Tiliacora funifera (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Tiliacora funifera (Miers) Oliv.

Protologue: Fl. Trop. Afr. 1: 44 (1868).
Family: Menispermaceae


  • Tiliacora warneckei Engl. ex Diels (1910),
  • Tiliacora johannis Exell (1935).

Vernacular names

  • Elbow-leaf, stem-fruit climber (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Tiliacora funifera is widely distributed in tropical Africa, from Ghana eastward to Ethiopia and Somalia and southward to Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.


The stem without the bark is used as a coarse binding material, for instance for tying roofs and bundles of firewood. In DR Congo the fruit is eaten.

In Ghana plant preparations are drunk for the treatment of gastric fever, hernia and menstrual problems. In Congo sap from the leaves forms part of preparations against insanity. In South Africa an extract of the root mixed with other plant ingredients is taken by women to increase fertility. To treat problems of the face, leaves are boiled and applied to the face as a steam bath.

Production and international trade

The root is commonly traded as a medicine, for instance in Maputo (Mozambique).


The central part of the stem is flexible and tough like a rattan.

Both leaf and rhizome extracts showed moderate anticancer activity (total growth inhibition <10 μg/ml) against MCF7 (breast cancer), UACC62 (melanoma) and TK10 (renal cancer) cell lines. This activity is supported by the presence of the alkaloid isotetrandrine known for its antitumour activity. Root and stem extracts showed antiplasmodial activity against Plasmodium falciparum. The extracts contained the bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids (+)-funiferine-2’-N-oxide, (+)-funighanine and (+)-2’-norfunighanine. The toxicity of the extract was relatively low.

The roots and leaves contain bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids, including funiferine dimethiodide. The roots also contain tiliacorine, funiferine, isotiliarine and pseudotiliarine, and the quaternary benzylisoquinoline monomer oblongine. Many (bis)benzyl-tetrahydro-isoquinoline alkaloids have been isolated from Tiliacora funifera extracts.


Robust, dioecious, woody liana up to 20 m long. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole slender, 1.5–5 cm long, with swelling or slight articulation before joining the leaf blade at an angle, hairy to glabrescent; blade ovate-lanceolate, ovate-oblong or broadly ovate, 5–20 cm × 3–10 cm, subcordate to rounded or somewhat obtuse at base, obtuse to acute or acuminate at apex, papery or leathery, usually glabrous, sometimes sparsely hairy beneath. Male and female inflorescences similar, either an axillary solitary cymule on a c. 1 cm long peduncle, or a 3–9-flowered cymule, solitary or clustered in a false raceme which is axillary or springing from old stems, up to 15 cm long; axes and peduncles hairy. Flowers unisexual; male flowers with 6–9 sepals, the 3–6 outer ones triangular to orbicular, 1–1.5 mm × 1–1.5 mm, thickened and ciliolate, the 3 inner ones obovate-elliptical, 3.5–4 mm × 2–2.5 mm, petals 6, 1.5–2.5 mm long, clawed, thickened on margins, stamens exserted, 3–5 mm long, free or slightly united at base; female flowers with 6–9 sepals, the outer ones lanceolate to ovate, 1–2 mm long, the inner ones suborbicular, c. 2.5 mm × 2.5 mm, petals (5–)6, 1–1.5 mm long, staminodes absent, ovary of 8–12 carpels, about 1 mm long. Fruit composed of obovoid to nearly round drupelets, 5–7 mm long, orange or yellow; stipe 1.5–3 mm long; exocarp glabrescent, smooth or verrucose; endocarp compressed, woody, furrowed.

In Ghana Tiliacora funifera flowers in June, in Zimbabwe and Mozambique from August to October.

Tiliacora comprises about 20 species of which 3 occur in tropical Asia and 17 in Africa; it is in need of a taxonomic revision. The variation within Tiliacora funifera is large.


Tiliacora funifera occurs from sea-level up to 2000 m altitude in lowland and upland rain-forest, riverine and other evergreen forest, and moist, shady places in woodland, thickets and grassland.


Tiliacora funifera is only collected from the wild.

Genetic resources

Because of its large area of distribution, Tiliacora funifera is not in danger of genetic erosion.


The importance of Tiliacora funifera as a fibre plant is unlikely to increase. Although several of its chemical constituents have interesting pharmacological properties, they have not become important in the production of medicines. Recently discovered anticancer properties, ascribed to isotetrandrine, are not unique to this species.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • de Wet, H., Fouche, G. & van Heerden, F.R., 2009. In vitro cytotoxicity of crude alkaloidal extracts of South African Menispermaceae against three cancer cell lines. African Journal of Biotechnology 8(14): 3332–3335.
  • Tackie, A.N., Reighard, J.B., El-Azizi, M.M., Slatkin, D.J., Schiff, P.L. Jr. & Knapp, J.E., 1980. Constituents of West African medicinal plants. Part 24. Isolation of funiferine dimethiodide and oblongine from Tiliacora funifera. Phytochemistry 19(8): 1882–1883.
  • Tackie, A.N. & Thomas, A., 1968. Alkaloids of Tiliacora funifera. Planta Medica 16(2): 158–165.
  • Troupin, G., 1960. Menispermaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 150–171.

Other references

  • Ayim, J.S., Dwuma Badu, D., Fiagbe, N.Y., Ateya, A.M., Slatkin, D.J., Knapp, J.E. & Schiff, P.L., 1977. Constituents of West African medicinal plants. 21. Tiliafunimine, a new imino bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloid from Tiliacora funifera. Lloydia 40(6): 561–565.
  • Barbosa-Filho, J.M., Da-Cunha, E.V.L. & Gray, A.I., 2000. Alkaloids of the Menispermaceae. The Alkaloids 54: 1–190.
  • Böhlke, M., 1997. Potential pharmaceutical value of tropical forest plants of Costa Rica and coastal Ghana. PhD thesis, University of Illinois, College of Pharmacy, Chicago, United States. 264 pp.
  • Dwuma Badu, D., Okarter, T.U., Tackie, A.N., Lopez, J.A., Slatkin, D.J., Knapp, J.E. & Schiff, P.L. jr, 1977. Constituents of West African medicinal plants 19: funiferine N-oxide, a new alkaloid from Tiliacora funifera (Menispermaceae). Journal of Pharmaceutical Science 66(9): 1242–1244.
  • Dwuma Badu, D., Withers, S.F., Ampofo, S.A., El Azizi, M.M., Reighard, J.B., Knapp, J.E., Slatkin, D.J. & Schiff, P.L. jr., 1978. Constituents of West African medicinal plants. 23. The position of the phenolic function in dinklacorine and funiferine – confirmation of structures. Lloydia 41: 658.
  • Krog, M., Falcão, M.P. & Smith Olsen, C., 2006. Medicinal plant markets and trade in Maputo, Mozambique. Working Papers No 16–2006 Development & Environment. Danish Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning, KVL, Hørsholm, Denmark. 39 pp.
  • Malaisse, F., 1997. Se nourir en fôret claire africaine. Approche écologique et nutritionelle. Les presses agronomiques de Gembloux, Gembloux, Belgium & CTA, Wageningen, Netherlands. 384 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Owusu-Dapaah, G., 1993. Isolation, identification and some chemical and biological studies on the compound funiferine from Tilacora funifera (Memispermaceae). M. (Pharm) degree thesis, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. 164 pp.
  • Schmidt, E., Lötter, M & McCleland, W., 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana Media, Johannesburg, South Africa. 702 pp.


  • L.P.A. Oyen, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Oyen, L.P.A., 2010. Tiliacora funifera (Miers) Oliv. [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 8 March 2020.