Hibiscus vitifolius (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Forage / feed|
- Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 696 (1753).
- Family: Malvaceae
- Chromosome number: 2n = 32, 34
- Hibiscus jatrophifolius A.Rich. (1847).
Origin and geographic distribution
Hibiscus vitifolius is widespread in mainland tropical Africa from Côte d’Ivoire and Mali eastwards to Eritrea and Somalia and southward to South Africa. It occurs in Madagascar and the Comoros as well. The species is also recorded for Egypt, Asia and Australia. It has been introduced and has become naturalized in tropical America.
The bark yields a fibre used in West Africa, DR Congo and Kenya for making rope. In Madagascar women use the fibre in handicrafts. The plant is grazed by livestock in Kenya and Tanzania. In Ghana mucilage from the roots is applied to hair and skin to kill parasites. In Kenya the root is used for killing lice. In South Africa Venda people take a root decoction to treat vaginal discharge. In Asia aqueous extracts of the root bark are traditionally used for the treatment of jaundice, inflammation and diabetes. Hibiscus vitifolius has ornamental value.
In India fibre from Hibiscus vitifolius is considered one of the best-quality fibres in the Malvaceae family. It is creamy white, soft and lustrous, with good elasticity and strength, and dyes very well. The ultimate fibres are (0.6–)2.5(–6.7) mm long, with a diameter of (6–)13.5(–21) μm.
The seed contains 13.3% oil on a dry weight basis. Fatty acids present in the seed oil include: palmitic acid 30.1%, stearic acid 4.3%, oleic acid 15.2% and linoleic acid 44.8%. The oil also contains malvalic acid (3.0%) and sterculic acid (0.6%), which are cyclopropenoid fatty acids known to cause physiological disorders in animals.
A flavone, gossypin, and a flavonol bioside have been isolated from the flowers. Further compounds isolated from the flowers are: quercetin, hibiscetin and hibifolin. Gossypin is credited with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. It was found to inhibit cell proliferation in tumour cell lines in vitro. It also exhibited anticarcinogenic activities against croton oil induced skin papilloma in mice. The bioside is endowed with significant hypoglycaemic activity. Seeds have shown powerful urease activity. Water and ethanol extracts of the root have shown in-vivo anti-inflammatory and diuretic effects in rats.
Annual or perennial herb or shrub up to 3 m tall, sometimes scrambling, with all parts pubescent to pilose; stem glandular and slightly prickly, sometimes red-tinged. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules linear or filiform, 3–8 mm long; petiole 1–13(–18) cm long; blade broadly ovate to cordiform or suborbicular in outline, 3–15(–19) cm × 2–15.5(–21) cm, unlobed or 3–5(–7)-lobed, base cordate to truncate, lobes triangular, apex acute or acuminate, margin crenate, serrate or undulate, both surfaces glabrous to pubescent, stellate hairs often present. Flowers solitary in leaf-axils or in terminal cymes, regular, bisexual, 5-merous, 5–9 cm in diameter; pedicel 0.5–9 cm long, articulated, pubescent-pilose, rarely tuberculate; epicalyx bracts 8–12, filiform to narrowly triangular, 5–15 mm long, pilose; calyx 10–25 mm long; lobes ovate to triangular, 10–18 mm × 4–10 mm, fused in the lower half, pubescent-hispid, 3–5-veined; petals 2–6 cm long, yellow or lilac with a dark red or maroon blotch at base, glabrous; stamens numerous, united for most of their length into a staminal column up to 16 mm long, free parts of filaments up to 5 mm long; ovary superior, exserted part of style 1.5–5 mm long, glabrous. Fruit a globose to ovoid capsule 7–17 mm × 8–15 mm, on a stalk c. 2.5 cm long, straw-coloured, hispid or pubescent, with 5 wings 2–3 mm wide. Seeds wedge-shaped, c. 3 mm × 2 mm, glabrous, black or dark brown, with evenly-spaced longitudinal rows of tubercles.
In experimental cultivation in India Hibiscus vitifolius was classified as a fibre species with a short vegetative phase with only 102 days to reach harvest. Flowering occurred c. 75 days after sowing. At maturity the average plant height was 73 cm with a diameter at the base of 1.25 cm.
Within Hibiscus vitifolius three subspecies are sometimes recognized:
– subsp. vitifolius: stems and leaves nearly glabrous to sparsely hairy, leaves unlobed to deeply 3–5(–7)-lobed, drying dark green, pedicel articulated at the middle, corolla yellow with a dark blotch at base, capsule 10–17 mm × 9–15 mm; occurring in Cameroon, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique; also in South Africa and Sri Lanka;
– subsp. vulgaris Brenan & Exell: stems and abaxial side of leaves tomentose, tomentellous, densely pilose, densely pubescent or hispid abaxially, leaves not lobed or usually shallowly 3–5 (–7)-lobed, drying brownish green; distributed in tropical Africa, South Africa and Asia;
– subsp. lukei Mwachala & Cheek: stems and leaves nearly glabrous to sparsely hairy, leaves unlobed to deeply 3–5(–7)-lobed, drying dark green, pedicel articulated above the middle, corolla lilac with a dark maroon blotch at base, capsule c. 8 mm × 8 mm; only known from the type collected in Kenya.
Although many varieties and forms of Hibiscus vitifolius have been published in the past, most authors nowadays are of the opinion that subdivision of the subspecies based on the presence or absence of glandular or hispid hairs, prickles etc. is not meaningful.
Hibiscus comprises c. 200 species, mainly in the tropics and subtropics; many of them grown as ornamentals. Several species yielding fibres are closely related to Hibiscus vitifolius. Hibiscus lunariifolius Willd. from India has been introduced in Africa and is now found as a ruderal plant in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and probably elsewhere in tropical Africa as well. It is a shrub or shrubby herb up to 1.5 m tall with densely hairy stems and easily detaching irritating hairs. The fibre is known under the name ‘ramma’ or ‘rama’ fibre. Around 1910 the fibre has commercially been produced in Nigeria for a short period, but since then it has been used only locally, for instance for caulking canoes and for making ropes and fishing lines. The leaves are eaten in Ghana and Uganda and the flowers in Ghana and Tanzania. The stems have been used as fire sticks in Ethiopia. The stem bark is used in medicines for the treatment of anaemia, fatigue and listlessness. The powdered leaves are applied to guinea worm sores. Hibiscus dongolensis Delile has been confused with Hibiscus lunariifolius but it is much less hairy. It is a shrub up to 2 m tall, distributed from Sudan and Eritrea southwards to southern Africa. It has been tested for possible commercial fibre production but fibre quality and yield were disappointing.
In a transverse section of Hibiscus vitifolius stems harvested at the first pod stage in India the bast fibres occurred in a circle of rectangular wedges. The number of fibre bundles per wedge was c. 21, with c. 4–40 cells per bundle.
In tropical Africa Hibiscus vitifolius occurs from sea-level up to 2400 m altitude in clearings in rainforest, forest edges and paths, secondary forest, woodland, bushland, grassland, roadsides, cultivated land and fallows. In Nigeria it is a weed in rice fields.
The 1000-seed weight is c. 6 g. Vegetative propagation is possible as cuttings readily develop roots. Absence of tertiary branching makes the crop easy to handle. In India plants are harvested when they are flowering or bearing small fruits. The leaves are removed and the stems and branches are retted in water for 4–7 days. Hibiscus vitifolius is a host plant of the cotton stainer Dysdercus superstitiosus and of Xanthomonas campestris pv. malvacearum, the causal agent of bacterial blight in cotton.
In view of its widespread distribution in tropical Africa and elsewhere, Hibiscus vitifolius is not threatened with genetic erosion.
Hibiscus vitifolius was once featured as promising fibre plant as the quality and physical and chemical properties of its fibre were similar to those of jute (Corchorus olitorius L.). However, cultivation of the species has never been seriously promoted. Probably, further agronomic investigations are worthwhile to fully assess the potential of the plant as commercial crop. Cultivation as ornamental plant could also be explored. Hibiscus vitifolius exhibits a promising utilization in medicine, particularly with regard to gossypin, a flavone with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activities. Further pharmacological research is warranted.
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- Parmar, N.S. & Ghosh, M.N., 1978. Anti-inflammatory activity of gossypin of bioflavonoid isolated from Hibiscus vitifolius Linn. Indian Journal of Pharmacology 10(4): 277–293.
- Ragunathan, V. & Sulochana, N., 1994. A new flavonol bioside from the flowers of Hibiscus vitifolius Linn. and its hypoglycaemic activity. Journal of Indian Chemical Society 71: 705–706.
- SEPASAL, 2011. Hibiscus vitifolius. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. http://www.kew.org/ ceb/sepasal/. August 2011.
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- Sundar Rao, K. & Lakshminarayana, G., 1985. Fatty acid compositions of seed oils of seven Hibiscus species of Malvaceae. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society 62(4): 714–715.
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- E.G. Achigan Dako, PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya
Correct citation of this article
Achigan-Dako, E.G., 2011. Hibiscus vitifolius L. [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 13 November 2020.
- See the Prota4U database.