil as well.

Uses

In DR Congo the leaf axes are used to make a basket-type trap for fishes and are plaited for the construction of local beds. In Gabon the hollow stems are used as straws for drinking palm wine and children use them as toy blowpipes. For Asia a larger number of uses of the fibres have been recorded, such as plaiting, basketry, ropes, caps, arm bands and belts. As the fibres are fairly salt resistant, they are widely used for making fish-traps.

Dicranopteris linearis is sometimes planted to prevent soil erosion and in nursery gardens the cut leaves are put upright in the soil to temporarily provide young seedlings with shade. Medicinal use includes external application of a poultice of crushed leaves to combat fever and for wound dressing. It is also used as an anthelminthic. A decoction is drunk in Thailand against insomnia and to bathe children with skin rash and people with a broken leg. In Hawaii a plant extract is drunk as a cure for constipation. Further problems treated are: chest complaints, bruises, burns, sprains, itching, gonorrhoea and infertility.

Production and international trade

Production is only locally important in tropical Africa. Early in the 20th century, Malaysia exported vigorous petioles to India on a small scale. In Asia the use Dicranopteris linearis fibre is dying out as the ready-for-use fibres for matting and weaving have become very expensive.

Properties

The leaves contain tannins (3.8%), essential oils (0.03%) and saponins, as well as clerodane glycosides. Flavonoids are limited to flavonol 3-O-glycosides like afzelin, quercitrin, isoquercitrin, astragarin, rutin and kaempferol.

Dicranopteris linearis is able to accumulate relatively high concentrations of rare earth elements, especially in the roots (Eu, Gd, Ho, Pr, Sm, Y) and the leaves (Ce, Dy, La, Nd, Tb).

Tests in the Philippines revealed that water extracts showed positive antimicrobial activity against Micrococcus luteus and Escherichia coli. In Malaysia leaf extracts were found to possess antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory, antistaphylococcal and antipyretic activities with the methanolic extracts as the most potent among the extracts.

Botany

Terrestrial fern, up to 3 m tall, with dichotomously divided leaves; rhizome several m long, up to 5 mm in diameter, creeping, brown, covered with septate, branched hairs. Leaves appearing on rhizome, 6–20 cm apart; petiole erect, stout, glabrous, up to more than 1 m long, brown to purplish; lamina large, in outline kidney- or halfmoon-shaped, 60–200 cm long, 2–3-furcate with only the ultimate branches bearing pinnae, a dormant bud in each bifurcation and a pair of stipule-like branches present at the base of each bifurcation; pinnae narrowly lanceolate, deeply pinnatifid, assymetrical at base, more reduced towards the apex; ultimate segments 18–40(–70) mm × 3–5 mm, confluent at the broadened base. Sori superficial, in a median row on each side of the midrib, almost round, 1 mm in diameter; sporangia without indusia. Spores trilete, tetrahedral with prolonged angles, somewhat wrinkled.

The genus Dicranopteris comprises c. 12 species. Dicranopteris linearis is a very variable species. In South-East Asia 13 varieties are distinguished mainly based on the mode of branching, and supported by differences in flavonol or flavone content. The existence of triploid hybrids makes it hazardous to assign a plant to a clearly defined variety.

Ecology

Dicranopteris linearis occurs from sea-level up to 2800 m altitude on open and shaded slopes, roadsides, in humid montane forests, evergreen bushland and secondary woods. It can colonize sites and remain dominant for a long time with its mat-forming capacity and leaves with low decomposability. Its quick establishment helps to prevent landslides on cleared slopes but at the same time can make it a noxious weed. It is well adapted to soils poor in phosphorus.

Management

Dicranopteris linearis is propagated best by planting rhizome pieces in soil exposed to full sun. Raising plants from spores is troublesome. After harvesting, the leaf axes are cut longitudinally into 4 strips, are soaked in water for a week and are rubbed with coconut oil to obtain a black colour. Plaiting must be done when the strips are still wet as dry ones are too brittle.

Genetic resources

Dicranopteris linearis is widely distributed and does not seem to be in danger of extinction or genetic erosion.

Prospects

The use of Dicranopteris linearis for its fibres is declining as cheaper alternatives are available. The medicinal uses and properties deserve further investigation. Where it is considered a troublesome weed, research on control measures is a priority.

Major references

  • Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
  • Titien Ngatinem Praptosuwiryo, 2003. Dicranopteris linearis (Burm.f.) Underw. In: de Winter, W.P. & Amoroso, V.B. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 15(2): Cryptogams: Ferns and fern allies. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 93–96.
  • Verdcourt, B., 2000. Gleicheniaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 11 pp.
  • Yamada, T., 1999. A report of the ethnobotany of the Nyindu in the eastern part of the former Zaire. African Study Monographs 20(1): 1–72.

Other references

  • Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
  • Ho, R., Teai, T., Bianchini, J.-P., Lafont, R. & Raharivelomanana, P., 2010. Ferns: from traditional uses to pharmaceutical development, chemical identification of active principles. In: Kumar, A., Fernández, H., & Revilla, M.A. (Editors). Working with ferns Volume 4, Chapter 23. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany. pp. 321–346.
  • Raja, D.P., Manickam, V.S., de Britto, A.J., Gopalakrishnan, S., Ushioda, T., Satoh, M., Tanimura, A. & Fuchino, H., 1995. Chemical and chemotaxonomical studies on Dicranopteris species. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin (Tokyo) 43: 1800–1803.
  • Sebsebe Demissew, 2009. Gleicheniaceae. In: Hedberg, I., Friis & Hedberg, E. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 1. Lycopodiaceae to Pinaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 31–32.
  • Umi Kalsom Yusuf, 1995. The taxonomic significance of leaf flavonoids in west Malaysian Dicranopteris taxa (Gleicheniaceae). Blumea 40: 211–215.
  • Zakaria, Z.A., Mat Desa, A., Ramasamy, K., Ahmat, N., Mohamad, A.S., Israf, D.A. & Sulaiman, M.R., 2010. Lack of antimicrobial activities of Dicranopteris linearis extracts and fractions. African Journal of Microbiology Research 4(1): 71–75.

Sources of illustration

  • Titien Ngatinem Praptosuwiryo, 2003. Dicranopteris linearis (Burm.f.) Underw. In: de Winter, W.P. & Amoroso, V.B. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 15(2): Cryptogams: Ferns and fern allies. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 93–96.

Author(s)

  • C.H. Bosch, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Bosch, C.H., 2011. Dicranopteris linearis (Burm.f.) Underw. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 6 March 2020.