Triumfetta rhomboidea (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Triumfetta rhomboidea Jacq.

Protologue: Enum. syst. pl. 22 (1760).
Family: Tiliaceae (APG: Malvaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 32, (48)


  • Triumfetta bartramia L. (1759).

Vernacular names

  • Burbush, burweed, Chinese bur, diamond burbark, paroquet bur (En).
  • Herbe à paniers, hérisson blanc (Fr).
  • Mchokochole, mchokochore, mfyokochore (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Triumfetta rhomboidea is a pantropical weed. It is very widespread in continental Africa, including South Africa. It is introduced and naturalized in Cape Verde, Madagascar, Seychelles, Réunion and Mauritius and in Australia.


The bast fibre of Triumfetta rhomboidea (known as ‘punga’ in DR Congo and Angola) is used throughout its range for making rope, string, ties and thread. In Nigeria game and fishing nets are made from the fibre. In Gabon it is used for tying the thatch of hut-roofs. The twigs are used for making fish-traps and in basketry. In East Africa they are used as chew-sticks. The leaves are used for cleaning metal objects such as gun-barrels and the larger ones are used in Tanzania as toilet paper.

The mucilaginous leaves serve as a pot-herb and famine food in Africa and India, and are widely used as fodder. The bark of green shoots is a source of mucilage used for making soups and sauces with a sticky consistency. The mucilage obtained from Triumfetta species is often used as baby food and for young children not yet able to eat coarse starchy foods. Because of its high energy value, the soup is often the first dish given to women who have delivered a child. It is also used as appetizer. The boiled roots are eaten as a vegetable, for instance in Zimbabwe.

In traditional African medicine the stems and leaves are widely used as emollients and for treating skin-complaints of children, burns, eczema, scabies and to mature abscesses and furuncles. In Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso leaf infusions are given to children to bring down fever and to prevent diarrhoea. A decoction of the leaves is used against dysentery. In Gabon and DR Congo an infusion of the leaves is used as a cure for colic. This infusion is also drunk in DR Congo as a cure for leprosy. In Rwanda the leaves are used as a cure for angina and pneumonia and they are used for deworming. Snakebites are treated with the leaves in Rwanda and the pulped root in Tanzania. In East Africa the root is used as pain-killer, especially against headache, toothache and circumcision wounds. In Madagascar the roots are used for the treatment of conjunctivitis. In Mauritius a decoction of leaves and roots is drunk against coughing and a decoction of the roots alone in case of poisoning by poisonous fish. Parts of the plant are used in Uganda (leaves and roots) and South Africa (fruit and roots) to facilitate and hasten childbirth.

In traditional veterinary medicine in Nigeria the leaves are fed to horses to cure internal troubles, including worms. In Sierra Leone the seeds are mixed with sorghum and fed to horses against constipation and worms.

Production and international trade

Triumfetta rhomboidea is only used and traded at the local level.


The bast fibre cells are polygonal in cross-section, 1.1–2.8 mm long and 9–27 μm wide. Bast fibre from Uganda investigated in the 1930s contained 60% cellulose and 11% lignin.

In the dry season in central Kenya the leaves contain per 100 g dry matter: 17.9 g crude protein, 46.1 g neutral detergent fibre, 9.0 g ash and 8.4 g soluble tannins, with an in-vitro dry matter digestibility of 65%, and an in-vitro crude protein digestibility of 87%. In the rainy season the leaves contain per 100 g dry matter: 17.8 g crude protein, 36.1 g neutral detergent fibre, 7.6 g ash and 19.8 g soluble tannins, with an in-vitro dry matter digestibility of 66%, and an in-vitro crude protein digestibility of 87%.

Quite some work has been done in recent years on the phytochemistry and biological activities of Triumfetta rhomboidea. Triumferol (4-hydroxy-isoxazole) was isolated from the plant. Water and ethanol extracts, containing triumferol, were tested for their anti-implantation effects by oral administration to rats over a 10-day period after mating, and were found to interrupt pregnancy in a dose-dependent manner. The compound is also an effective seed-germination inhibitor. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of the methanolic extract of the leaves have been confirmed by laboratory tests. Extracts from the leaves have shown antiviral activity against Coxsackie virus. The essential oil of the aerial parts has been analysed and antibacterial activity assessed. The main constituents identified were β-caryophyllene (22.4%), kessane (14%) and caryophyllene oxide (13%). Antimicrobial tests showed a mild activity against Escherichia coli and Enterococcus hirae. Antimicrobial tests of water and ethanol extracts of the aerial parts have shown a moderate activity against Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Enterococcus faecalis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. The crude extract of the aerial parts significantly inhibits the activity of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) in vitro. This is one of the enzymes involved in blood pressure regulation. Phytochemical analysis revealed the presence of the flavone glycoside triumboidin (scutellarein-6-xyloside-7-rhamnoside), rosmarinic acid, friedelin and friedelinol in the leaves. The seeds have a strong purgative activity and other plan parts are used as a purgative as well.

Adulterations and substitutes

The fibres of Sida rhombifolia L. are used in the same way as those of Triumfetta rhomboidea. A very similar fibre, also known as ‘punga’, is obtained from Clappertonia ficifolia Decne. The roots and leaves of Abutilon, Sida, Urena and other species of Triumfetta in decoction are also used as emollients.


Annual herb or perennial shrub up to 200 cm tall; stem erect, up to 1 cm in diameter at the base; bark smooth, red-brown, scabrid, hairy or glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules narrowly elliptical to linear, up to 4 mm × 1 mm, black, falling early; petiole terete, up to 7 cm long, densely hairy; blade rhombic, elliptical or ovate, 2.5–11.5(–17) cm × 2.5–8(–10.5) cm, usually 3-lobed halfway or three-quarter to base, rarely entire, base cuneate to obtuse, apex acute or shortly acuminate, margin singly or doubly toothed, upper surface with scattered hairs, lower surface densely hairy. Inflorescence terminal, with 1–4 ultimate branches, 5–35 cm long, each with nodes 15–40 mm apart, each node bearing 1–6 cymes, nodes with reduced leaves becoming more linear and smaller towards the top, cymes (1–)3(–5)-flowered; peduncle 2–3 mm long; bracts narrowly elliptical to linear, up to 4 mm × 1 mm. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel up to 2 mm long; sepals 5, free, narrowly elliptical to linear, 8–9 mm long, with apical spine up to 0.5 mm long, outer surface sparsely brownish-grey stellate-hairy, red in bud; petals 5, spatulate, 5–7 mm × 1.5–2 mm, white, yellow or orange, with basal claw 1 mm long, hairy; stamens (14–)15; ovary superior, 4–5-locular, sparsely hairy. Fruit a dehiscent, almost spherical capsule 5–7.5 mm × 4–5 mm (including bristles), dark brown, glossy and with dense, long, simple brownish-white hairs with c. 65–90 patent bristles 3–4 mm long, apex of bristles tightly hooked, with a single terminal recurved hair, (2–)4(–6)-seeded. Seeds semi-ovoid, 2–2.5 mm long. Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Triumfetta comprises about 70 species with a tropical distribution, and several of these are pantropical weeds. Triumfetta rhomboidea exhibits a lot of variation but the fruits are uniform and diagnostic. In the vegetative state, Triumfetta rhomboidea is difficult to distinguish from the closely related Triumfetta pentandra A.Rich. It is also easily confused with Urena lobata L., but the latter has a gland at the base of the midrib on the lower side of the leaf.

Growth and development

In West Africa Triumfetta rhomboidea flowers in August–December. Flowers are visited by bees. The fruits cling to fur or clothes and are thus dispersed.


Triumfetta rhomboidea is common along roadsides, in waste places and in other ruderal locations, up to 2750 m altitude.

Propagation and planting

When Triumfetta species are cultivated for the mucilage, cuttings of 15–20 cm long are taken from the top end of the harvested stems. Since the crop does not perform well under direct sunlight, the cuttings are usually planted in the shade of a tree. They are planted in a circle with a spacing of 10–15 cm. If the cutting is not planted straight upward, adventitious roots may develop, causing a reduced capacity to produce slime. Therefore, some farmers tie the cuttings to a taller plant, e.g. plantain, to ensure that they grow upright. Propagation with seed is possible as well.


Pollarding is possible, but regrowth is slow. Attempts have been made in Malawi to cultivate Triumfetta rhomboidea for fibre production but apparently the trials have been discontinued without the results having been published.

Diseases and pests

No serious diseases and pests are recorded for Triumfetta rhomboidea. It is sometimes attacked by the fungus Corynespora, by fungi causing powdery mildew, and also by a geminivirus, causing yellow netting on the leaves. It is an important alternative host for insect pests of jute (Corchorus spp.).


Triumfetta rhomboidea is collected from the wild whenever the need arises. Stems for mucilage are cut just above ground level when they are 75–100 cm long.


Fresh stems contain about 3% fibre, air-dry stems about 8%. Dry ribbons contain about 26% fibre. In the 1960s fibre yields of cultivated Triumfetta rhomboidea were estimated at 500–800 kg/ha.

Handling after harvest

The fibre is extracted by retting in running or stagnant water. Alternatively, bark ribbons are stripped from the stem and scraped with a knife to remove extraneous matter, after which they are ready for use. Mucilage is extracted by softening the bark in hot water, followed by kneading it in a small amount of clean water. During kneading, the mucilage is released into the water, which is added to stews to make them sticky.

Genetic resources

Triumfetta rhomboidea is widely distributed in anthropogenic habitats and does not seem to be at risk of genetic erosion.


No breeding programmes involving Triumfetta rhomboidea are known to exist.


Work on infra-specific classification of Triumfetta rhomboidea may prove useful. Preliminary investigations have shown interesting biological effects of extracts ( ACE-inhibition) and isolated compounds (triumferol). More research is needed, however, to fully evaluate their potential.

Major references

  • Aguilar, N.O., 2001. Triumfetta bartramia L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 562–564.
  • Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
  • Cos, P., Hermans, N., de Bruyne, T., Apers, S., Sindambiwe, J.B., Vanden Berghe, D.A., Pieters, L. & Vlietinck, A.J., 2002. Further evaluation of Rwandan medicinal plant extracts for their antimicrobial and antiviral activities. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 79: 155–163.
  • Kirby, R.H., 1963. Vegetable fibres: botany, cultivation, and utilization. Leonard Hill, London, United Kingdom & Interscience Publishers, New York, United States. 464 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Schippers, R.R., 2000. African indigenous vegetables. An overview of the cultivated species. Natural Resources Institute/ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Chatham, United Kingdom. 214 pp.
  • 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., 1963. Tiliaceae. In: Exell, A.W., Fernandes, A. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 2, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 33–91.

Other references

  • Abbiw, D.K., 1990. Useful plants of Ghana: West African uses of wild and cultivated plants. Intermediate Technology Publications, London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 337 pp.
  • Bapuji, J.L. & Ratnam, S.V., 2009. Traditional uses of some medicinal plants by tribals of Gangaraju Madugula Mandal of Visakhapatnam District, Andhra Pradesh. Ethnobotanical Leaflets 13: 388–398.
  • Debray, M., Jacquemin, H. & Razafindrambao, R., 1971. Contribution à l’inventaire des plantes médicinales de Madagascar. Travaux et Documents No 8. ORSTOM, Paris, France. 150 pp.
  • Devmurari, V.P., Ghodasara, T.J. & Jivani, N.P., 2010. Antibacterial activity and phytochemical study of ethanolic extract of Triumfetta rhomboidea Jacq. International Journal of PharmTech Research 2(2): 1182–1186.
  • Fleuret, A., 1980. Nonfood uses of plants in Usambara. Economic Botany 34(4): 320–333.
  • Hansen, K., Nyman, U., Smitt, U.W., Adsersen, A., Gudiksen, L., Rajasekharan, S. & Pushpangadan, P., 1995. In vitro screening of traditional medicines for anti-hypertensive effect based on inhibition of the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 48(1): 43–51.
  • Heine, B. & Legère, K., 1995. Swahili plants: an ethnobotanical survey. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, Köln, Germany. 376 pp.
  • Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.
  • Kamatenesi-Mugisha, M. & Oryem-Origa, H., 2007. Medicinal plants used to induce labour during childbirth in western Uganda. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 109: 1–9.
  • Latham, P., 2005. Some honeybee plants of Bas-Congo Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. DFID, United Kingdom. 167 pp.
  • Mendiola, N.B., 1917. A study of Philippine bast fibers. The Philippine Agriculturist and Forester 6: 6–39.
  • Mevy, J.P., Bessiere, J.M., Rabier, J., Dherbomez, M., Ruzzier, M., Millogo, J. & Viano, J., 2006. Composition and antimicrobial activities of the essential oil of Triumfetta rhomboidea Jacq. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 21(1): 80–83.
  • Nair, A.G.R., Seetharaman, T.R., Voirin, B. & Favre-Bonvin, J., 1986. True structure of triumboidin, a flavone glycoside from Triumfetta rhomboidea. Phytochemistry 25(3): 768–769.
  • Norman, A.G., 1937. The composition of some less common vegetable fibres. Biochemical Journal 31: 1575–1578.
  • Portères, R., 1974. Un curieux élément culturel Arabico-Islamique et Néo-Africain : les baguettes végétales machées servant de frotte-dents. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 21(4–6) : 1–36; 111–149.
  • Roecklein, J.C. & Leung, P. (Editors), 1987. A profile of economic plants. Transaction Books, New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States. 623 pp.
  • Roothaert, R.L., 2000. The potential of indigenous and naturalized fodder trees and shrubs for intensive use in central Kenya. PhD thesis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 168 pp.
  • Uche, F.I. & Ezugwu, C.O., 2009. Evaluation of antioxidant activities of some Nigerian medicinal plants. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine 2(4): 27–32.
  • Uche, F.I. & Okunna, B.U., 2009. Phytochemical constituents, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of methanol extract of Triumfetta rhomboidea leaves in animal models. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine 2(5): 26–29.
  • Vlietinck, A.J., van Hoof, L., Totté, J., Lasure, A., Vanden Berghe, D.A., Rwangabo, P.C. & Mvukiyumwami, J., 1995. Screening of hundred Rwandese medicinal plants for antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 46: 31–47.

Sources of illustration

  • Aguilar, N.O., 2001. Triumfetta bartramia L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 562–564.


  • 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. Triumfetta rhomboidea 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. <>.

Accessed 11 November 2020.