Girardinia diversifolia (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Girardinia diversifolia (Link) Friis

Protologue: Kew Bull. 36(1): 145 (1981).
Family: Urticaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 20


  • Girardinia erosa Decne. (1844),
  • Girardinia heterophylla (Vahl) Decne. (1844),
  • Girardinia condensata (Steud.) Wedd. (1854).

Vernacular names

  • Himalayan nettle, Nilgiri nettle, Nepalese nettle (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Girardinia diversifolia is widespread in tropical Africa, from Senegal eastward to southern Sudan and Ethiopia, and southward to Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and also occurring in Madagascar. In Asia it occurs in Yemen and from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to Indonesia, southern China and Taiwan. It is cultivated as a fibre plant in South India.


The bast fibre is used in tropical Africa for making sewing thread, twine and rope. It has been tried to make barkcloth from the fibre, but complete removal of the stinging hairs has proved difficult. In Kenya it has been grown in demonstration projects aiming at producing fibre, paper and insecticide from the plant. In India and Nepal the bast fibre is traditionally made into cordage for strings, ropes and fishing nets, and woven into cloth for bags, sacks, jackets, porters’ headbands and mats. A more recent development in Nepal is the production of vests, shawls and a range of other articles aimed at tourist and export markets. The fibre is sometimes blended with ramie (Boehmeria nivea (L.) Gaudich.), cotton (Gossypium spp.) or wool. The woody stem parts can be used for papermaking.

The leaf and inflorescence are eaten as a vegetable. In Nepal the roasted and pickled seeds are eaten, and the plant is a source of livestock feed, bedding material, fuel and a blue dye. The seed can be used to make soap and other oil-based products.

In Rwanda Girardinia diversifolia is part of an antidote against snakebites, and in veterinary medicine a maceration of the leaves is used for treatment of theileriasis. In Kenya the root is boiled in goat’s bone soup, which is drunk to gain strength. In Nepal leaf preparations are used for the treatment of headache, fever and swollen joints, and juice of the root is given in case of constipation. Ash of the plant is applied externally for the treatment of ringworm and eczema. In north-eastern India the seeds are used as fish poison.

Production and international trade

There is some export of shawls and other woven products from Nepal to Europe, the United States and Japan.


The fibres are located in a wide ring in the outer part of the stem, not in bundles but as single fibre cells separated by parenchyma cells. In cross-section the fibre cells are polygonal or roundish in shape, with a wide lumen and relatively thin walls. They are (10–)200–400(–1300) mm long and (10–)30–160(–340) μm wide, with an average cell wall thickness of c. 5 μm.

The fibre content of the stem is 3.5–13.2% on a dry weight basis. In studies in Indo-China in the 1940s, the bark of Girardinia diversifolia yielded 61% fibre. Bark strips contained 16% moisture, 38% cellulose, 8% hemicelluloses, 8% lignin and 7% ash. After degumming, the fibre contained 11% moisture, 67% cellulose, 8% hemicelluloses, 4% lignin and 3% ash. Indian fibre has been recorded as containing 7% moisture, 90% cellulose and 1.5% ash.

The bast fibre is of good quality: long, strong, smooth and lustrous. The tensile strength of Nepalese fibre was 180–550 N/mm², with the lowest values at the tip and the highest values at the base of the stem. The modulus of elasticity was 5.8–22.5 GPa, without differences between segments of the stem. The fibre is comparable to ramie fibre, but contains more gums, which, however, are removed easily. The fibre can be spun into long filaments.

The aerial parts contain alkaloids, acetylcholine, histamine and 5-hydroxytryplamine. The seed contains 10–12% oil. The sting of the hairs is sharply felt, and is said to last from only a few minutes to a few hours.


Erect annual or short-lived perennial herb up to 1.5(–3) m tall, monoecious or dioecious; stem up to 1(–2) cm in diameter, sparsely branched, hollow; bark often furrowed, greenish to dark brown, densely covered with stinging hairs 7–9 mm long and with short stiff hairs. Leaves alternate; stipules linear-lanceolate, fused for over four-fifths of their length, hairy outside; petiole 3–15(–24) cm long, pubescent to pilose, densely covered with stinging hairs and stiff hairs; blade elliptical to ovate in outline but extremely variously lobed or divided, 6–20(–25) cm × 3.5–18(–25) cm, base cuneate, truncate or cordate, apex acute or acuminate, margin toothed, upper surface not bullate, with scattered stiff hairs and stinging hairs up to 7 mm long, and dot-like mineral concretions, lower surface with stinging hairs on the larger veins and pubescence on fine reticulation of veins, lateral veins in 3–6 pairs. Inflorescence unisexual, cylindrical; male inflorescence a narrow, spicate panicle up to 10 cm long, with flowers in dense clusters, peduncle up to 2 cm long, with stinging hairs; female inflorescence a dense cymose dichasium 2–3 cm long at anthesis, elongating to 10–15 cm long in fruit, densely covered with stinging hairs. Flowers unisexual; male flowers on a 1 mm long pedicel, perianth 4–5-merous, c. 1 mm in diameter, tepals without dorsal appendages; female flowers sessile, perianth 1.5–2 mm long, with 3 almost completely fused tepals and the fourth one usually lacking, ovary superior, enclosed in the perianth, stigma filiform. Fruit an ovoid to subcordate achene 3–4 mm in diameter, compressed, brown.

Other botanical information

Girardinia comprises 2 species distributed in mountain areas in the Old World tropics. It has the longest stinging hairs in the Urticaceae, but the sting seems less severe than that of some other genera, such as Laportea. Girardinia diversifolia is a highly polymorphic species, with particularly much variation in leaf morphology and in the shape and size of the female inflorescence.


Girardinia diversifolia occurs at (300–)1000–2500 m altitude in rainforest and dry forest, especially in clearings, natural glades and along edges, also in woodland, savanna, cultivated areas and moist rocky locations. It prefers partial shade. In Madagascar it is a weed of cultivated areas.

Propagation and planting

Girardinia diversifolia can be propagated by seed and vegetatively by offsets.

Handling after harvest

After harvesting, the leaves and stinging hairs are removed from the stem, and the bark is stripped off. In Cameroon the stinging hairs are removed with a cloth before the fibre is extracted from the stem.

To extract the fibre in Asia, the bark is boiled for 3–4 hours in an alkaline solution made from wood ash, before it is beaten and washed until it is clean, after which it is rubbed with mica-rich clay, rice husk or maize flour, and dried in the sun. Rubbing with clay seems to have the combined effect of bleaching and lubricating the fibre. Alternatively, the fibre may be extracted by stripping the bark off the stem, after which it is washed or scraped until the fibre is clean, or the stripped-off bark is dried, and the fibre is freed by pounding, after which it is boiled with an alkaline solution, and then washed until it is clean.

Genetic resources

In view of its extensive distribution and wide range of habitats, Girardinia diversifolia is not threatened by genetic erosion.


Girardinia diversifolia yields fibre of good quality, similar to ramie fibre in many respects. Therefore, the prospects for increased use of the plant are good. The fibre is especially suitable for the production of textiles, for which the same techniques can be applied as those used for ramie. The fibres with their large lumina and thus low density can also be used as renewable raw material in composites. A major disadvantage of Girardinia diversifolia compared to ramie is the presence of stinging hairs on all plant parts, which makes handling unpleasant.

Major references

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dreyer, J. & Edom, G., 2005. Nettle. In: Franck, R.R. (Editor). Bast and other plant fibres. Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge, United Kingdom & CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, United States. pp. 331–343.
  • Friis, I., 1981. A synopsis of Girardinia (Urticaceae). Kew Bulletin 36(1): 143–157.
  • Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 64 pp.
  • Jacques-Félix, H. & Rabéchault, H., 1948. Recherches sur les fibres de quelques Urticacées Africaines. Agronomie Tropicale 3: 339–384, 451–488.
  • Jarman, C., 1998. Plant fibre processing. A handbook. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, United Kingdom. 52 pp.
  • Kirby, R.H., 1963. Vegetable fibres: botany, cultivation, and utilization. Leonard Hill, London, United Kingdom & Interscience Publishers, New York, United States. 464 pp.
  • Sethmann, A., 2004. Girardinia diversifolia (Link) Friis (Urticaceae) – eine neue Faserpflanze – Untersuchungen zu den morphologischen und mechanischen Fasercharakteristika. Doctoral thesis, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany. 110 pp.
  • Sethmann, A. & Dreyling, G., 2001. Girardinia diversifolia (Link) Friis: morphological and anatomical characteristics of a fibre plant. Journal of Applied Botany 75(3–4): 112–117.

Other references

  • Barakoti, T.P. & Shrestha, K.P., 2008. Commercial utilization of allo (Girardinia diversifolia) by the Rais of Sankhuwasabha for income generation. Banko Janakari 18(1): 18–24.
  • 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.
  • CSIR, 1956. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials and industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 4: F–G. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 287 pp.
  • Deokota, R. & Chhetri, R.B., 2009. Traditional knowledge on wild fiber processing of allo in Bhedetar of Sunsari District, Nepal. Kathmandu University Journal of Science, Engineering and Technology 5(1): 136–142.
  • Desouter, S., 1991. Pharmacopée humaine et vétérinaire du Rwanda. Annales Sciences Economiques 22. Institut National de Recherche Scientifique, Butare, Rwanda. Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, Belgium.252 pp.
  • Dunsmore, J.R., 1998. Crafts, cash and conservation in highland Nepal. Community Development Journal 33(1): 49–56.
  • Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3. Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 302–325.
  • Friis, I. & Immelman, K.L., 2001. Urticaceae. In: Germishuizen, G. (Editor). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 36 pp.
  • Hauman, L., 1948. Urticaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., De Wildeman, E., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Lebrun, J., Louis, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 1. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 177–218.
  • Ichikawa, M., 1987. A preliminary report on the ethnobotany of the Suiei Dorobo in northern Kenya. African Study Monographs, Supplement 7: 1–52.
  • Leandri, J., 1965. Urticacées (Urticaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), famille 56. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 107 pp.
  • Letouzey, R., 1968. Urticaceae. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 8. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 67–216.
  • Manandhar, N.P., 1995. A survey of medicinal plants of Jajarkot district, Nepal. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 48(1): 1–6.
  • Mauersberger, H.R. (Editor), 1954. Textile fibers: their physical, microscopic and chemical properties. 6th Edition. John Wiley & Sons, New York, United States. 1283 pp.
  • Medina, J.C., 1959. Plantas fibrosas da flora mundial. Instituto Agronômico Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil. 913 pp.
  • PFAF, 1996–2008. Plants for a future database. [Internet] Plants for a future (PFAF) foundation, Lerryn, Lostwithiel, United Kingdom. database/ index.php. April 2009.
  • Saxena, P.R., Tangri, K.K. & Bhargava, K.P., 1966. Identification of acetylcholine, histamine, and 5-hydroxytryptamine in Girardinia heterophylla (Decne.). Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 44: 621–627.
  • Shrestha, R., 1997. Cytological studies in Girardinia diversifolia (Link) Friis. Pakistan Journal of Botany 29(2): 263–269.
  • Singh, S.C. & Shrestha, R., 1988. Girardinia diversifolia (Urticaceae), a non-conventional fiber resource in Nepal. Economic Botany 42(3): 445–447.
  • Westphal, E., 1975. Agricultural systems in Ethiopia. Agricultural Research Reports 826. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 278 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 64 pp.


  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2009. Girardinia diversifolia (Link) Friis. [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. <>.

Accessed 15 November 2020.