Heliotropium ramosissimum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Heliotropium ramosissimum (Lehm.) DC.

Protologue: Prodr. 9: 536 (1845).
Family: Boraginaceae
Chromosome number: n = 16


  • Heliotropium undulatum Vahl (1790),
  • Heliotropium bacciferum auct. non Forssk.

Vernacular names

  • Wavy heliotrope (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Heliotropium ramosissimum is found in West Africa, Sudan and Egypt, extending to the Arabian peninsula and to Afghanistan. It has been introduced in parts of the United States, and is considered a weed there.


In Niger dried and powdered plant parts of Heliotropium ramosissimum are added to water and drunk to combat fatigue. Leaf sap is applied to burns in Mauritania. In northern Nigeria it is applied topically to treat headache and used internally to treat gonorrhoea and to increase lactation. The plant is eaten by goats but not by other livestock in Senegal; it is said to provide a good fodder for camels and other livestock in Mauritania. In the western Sahara a macerate of the plant is used as ink.


No data on the properties of Heliotropium ramosissimum appear to have been published but pharmacological properties are likely due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids as in other species of the genus, e.g. Heliotropium indicum L. and Heliotropium ovalifolium Forssk. In Australia sale, supply and use of Heliotropium ramosissimum is prohibited by the Ministry of Health because of the serious danger to health.


Perennial, ascending or procumbent herb up to 50 cm tall; stem much branched from woody base, pubescent, white-bristly. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules absent; petiole up to 1 cm long; blade linear-lanceolate, 0.5–2.5 cm × 0.2–1.6 cm, base cuneate, apex acute or obtuse; margin revolute. Inflorescence a terminal, forked, spike-like cyme with flowers in 2 rows. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, sessile; calyx lobes narrowly elliptical, up to 3 mm long, persistent in fruit; corolla funnel-shaped, up to 4.5 mm long, lobes up to 1 mm long, almost suborbicular, white. Fruit globose, splitting into 4 nutlets, each up to 2.5 mm in diameter, hairy.

Other botanical information

Heliotropium bacciferum

Heliotropium ramosissimum and Heliotropium bacciferum Forssk. (synonym: Heliotropium crispum Desf.) have often been confused. Probably Heliotropium bacciferum is found in Africa only in Cape Verde, North Africa, Sudan and Madagascar. Its distribution further covers the Arab peninsula to Pakistan and Afghanistan and there the ranges of the 2 species overlap. The main distinction between the species is that in Heliotropium bacciferum the flowers are in a single row, flowers and fruits are glabrous while in Heliotropium ramosissimum flowers are in 2 rows and fruits are hairy. Heliotropium bacciferum is medicinally used in Cape Verde as a cardiotonic and further medicinal uses are reported from throughout North Africa, the Arabian peninsula and from Pakistan. It is used as a repellent for storage insects in Egypt and Pakistan. In Cape Verde, Algeria and the Arabian peninsula it is reportedly grazed by livestock. The pyrrolizidine alkaloids heleurine, heliotrine, supinine and europine have been isolated from Heliotropium bacciferum.

Heliotropium pterocarpum

In Ethiopia Heliotropium pterocarpum (DC. & A.DC.) Hochst. & Steud. ex Bunge is used to treat fevers. It is closely related to both Heliotropium ramosissimum and Heliotropium bacciferum, but differs in having a fruit with 2 winged nutlets. Heliotropium pterocarpum is found in Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula, where it grows in sandy desert plains and at the edges of littoral salt marshes and is eaten by camels. Nursery sites of locusts are often found in vegetation dominated by Heliotropium pterocarpum.


Heliotropium ramosissimum is found in sandy wadis, on calcareous ridges, and is sometimes abundant in poor pastures.

Genetic resources

Heliotropium ramosissimum is generally common wherever it occurs and there is no threat of genetic erosion.


The distinction between Heliotropium ramosissimum and Heliotropium bacciferum, especially important in West Africa, is obviously not always made correctly. Both species however, deserve pharmacological/toxicological research because they are used internally in traditional medicine despite the presumed presence of toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Major references

  • Adam, J.G., Echard, N. & Lescot, M., 1972. Plantes médicinales Hausa de l’Ader. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 19(8–9): 259–399.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
  • Riedl, H., 1967. Boraginaceae. In: Rechinger, K.H. (Editor) Flora Iranica. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria. 281 pp.

Other references

  • Boulos, L., 1983. Medicinal plants of North Africa. Reference Publications Inc., Albonac, Michigan, United States. 286 pp.
  • Boulos, L., 2000. Flora of Egypt. Volume 2 (Geraniaceae-Boraginaceae). Al Hadara Publishing, Caïro, Egypt. 352 pp.
  • Elhag-Eltayeb, A., 2000. Deterrent effects of some botanical products on oviposition of the cowpea bruchid Callosobruchus maculatus (F.) (Coleoptera: Bruchidae). International Journal of Pest Management 46(2): 109–113.
  • Farrag-Nawal, F., Abdel-Aziz, E.M., El-Shafae, A.M, Ateya, A.M. & El-Domiaty, M.M., 1996. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids of Heliotropium bacciferum Forssk. from Egypt. International Journal of Pharmacognosy 34(5): 374–377.
  • Giday, M., Asfaw, Z., Elmqvist, T. & Woldu, Z., 2003. An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants used by the Zay people in Ethiopia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 85: 43–52.
  • Martins, E.S., 1995. Boraginaceae. In: Paiva, J., Martins, E.S., Diniz, M.A., Moreira, I., Gomes, I. & Gomes, S. (Editors). Flora de Cabo Verde: Plantas vasculares. No 74. Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisbon, Portugal & Instituto Nacional de Investigação e Desenvolvimento Agrário, Praia, Cape Verde. 21 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., 2006. Heliotropium ramosissimum (Lehm.) DC. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 10 July 2021.