Urera hypselodendron (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Urera hypselodendron (Hochst. ex A.Rich.) Wedd.

Protologue: Ann. Sci. Nat., Bot., sér. 3, 18: 203 (1852).
Family: Urticaceae

Origin and geographic distribution

Urera hypselodendron is distributed from Sudan and Ethiopia southward through eastern DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It has been recorded from Guinea-Bissau, but is not otherwise known to occur in West Africa.


The stem bark yields a fibre used for string and as sewing thread to stitch up gourds for holding milk. It is also used for making fishing nets and lines. The stem is used for basketry in Uganda. The leaf is eaten as a vegetable. The stem bark is used in traditional medicine for treatment of impetigo. Liquid from the stem is used as a tonic for pregnant women, and a decoction of the stem is mixed with milk and drunk by pregnant women with abdominal pain. A decoction of the leaf is taken as a purgative. In DR Congo the leaves are chewed as antivenin against snake bites, or the bite is rubbed with a maceration of the whole plant. A concoction of the leaf is given to sick chickens.


The fibre obtained from the bark is black and strong. Leaves from Uganda had a crude protein content of 20.9 g per 100 g dry matter.


Dioecious liana up to 25 m long or more; stem with numerous adventitious roots, sap abundant; bark reddish brown, glabrescent, without stinging hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules fused for at least ? of their length, triangular to lanceolate, up to 14 mm long, glabrous or hairy outside, dark brown, caducous; petiole up to 11 cm long, glabrous to hairy, with or without stinging hairs; blade ovate to obovate, 5–20 cm × 2.5–16 cm, base rounded to cordate, apex short-acuminate, rarely acute, margin toothed with more than 35 teeth on each side, upper surface glabrous or occasionally sparsely hairy, lower surface hairy to glabrescent, dark green, 3-veined from the base, with 3–7 pairs of lateral veins. Inflorescence an axillary, lax cyme up to 15 cm in diameter, with or without stinging hairs; male inflorescence usually larger than the female one, sessile or on peduncle up to 1 cm long; female inflorescence sessile or on peduncle up to 2 cm long. Flowers unisexual, 4-merous; male flowers in clusters up to 0.5 cm in diameter, pedicel 1–2.5 mm long, articulated, hairy, perianth c. 2 mm in diameter; female flowers densely clustered, sessile, perianth segments basally fused, unequal, ovary superior. Fruit an achene 1–1.5 mm long, compressed, slightly oblique, minutely granulate, brown, surrounded by the fleshy, orange-red perianth. Seeds 1 mm × 0.5 mm.

In Kenya Urera hypselodendron flowers in October–May and in August.

Urera comprises about 35 species and occurs in tropical Africa including Madagascar, tropical America and Hawaii.


In East Africa Urera hypselodendron occurs at 1000–3100 m altitude, in rainforest and bamboo forest, especially in clearings and near margins, sometimes on isolated trees left in farmland.


Urera hypselodendron is usually collected from the wild, but in Tanzania there are some local initiatives to domesticate it as a vegetable. It is also said to have been planted in DR Congo, near Lake Tanganyika. The 1000-seed weight is 0.13 g. The optimum temperature for germination is 25°C. To obtain the fibre in DR Congo, the bark is dried and crumpled well, and the fibre is taken out.

Genetic resources

Urera hypselodendron is widely distributed and seems not threatened by genetic erosion.


Urera hypselodendron is a useful local source of fibre for cordage and fishing gear, and the stems are used for basketry. The plant also provides other useful products, such as edible leaves and traditional medicines. Detailed information on the fibre properties as well as the nutritional and pharmacological properties is lacking, making it difficult to assess the prospects for this species.

Major references

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • 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.
  • Friis, I., 1986. The genus Urera (Urticaceae) in eastern tropical Africa. Nordic Journal of Botany 5: 547–553.
  • Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 64 pp.
  • Yamada, T., 1999. A report of the ethnobotany of the Nyindu in the eastern part of the former Zaire. African Study Monographs 20(1): 1–72.

Other references

  • Chifundera, K., 1987. Antivenomous plants used in the Zairean pharmacopoeia. African Study Monographs 7: 21–35.
  • Hauman, L., 1948. Urticaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., De Wildeman, E., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Lebrun, J., Louis, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 1. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 177–218.
  • Kalanda, K. & Bolamba, K., 1994. Contribution à la connaissance des plantes médicinales du Haut Zaïre. Les plantes utilisées contre les maladies de la peau à Kisangani. Revue de Médecines et Pharmacopées Africaines 8(2): 179–188.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Mwihomeke, S.T., Zilihona, I.J.E., Hamisy, W.C. & Mwaseba, D., 2000. Assessment of forest user groups and their relationship to the condition of the natural forests in the Uluguru Mountains. Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST), Uluguru Mountains Biodiversity Conservation Project, Morogoro, Tanzania. 57 p.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Rothman, J.M., Dierenfeld, E.S., Molina, D.O., Shaw, A.V., Hintz, H.D.F. & Pell, A.N., 2006. Nutritional chemistry of foods eaten by gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. American Journal of Primatology 68: 675–691.
  • Teketay, D. & Granström, A., 1997. Germination ecology of forest species from the highlands of Ethiopia. Journal of Tropical Ecology 13(6): 805–831.
  • Vainio-Mattila, K., 2000. Wild vegetables used by the Sambaa in the Usambara Mountains, NE Tanzania. Annales Botanici Fennici 37: 57–67.
  • Wild, R.G. & Mutebi, J., 1996. Conservation through community use of plant resources: establishing collaborative management at Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks, Uganda. People and Plants Working Paper No 5. UNESCO, Paris, France. 45 pp.


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

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2009. Urera hypselodendron (Hochst. ex A.Rich.) Wedd. [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 5 March 2020.