Hibiscus diversifolius (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
Hibiscus diversifolius Jacq.
- Protologue: Collectanea 2: 307 (1789).
- Family: Malvaceae
- Chromosome number: 2n = 144 (180)
- Prickly tree hibiscus (En).
- Sambi (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Hibiscus diversifolius is widespread in the tropical African continent at higher altitudes. In Madagascar it occurs wild, while in Mauritius it has been introduced and has become naturalized. It also occurs in South Africa, Australia, the Pacific and South and Central America.
The bark fibre is used for making ropes and sewing mats. In Madagascar the bark is used for tying and bark fibres are made into ropes and tissue. The leaves are eaten in south Tanzania and Malawi as a vegetable mixed with beans and/or groundnuts. In Malawi the petals are eaten in a similar way. Woody parts have been used as fire sticks in Malawi. Hibiscus diversifolius is planted in hedges around fields in Tanzania and Madagascar.
In traditional medicine in West Africa the pounded leaf is applied to insect stings to ease the pain. In Burundi the sap from leafy twigs is taken as a cure for yaws. In Kenya the stem bark is used for the treatment of malaria and the leaf is chewed to control vomiting. In southern Africa a decoction of the roots and flowers is taken as a cure for pneumonia. In Madagascar a leaf decoction is given as a cure for bronchitis and chronic coughing, especially to children. In traditional veterinary medicine in South Africa the roots are crushed and boiled in water and given to drink to cattle to cure heartwater, helminthiasis and retained-placenta.
Fibre from Uganda investigated in the 1930s contained 72.6% cellulose and 9.1% lignin. The leaves taste bitter or sour and are only eaten during the dry season when other vegetables are scarce.
Scrambling perennial herb, shrub or small tree up to 10 m tall; stem and branches stellate-hairy and often with short prickles. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules linear to filiform, 3–10 mm long, with stiff hairs or bristles; petiole 2–12 cm long; blade 2–12(–18) cm × 5–16 cm, distinctly palmatilobate or palmatipartite with 3–7 lobes, base truncate to cordate, apex acute to rounded, margins irregularly serrate, both surfaces with stellate hairs, lower surface with a deep, narrow slit or a gland near the base of the midrib. Flowers axillary, solitary or sometimes in a terminal raceme, bisexual, 5-merous; pedicel 5–7 mm long, articulated near the base; epicalyx of 7–8(–12) linear segments 6–15 mm long, not forked at the tip, persistent; calyx with lanceolate lobes 2–3 cm long, bristly with a prominent nectary gland on each midrib; petals free, usually spreading, 3–6 cm long, outer side stellate-pubescent, yellow, reddish or purplish with dark red or purple inner base; stamens numerous, filaments united into a column 1.5–3 cm long surrounding the style; ovary superior, ovoid, 5-celled, style branching into 3–5 hairy arms 2–4 mm long, each branch ending in a capitate stigma. Fruit an ovoid, beaked capsule, 1–2 cm × 1–1.5 cm, densely setose. Seeds kidney-shaped, c. 4 mm × 2–3 mm, brown, glabrous. Seedling with epigeal germination.
In Tanzania flowering takes place in June-July. In southern Africa flowering is in July–October, and fruiting in August–December.
Hibiscus comprises c. 200 species, distributed mainly in the tropics and subtropics, with many of them grown as ornamentals. Hibiscus diversifolius resembles kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.), but has a more shrubby habit. Hibiscus perrieri Hochr. is a shrub up to 4 m tall endemic to Madagascar. It yields a strong fibre which is made into rope used for pulling heavy loads.
In tropical Africa Hibiscus diversifolius occurs from sea-level up to 2200 m altitude in damp places along the margins of rivers and lakes, gallery forest, savanna, thickets and cultivated land.
Hibiscus diversifolius is mostly collected from the wild, but in Tanzania sometimes cultivated and protected in homegardens. In Rwanda in the 1950s stems from wild plants yielded 3.1% fibre after 5 days retting. Defoliated stems of cultivated plants yielded 5.2% fibre after retting for 7 days. The fibre yield of cultivated plants was 600 kg/ha.
In view of its widespread distribution in tropical Africa and elsewhere, Hibiscus diversifolius is not threatened with genetic erosion. In 1969 and 1975 USDA organised trips to Kenya and Tanzania to collect germplasm of wild kenaf and related Hibiscus species. Germplasm of Hibiscus diversifolius is maintained in the United States. Through interspecific hybridization anthracnose resistance has been transferred from Hibiscus diversifolius to kenaf.
Hibiscus diversifolius is less suitable than kenaf for both fibre and vegetable production, but it can play an important role as a genitor, especially for pest and disease resistance.
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- 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. Hibiscus diversifolius Jacq. [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 4 March 2020.
- See the Prota4U database.