Triphyophyllum peltatum (PROTA)

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Triphyophyllum peltatum (Hutch. & Dalziel) Airy Shaw

Protologue: Kew Bull. 1951: 342 (1952).
Family: Dioncophyllaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 24, 36


  • Dioncophyllum peltatum Hutch. & Dalziel (1927).

Origin and geographic distribution

Triphyophyllum peltatum occurs in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the bordering area of Côte d’Ivoire. A single collection from Gabon needs confirmation.


The stems are used as tying material, for instance for tying house-posts and rafters. To get a refreshing drink, the stem is cut and the sap flowing from it is drunk. The root is purgative and very poisonous in higher doses. The pounded leaves and inner bark are applied topically to treat elephantiasis and are made into poultices against abdominal pain.

Production and international trade

The stems are only used locally.


A number of naphthoquinones, tetralones and naphthylisoquinoline alkaloids have been identified in extracts of Triphyophyllum peltatum. Like other Dioncophyllaceae and the related Ancistrocladaceae, Triphyophyllum peltatum is typical for its naphthylisoquinoline alkaloid constituents, all formed via a unique pathway from acetate units. Prominent among the isoquinolines identified are dioncophylline A, dioncopeltine A and dioncolactone A. Others include dioncophylline B, dioncophyllacine B, dioncophylline C, dioncophylline D, 8-O-dioncophylline D and dioncophyllinol D. The 3 dioncophyllines are stereoisomers, but have different biological properties; dioncophylline A has shown good molluscicidal activity against Biomphalaria glabrata, the intermediate host of bilharzia, dioncophylline B has antifungal properties against some plant-pathogenic fungi, dioncophylline C (like dioncopeltine A) is a promising lead against both the blood- and the liver-form of Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium berghei. Jozomine A, a synthetic dimer of dioncophylline A, is even about 20 times more active. The synthetic dimer of dioncophylline C, named jozomine C, has little activity against malaria parasites, but is a promising lead against HIV-1, with LC50 = 27 μg/ml. Other compounds identified include the more common isoshinanolone, plumbagin and droserone, which are formed when the isoquinoline metabolism is interrupted by stress. The bark of Triphyophyllum peltatum contains the common lupane-type triterpene betulinic acid, which has some antimalarial properties. From solid callus cultures of the shoot of Triphyophyllum peltatum the quinones dioncoquinone A and dioncoquinone B and droserone have been isolated. Both dioncoquinone A and dioncoquinone B showed antiprotozoal activity against Leishmania major and antitumour activity.


Scandent shrub or liana up to 20 m long, seasonally carnivorous; scandent branches terete, thin, glabrous, bearing short, leafy axillary branches. Leaves alternate, entire, of 3 forms: the first form on long shoots, blade narrowly oblong-elliptical, 6–16 cm × 1.5–3 cm, base cuneate, apex obtuse, midrib extending into a prominent forked acumen with recoiled arms; the second form on short shoots, blade oblong-lanceolate, 20–35 cm × 1–5 cm, without apical coils; the third form on young coppice shoots, blade partially or all reduced to the midrib and bearing many stipitate, viscid glands; petiole c. 1 cm long, articulate in the middle, leaving a persistent peg on the stem after falling; blade leathery, glabrous, midrib more prominent above than below, venation inconspicuous. Inflorescence a cyme, in the axils of short branches, minutely rusty velvety, few-flowered; bracts c. 2 mm long. Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic; pedicel up to 3 cm long; sepals 5, triangular, c. 2 mm long, persistent; petals 5, obovate, c. 13 mm long, thick and somewhat leathery; stamens 10, very short, anthers oblong; ovary superior, obovoid, opening early with (4–)5 valves, styles 5, small, elliptical-lanceolate, ending in numerous, narrow lobes, spreading. Fruit a capsule up to 4 cm in diameter when mature; valves elliptical-lanceolate, 1.5–3 cm × c. 7 mm, sharp apiculate, usually 1-seeded; funicles up to 5.5 cm long, extending far outside the fruit under an acute angle. Seeds hanging from the open valves of the fruit, developing in the open, discoid, 4.5–7 cm in diameter including the surrounding wing; body semi-spherical, 1–1.5 cm in diameter; wing membranous, c. 2 cm in diameter, bright red or pinkish, edge wavy, crenulate, thin-papery.

Triphyophyllum peltatum is heterophyllous, bearing leaves of 3 types, 2 on non-climbing, short shoots, and the third on the mature lianous stem. The short shoots produce mostly normal, eglandular, lanceolate leaves, but just before the height of the rainy season small clusters of relatively short-lived, glandular leaves with a strongly reduced blade or without a blade are formed. These glandular leaves bear both stalked and sessile glands, and efficiently trap insects and other small animals. The stalked glands, of which there are two size classes, are anatomically very elaborate and contain vascular elements. Structurally there are similarities with the stalked glands of Drosophyllum and Drosera. At maturity they carry secretion droplets, and stimulation by a prey leads to further secretion. The secretions contain a range of proteolytic enzymes. During some periods of its development Triphyophyllum peltatum is apparently carnivorous. An important source of nutrients is thus tapped which may facilitate the transition from the juvenile to the rapidly-climbing adult form of the plant.

In nature, seeds germinate during the peak of the rainy season when the seeds are submerged or resting on the waterlogged forest floor. In cultivation in Sierra Leone the germinating seeds and young seedlings are sensitive to variation in temperature.

The juvenile plant consists of a short shoot growing to a maximum height of 1 m, bearing eglandular, oblanceolate leaves. These are succeeded by 1–6 filiform, glandular leaves, the two types often alternating thereafter. In the natural habitat, glandular leaves are most common on 30–50 cm long shoots. The glandular leaves are held erect, and remain on the plant for a few weeks only. The eglandular leaves tend to persist for several months. A liana is produced from the terminal bud of a juvenile shoot, or from an axillary shoot at the base of an existing liana. The terminal portion of the rachis of the leaves of the liana is prolonged into a pair of strong hooks with which the liana attaches itself to supporting trees. Flowers are usually produced during April and May.

Glandular leaves do not normally occur on undamaged mature plants. However, after a plant has been cut back such leaves may be formed on regeneration. In areas where the forest has been regularly disturbed, many short shoots with glandular leaves are often found arising from the underground parts of damaged plants or from the basal axils of stumps. Glandular leaves are conspicuous on such plants.

Dioncophyllaceae is a small family of the Caryophyllales s.l. comprising 3 monotypic genera in tropical West and Central Africa. Caryophyllales comprises, among others, several carnivorous families. In the Dioncophyllaceae, this character is believed to be secondarily lost, except in Triphyophyllum peltatum.


Triphyophyllum peltatum is restricted to an area of rainforest with relatively uniform climatic and soil conditions. Much of the forest is secondary and has been modified over a long period of shifting cultivation. The area has a dry season of 6–7 months, from mid-November to May–June, with 3 months with less than 10 mm rain per month. Peak rainfall (up to 1500 mm per month) is during July and August, but heavy showers occur during June and from September to early November. The soil in the area is rocky and shallow, seldom more than 10 cm deep. The surface soil is acid (about pH 4.2) and poor in mineral nutrients. It is waterlogged during the wet season and relatively arid during the dry. However, fissures in the underlying rock may sometimes allow the roots of the plants to find water.


Triphyophyllum peltatum is only collected from the wild. A protocol for in-vitro multiplication has been developed.

Genetic resources

Triphyophyllum peltatum occurs in a fairly large area and in secondary vegetation. There are no indications that it is under threat of genetic erosion.


It is unlikely that Triphyophyllum peltatum will become more important as a fibre plant. Recent information on its antimalarial and other medicinal properties is promising, but similar chemical compounds from related species, especially from Ancistrocladus korupensis D.W.Thomas & Gereau (Ancistrocladaceae) seem to have more direct pharmaceutical potential.

Major references

  • Airy Shaw, H.K., 1951. On the Dioncophyllaceae, a remarkable new family of flowering plants. Kew Bulletin 1951: 327–347.
  • Bringmann, G., François, G., Aké Assi, L. & Schlauer, J., 1998. The alkaloids from Triphyophyllum peltatum (Dioncophyllaceae). Chimia 52: 18–28.
  • 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.
  • Cremers, G., 1974. Architecture de quelques lianes d’Afrique tropicale. 2. Candollea 29: 57–110.
  • Green, S., Green, T.L. & Heslop-Harrison, Y., 1979. Seasonal heterophylly and leaf gland features in Triphyophyllum (Dioncophyllaceae), a new carnivorous plant genus. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 78: 99–116.

Other references

  • Bringmann, G. & Feineis, D., 2000. Novel antiparasitic biaryl alkaloids from West African Dioncophyllaceae plants. Actualités de Chimie Thérapeutique 26: 151–171.
  • Bringmann, G., Messer, K., Schwöbel, B., Brun, R. & Aké Assi, L., 2003. Habropetaline A, an antimalarial naphthylisoquinoline alkaloid from Triphyophyllum peltatum. Phytochemistry 62(3): 345–349.
  • Bringmann, G. & Rischer, H., 2001. In vitro propagation of the alkaloid-producing rare African liana, Triphyophyllum peltatum (Dioncophyllaceae). Plant Cell Reports 20(7): 591–595.
  • Bringmann, G., Ruedenauer, S., Irmer, A., Bruhn, T., Brun, R., Heimberger, T., Stuehmer, T., Bargou, R. & Chatterjee, M., 2008. Antitumoral and antileishmanial dioncoquinones and ancistroquinones from cell cultures of Triphyophyllum peltatum (Dioncophyllaceae) and Ancistrocladus abbreviatus (Ancistrocladaceae). Phytochemistry 69(13): 2501–2509.
  • Bringmann, G., Saeb, W., Aké Assi, L., François, G., Narayanan, A.S.S., Peters, K., Peters, E.M., 1997. Betulinic acid. Isolation from Triphyophyllum peltatum and Ancistrocladus heyneanus, antimalarial activity, and crystal structure of the benzyl ester. Planta Medica 63(3): 255–257.
  • Bringmann, G., Schlauer, J., Wolf, K., Rischer, H., Buschbom, U., Kreiner, A. Thiele, F., Duschek, M. & Aké Assi, L., 1999. Cultivation of Triphyophyllum peltatum (Dioncophyllaceae), the parttime carnivorous plant. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 28: 7–13.
  • Bringmann, G., Wenzel, M., Bringmann, H.P. & Schlauer, J., 2001. Uptake of the amino acid alanine by digestive leaves: proof of carnivory in the tropical liana Triphyophyllum peltatum (Dioncophyllaceae). Carnivorous Plants Newsletter 30: 15–21.
  • Cuenoud, P., Savolainen, V., Chatrou, L.W., Powell, M., Grayer, R.J. & Chase, M.W., 2002. Molecular phylogenetics of Caryophyllales based on nuclear 18S rDNA and plastid rbcL, atpB, and matK DNA sequences. American Journal of Botany 89(1): 132–144.
  • François, G., Timperman, G., Haller, R.D., Bar, S., Isahakia, M.A., Robertson, S.A., Zhao, C., De Souza, N.J., Aké Assi, L., Holenz, J. & Bringmann, G., 1997. Growth inhibition of asexual erythrocytic forms of Plasmodium falciparum and P. berghei in vitro by naphthylisoquinoline alkaloid-containing extracts of Ancistrocladus and Triphyophyllum species. International Journal of Pharmacognosy 35(1): 55–59.
  • Keay, R.W.J., 1954. Dioncophyllaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 191–194.


  • 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. Triphyophyllum peltatum (Hutch. & Dalziel) Airy Shaw. [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 13 November 2020.