Triumfetta pilosa (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Triumfetta pilosa Roth

Protologue: Nov. Pl. Sp.: 223 (1821).
Family: Tiliaceae (APG: Malvaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 64


  • Triumfetta abyssinica K.Schum. (1892).

Vernacular names

  • Hairy ropebark (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Triumfetta pilosa is widespread in tropical Africa, from southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea southward to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar. It also occurs in South Africa and Swaziland, and in tropical Asia.


The stem bark is much used for making rope and string. It is made into barkcloth by hunter-gatherers in DR Congo. In India the partially retted fibre is made into canvas and sailcloth, because of its durability in moist conditions.

In Madagascar a leaf infusion is drunk to treat colic and diarrhoea, whereas in East Africa an extract of the leaf is recorded to be drunk as a purgative. In South Africa a leaf maceration is used as an eye bath for treatment of eye problems. In India the bark and fresh leaf are used for the treatment of diarrhoea, the leaf and flower for the treatment of leprosy, and the crushed leaf and twig are applied as a paste on sores.


Fibre strands are 25–40 cm long, white and very soft. The individual fibre cells are on average 1.5 mm long and 11.3 μm wide. The fibre contains about 85% cellulose, 14% lignin and 1% ash.

The seed contains 12% oil. The main fatty acids are palmitic acid (17%), stearic acid (11%), oleic acid (20%) and linoleic acid (43%). The oil also contains the cyclopropenoid fatty acids malvalic acid (2%) and sterculic acid (7%), which are known to cause abnormal physiological reactions in animals. Therefore the seeds are not suitable for consumption unless the cyclopropenoid acids have been removed.


Perennial herb or shrub up to 3 m tall, often weak-stemmed and straggling or scandent; stem terete, 4–7 mm in diameter, moderately clothed with rigid reddish hairs up to 1.5 mm long having, towards the base of the stem, black bases which become prickle-like, rarely with stellate hairs without aculeate bases. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules triangular, up to 8 mm long, dark brown, densely clothed with brownish hairs, often persistent; petiole terete, up to 6 cm long, densely clothed with brownish hairs; blade ovate to lanceolate, unlobed, 3–13(–20) cm × 1–7(–9.5) cm, base obtuse to cordate, apex acute to acuminate, margin coarsely toothed, lower side pilose, upper side with shorter and sparser hairs. Inflorescence terminal, 5–35 cm long, bearing slightly reduced leaves, nodes 1–3.5 cm apart, each with 1–4(–5) cymes, cymes (1–) 3-flowered; peduncle up to 1 cm long, hairy as petiole; bracts narrowly triangular-ovate, 2–4(–6) mm long. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel up to 5 mm long; sepals 5, free, narrowly lanceolate, slightly fiddle-shaped, 5–10 mm long, thickly covered with stellate hairs, sometimes glabrescent, with horn up to 1 cm long; petals 5, rounded-oblong, 5–7(–11) mm × 1.5–3(–4) mm, yellow, with basal claw, base of the claw with densely hairy margin; stamens 9–11(–15); ovary superior, 3–4-locular. Fruit a dehiscent globose capsule (12–)15–27 mm in diameter (including bristles), with 72–100 dark brown rigid bristles up to 10(–11) mm long, densely clothed in long, simple hairs, rarely glabrous, apex of bristles hooked, with a single terminal hair. Seeds c. 3 mm long.

Triumfetta is a pantropical genus of about 100 species. The classification within Triumfetta is mainly based on fruit characteristics. Triumfetta pilosa is easily confused with Triumfetta tomentosa Bojer, but can be distinguished from the latter by its larger fruit with bristles strongly hooked at the tip. In the absence of fruits the two species are more difficult to distinguish, but the leaf blade of Triumfetta tomentosa is usually wider, sometimes 3-lobed, and has a denser and shorter indumentum, whereas the stem lacks the black, aculeate hair-bases often found in Triumfetta pilosa.

Triumfetta pilosa is an extremely variable species, and several varieties have been distinguished:

– var. effusa (E.Mey. ex Harv.) Wild: leaf blade ovate from sparsely stellate pubescent to densely stellate-tomentose, especially below; bristles on fruits glabrous or with few hairs near the base; distributed in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.

– var. glabrescens Sprague & Hutch.: leaf blade oblong-lanceolate or elliptical, 8–14 cm × 1.5–6 cm, often only sparingly stellate-hairy; calyx glabrescent; distributed in Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

– var. pilosa (synonym: Triumfetta pilosa var. nyasana Sprague & Hutch.): leaf blade lanceolate, 6.5–18 cm × 1–7 cm, pilose beneath, hairs largely simple; calyx more or less thickly covered with stellate hairs; distributed in tropical Africa and Asia.

– var. tomentosa Szyszyl. ex Sprague & Hutch.: leaf blade ovate, 6–12 cm × 3–7.5 cm, densely and shortly stellate-hairy above, more densely so beneath; bristles on fruits pilose; distributed in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.


Triumfetta pilosa occurs at 1000–2550(–2750) m altitude in forest, woodland and grassland, in swamp edges or on stream banks, along roads, in fallows and as a weed. In the Amhara region of Ethiopia Triumfetta pilosa is an indicator of increasing fertility in wetlands, and its appearance makes farmers put back a fallow under cultivation. The seeds stick to animals, which then disperse them.


The stem yields about 7% fibre.

Genetic resources

Because of its widespread distribution, broad range of habitats, and occurrence as a weed in cultivated land, Triumfetta pilosa is not threatened by genetic erosion.


Triumfetta pilosa is a useful local source of fibre, much used in Africa as well as in Asia. Information on the fibre properties is scarce, however, making it difficult assess the prospects of this species.

Major references

  • Boiteau, P., Boiteau, M. & Allorge-Boiteau, L., 1999. Dictionnaire des noms malgaches de végétaux. 4 Volumes + Index des noms scientifiques avec leurs équivalents malgaches. Editions Alzieu, Grenoble, France.
  • CSIR, 1976. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 10: Sp–W. Publications and Information Directorate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 591 pp.
  • Hosamani, K.M. & Ramesh, H.S., 2003. Industrial utilization of Triumfetta pilosa, Roth seed oil: a moderate source of oil and cyclopropenoid fatty acids. Industrial Crops and Products 17(1): 53 56.
  • Whitehouse, C., Cheek, M., Andrews, S. & Verdcourt, B., 2001. Tiliaceae & Muntingiaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 120 pp.
  • Wild, H., 1984. Tiliaceae. In: Leistner, O.A. (Editor). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 21, part 1. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agriculture, Pretoria, South Africa. 44 pp.

Other references

  • Begum, D. &Nath, S.C., 2000. Ethnobotanical review of medicinal plants used for skin diseases and related problems in northeastern India. Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants 7(3): 55–93.
  • Capuron, R., 1963. Révision des Tiliacées de Madagascar et des Comores (première partie). Adansonia, séries 2, 3: 91–127.
  • Dixon, A.B., 2001. Indigenous knowledge: its significance for wetland management in Illubabor Zone. In: Dixon, A.B., Afework Hailu & Wood, A.P. (Editors). Proceedings of the Wetland Awareness Creation and Activity Identification Workshop in Amhara National Regional State, January 23rd 2001, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. pp. 53–60.
  • Friis, I. & Vollesen, K., 1998. Flora of the Sudan-Uganda border area east of the Nile. I. Catalogue of vascular plants, 1st part. Biologiske Skrifter No 51:1. The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, Copenhagen, Denmark. 388 pp.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W., 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana, Johannesburg, South Africa. 702 pp.
  • Terashima, H. & Ichikawa, M., 2003. A comparative ethnobotany of the Mbuti and Efe hunter-gatherers in the Ituri forest, Democratic Republic of Congo. African Study Monographs 24(1–2): 1–168.
  • Vollesen, K. & Demissew Sebsebe, 1995. Tiliaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 2. Canellaceae to Euphorbiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 145–164.
  • Wilczek, R., 1963. Tiliaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 10. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 1–91.


  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2010. Triumfetta pilosa Roth. [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 5 March 2020.