Flagellaria guineensis (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Flagellaria guineensis Schumach.

Protologue: Beskr. Guin. pl.: 181 (1827).
Family: Flagellariaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 36, 38.

Vernacular names

  • Kanoti grass (En).
  • Mpepa, mpewa, mteba, nkalamu (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Flagellaria guineensis occurs in most of mainland tropical Africa and South Africa.


The stems are used for hut construction and to make necklaces in Gabon. In Tanzania they are used for making fish traps, and in Transkei (South Africa) for weaving and basketry.

The fruits are sometimes eaten in Tanzania and Mozambique. In Tanzania the seed is made into porridge eaten during periods of severe food shortage, even though it causes stomach problems. The plant is a forage for all livestock. In Tanzania pieces of the stem are used as writing pens. The wood is used as fuel. The plant has ornamental value. The rhizome is fed to hunting dogs to improve their sense of smell.

In traditional medicine in Côte d’Ivoire a decoction of leafy twigs is used as a wash or vapour bath to cure kidney pain. Leaf decoctions are drunk as a cure for gonorrhoea and used as a mouth wash against dental caries. Leaf pulp is also applied in case of dental caries. In Gabon the leaves are credited with aphrodisiac properties. In Kenya boiled leaves are applied hot for the treatment of hernia, and the twigs and leaves are used to heal venereal diseases. In south-western Tanzania an extract of the fruits is drunk to cure venereal diseases, while a dressing of pulped fruits is applied externally to cure venereal disease and skin problems. In Somalia the whole plant is crushed and mixed with oil and applied externally against rheumatic pains. In Tanzania ash from burnt plants mixed with seed oil of Ricinus communis L. is rubbed into scarifications on the temple against headache. Plant ash is also applied on ruptures in Tanzania, and against hernia in Kenya. In Tanzania unspecified plant parts are used against asthma and other chest problems.


Perennial climber up to 10 m long with sympodial rhizomes; stems slender, up to 2.5 cm in diameter. Leaves alternate, entire; sheath 4–12 cm long, often split to the base but at least split for one third of its length; blade oblong-lanceolate, up to 18 cm × 2.5(–3) cm (excluding the leaf-tip tendril), base often abruptly widened, apex ending in a coiled tendril, glabrous, venation parallel. Inflorescence a terminal panicle 8–12 cm long; side branches are short racemes. Flowers subsessile, bisexual, 6-merous; perianth segments 6(–8) in 2 whorls, erect, ovate, 2–3 mm long; stamens as many as perianth segments, in 2 whorls, exserted, attached to the base of the perianth segment, filaments free, anthers introrse; ovary superior, globose, glabrous, style and perianth persistent. Fruit a globose, fleshy drupe 5–9 mm in diameter, red, 1(–2)-seeded. Seed globose.

Flagellaria comprises 3 or 4 species and is distributed in the tropical regions of the Old World and Australasia. The closely related Flagellaria indica L., a climber up to 15(–20) m long, differs from Flagellaria guineensis by its entire leaf sheath and more compact inflorescences. Flagellaria indica, known as ‘rotan du pays’ in Madagascar, is found in the Indian Ocean Islands, tropical South and South-East Asia, Taiwan, northern Australia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Records for Tanzania and Mozambique remain unconfirmed. In Madagascar the bark and stems are used for making mats, baskets, fishtraps, and for constructing huts and roofs. It is considered a good alternative for rattan, all the more so as it will regrow after cutting. The leaves and stems are used in Madagascar to make a stimulating tea.


Flagellaria guineensis occurs from sea-level up to 1100 m altitude, in coastal forest, swampy forest, along rivers, in forest edges, thickets and waste places. It is a weed in rice fields in Nigeria and in tree plantations in East Africa, and has shown resistance to herbicides.


Flagellaria guineensis regrows after cutting and therefore sustainable harvesting is possible. In South Africa harvesting is a seasonal activity, most of it happening during the dry season (April–September) and most of the harvesters doing so very occasionally. The amount harvested varies widely from year to year.

Genetic resources

Flagellaria guineensis is not under threat of genetic erosion.


Flagellaria guineensis will remain important for local use. It is easy to produce and can become an alternative for rattan, although it is of poorer quality. Its widespread medicinal use and the lack of knowledge on its chemical properties warrant phytochemical investigations.

Major references

  • 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.
  • Cawe, S.G., 1999. Spatial and temporal utilisation patterns of Flagellaria guineensis Schumach. in demarcated forests of the Lusikisiki district of Transkei, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 65(1): 69–74.
  • Matolweni, L.O. & McLellan, T., 1997. Genetic diversity of an exploited species, Flagellaria guineensis. South African Journal of Botany 63: 294–298.
  • Napper, D.M., 1971. Flagellariaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 3 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.

Other references

  • Baldwin, J.T. & Speese B.M., 1957. Flagellaria guineensis Schum. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 84(2): 90–93.
  • Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
  • Brink, M., Jansen, P.C.M. & Bosch, C.H., 2003. Minor fibre plants. In: Brink, M. & Escobin, R.P. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 17. Fibre plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 244–300.
  • Edwards, S., 1997. Flagellariaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 6. Hydrocharitaceae to Arecaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. p. 512.
  • Heine, B. & Legère, K., 1995. Swahili plants: an ethnobotanical survey. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, Köln, Germany. 376 pp.
  • Pakia, M. & Cooke, J.A., 2003. The ethnobotany of the Midzichenda tribes of the coastal forest areas in Kenya: 2. Medicinal plant uses. South African Journal of Botany 69(3): 382–395.
  • Pereira, T., Shackleton, C. & Shackleton, S., 2006. Trade in reed-based craft products in rural villages in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Development Southern Africa 23(4): 477–495.
  • Turpie, J.K., 2000. The use and value of natural resources of the Rufiji floodplain and delta, Tanzania. Technical report No 17. Rufiji Environment Management Project, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. 87 pp.
  • van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
  • Villiers, J.-F., 1986. Flagellariaceae. Flore du Gabon. Volume 28. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 55–60.

Sources of illustration

  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.


  • 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., 2010. Flagellaria guineensis Schumach. [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 7 March 2020.