Xerophyta spekei (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Xerophyta spekei Baker

Protologue: Journ. Bot. 13: 234 (1875).
Family: Velloziaceae


  • Vellozia spekei (Baker) Jackson (1895).

Origin and geographic distribution

Xerophyta spekei is distributed in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and possibly also in Ethiopia.


The stem is pounded and made into very strong brooms and paintbrushes in Kenya. Unspecified plant parts are used for cleaning metal pans and utensils. In traditional medicine the leaf is used in case of stiffness of the neck or other body parts; a piece of cloth is put on the aching part, and the area is rubbed with the warmed leaf.


Shrub up to 2(–5) m tall, with much-branched stems covered with persistent leaf-sheaths; stem up to 13 cm in diameter; branches subcylindrical, 6–12 mm thick. Leaves clustered at the end of stem or branches; sheaths densely overlapping, convex, keeled, with the midvein enlarged into a broad projection, shiny dark brown at the base, densely covered with white stiff hairs towards the apex; blade linear to filiform-attenuate, 5–35(–70) cm × 2–12 mm, leathery, glabrescent above, densely covered with white hairs beneath, somewhat scabrid with stiff hairs towards the apex, along the margin and along the midvein below, parallel-veined. Flowers 1–4 together in leaf axils at stem apex, on a peduncle 2–8 cm long with widely spaced glandular hairs, bisexual, regular, 3-merous; tepals in 2 series of 3, petal-like, linear-lanceolate, 20–35(–50) mm × 5–8 mm, white to pale blue, lilac or mauve, glandular at base; stamens 6, filaments almost completely united with tepals, anthers 13(–20) mm long; ovary inferior, ellipsoid, 0.5–1 cm long, densely covered with glands. Fruit a subglobose capsule up to 15 mm in diameter, many-seeded.

In Kenya Xerophyta spekei flowers in March–May and September–December.

Xerophyta comprises about 30 species, distributed in mainland Africa, Madagascar and southern Arabia. The stem of Xerophyta squarrosa Baker, an herb up to 1.5 m tall distributed in Angola, Namibia and South Africa, is used for brushing together grain on grinding stones. The leaves of several Xerophyta species endemic to Madagascar are used like those of Xerophyta spekei for rubbing pans and kitchen utensils. These species include Xerophyta dasyliroides Baker, a shrub up to 2 m tall, Xerophyta eglandulosa H.Perrier, a shrub up to 60 cm tall, and Xerophyta pinifolia Lam., a shrub up to 60 cm tall. The leaves of Xerophyta dasyliroides, known as ‘oignon des pierres’ or ‘poireau des pierres’, are also fed to chickens, whereas dried leaves have been used for igniting fire.


Xerophyta spekei occurs on rock outcrops, at 300–1900 m altitude.

Genetic resources

Xerophyta spekei has a fairly wide distribution and there are no indications that it is threatened by genetic erosion.


The importance of Xerophyta spekei is unlikely to increase beyond its present use of locally supplying material for brooms and other cleaning materials.

Major references

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • Lye, K.A. & Edwards, S., 1997. Velloziaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 6. Hydrocharitaceae to Arecaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 311–314.
  • Medley, K.E. & Kalibo, H.W., 2007. Ethnobotanical survey of 'wild' woody plant resources at Mount Kasigau, Kenya. Journal of East African Natural History 96(2): 149–186.
  • Smith, L.B. & Ayensu, E.S., 1975. Velloziaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 9 pp.

Other 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.
  • da Silva, M.C., Izidine, S. & Amude, A.B., 2004. A preliminary checklist of the vascular plants of Mozambique. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No 30. SABONET, Pretoria, South Africa. 183 pp.
  • Hyde, M.A. & Wursten, B., 2009. Velloziaceae. [Internet ] Flora of Zimbabwe. http://www.zimbabweflora.co.zw/ speciesdata/ family.php?family_id=230. Februari 2009.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Perrier de la Bâthie, H., 1950. Velloziacées (Velloziaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), familles 41–43. Firmin-Didot et cie., Paris, France. 17 pp.
  • Phillipson, P.B., 2004. Xerophyta. A Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Madagascar. [Internet] http://www.efloras.org/ florataxon.aspx?flora_id=12&taxon_id=135105. February 2009.
  • SEPASAL, 2009. Xerophyta squarrosa. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. http://www.kew.org/ ceb/sepasal/. February 2009.
  • Sölch, A., 1969. Velloziaceae. Prodromus einer Flora von Südwestafrika. No 152. J. Cramer, Germany. 3 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. Xerophyta spekei Baker. [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.