PROTA homepage Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Record display

Abutilon angulatum (Guill. & Perr.) Mast.

Fl. trop. Afr. 1: 183 (1868).
Bastardia angulata Guill. & Perr. (1831), Abutilon intermedium Hochst. ex Garcke (1867), Abutilon eetveldeanum De Wild. & T.Durand (1899).
Vernacular names
Elephant’s ear, fluted abutilon (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Abutilon angulatum occurs widespread in the drier parts of tropical Africa from Senegal, Gambia and Mali eastward to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and southward to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. It also occurs in Madagascar.
The stem bark yields a fibre locally used for string and cordage. In Zambia the fibre is used for stitching mats together. In Madagascar the bark fibre is woven into cloth. The large and soft leaves are sometimes used as toilet paper.
The leaves and flowers are cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The leaves and the inner tissue of the stems are mixed with tobacco and smoked. Leaves are used as fodder. The stems are used as tinder. Bees feed on the flowers. The plant has ornamental value.
In southern African traditional medicine the powdered root is applied on burns. Root extracts are drunk for the treatment of cough and pneumonia, and for easing labour pains. An infusion of the root forms part of preparations taken in case of epilepsy and heartache. Cooked or raw leaves are eaten as a remedy for hiccups. In Madagascar the flowers are made into a lotion applied in case of skin problems.
Fibre from Zimbabwe investigated in the early 20th Century was pale and lustrous, but short, not strong and more brittle than jute, although this may have been due to poor processing. The presence of alkaloids in the plant has been recorded.
Perennial herb or shrub up to 5 m tall; stem and branches angular; all parts greyish hairy, with very short stellate hairs and without long simple hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules subfalcate, c. 4 mm long, reflexed, caducous; petiole 1–12(–24) cm long; blade roundish to broadly ovate, up to 30 cm × 26 cm but usually much smaller, cordate at the base, acute to acuminate at the apex, margin toothed, upper surface dark grey-green, lower surface much paler, 5–9-veined from the base. Inflorescence a large terminal and lateral panicle, loose, much branched, ultimately leafless; peduncle 1–5 cm long, accrescent. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel 1–5 cm long; epicalyx absent; calyx cup-shaped, 6–15 mm long, 5-lobed, lobes ovate, acute, submucronate; petals 5, united at the base and adnate to the base of the staminal column, 9–22 mm long, yellow to orange; staminal column 5–8 mm long, filaments 2–5 mm long; ovary superior. Fruit a subglobose schizocarp of follicle-like mericarps, 10–12 mm × 8–9 mm, depressed, umbilicate; mericarps 20–40, 7–9 mm × 5–6 mm, rounded or with an obtuse dorsal angle, 1-seeded. Seeds c. 2.5 mm long, dark brown, smooth to finely papillose, glabrous.
In southern Africa flowering is in December–May. Flowers open in the afternoon.
Abutilon comprises 100–150 species and is distributed in the tropics and subtropics. There is a need for further taxonomical study as the circumscription of several species is obscure.
Abutilon species used as fibre plants in Madagascar include Abutilon greveanum (Baill.) Hochr. and Abutilon pseudocleistogamum Hochr., both endemic to Madagascar. Their fibres are made into cordage and the sap of their flowers is instilled on wounds to promote cicatrisation. The leaves of Abutilon pseudocleistogamum are chewed as a haemostatic. The decoction of the leaves is credited with oxytocic properties.
Within Abutilon angulatum two varieties are distinguished:
– var. angulatum: indumentum glaucous; flower buds not angular; calyx lobes triangular, usually less than 6 mm long, not or inconspicuously veined; widely distributed in tropical Africa.
– var. macrophyllum (Baker f.) Hochr.: indumentum more yellowish or brownish than glaucous; inflorescence usually shorter, narrower and more condensed than in var. angulatum; flower buds distinctly angular; calyx lobes ovate to ovate-lanceolate, usually more than 7 mm long, with distinct median veins or more or less keeled; restricted to southern Africa and Madagascar.
Abutilon angulatum occurs from sea level up to 2700 m altitude in open forest, riverine forest, woodland, grassland roadsides and fallow areas. It is a weed in cultivated land.
Abutilon angulatum is only collected from the wild, but it can be propagated by seed. To obtain fibre, the branches are cut, stripped of leaves and left to soak in water overnight, after which the bark is stripped off and the inner bark separated from the outer bark. After the non-fibrous parts of the inner bark have been scraped off, the fibres are rolled between the palms or on the thigh and allowed to coil to form a rope.
Genetic resources and breeding
In view of its wide distribution and occurrence in disturbed habitats, Abutilon angulatum is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Abutilon angulatum is a widely available local source of fibre. Too little information is available on the properties of the fibre to assess its potential as a fibre plant.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Hochreutiner, B.P.G., 1955. Malvacées (Malvaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), familles 129–130. Firmin-Didot et cie., Paris, France. 170 pp.
• Kirby, R.H., 1963. Vegetable fibres: botany, cultivation, and utilization. Leonard Hill, London, United Kingdom & Interscience Publishers, New York, United States. 464 pp.
• Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
• Verdcourt, B. & Mwachala, G.M., 2009. Malvaceae. In: Beentje, H.J. & Ghazanfar, S.A. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 169 pp.
Other references
• Bingham, M.H., 1990. An ethno-botanical survey of Senanga West. Senanga West Agricultural Development Area, Department of Agriculture, Republic of Zambia. 27 pp.
• 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.
• Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille, 54e année, 6e série, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
• Hyde, M. & Wursten, B., 2006. Abutilon angulatum (Guill. & Perr.) Mast. var. angulatum. [Internet ] Flora of Zimbabwe. Accessed November 2009.
• Maite, A.L., 1987. Some Malvaceae of Mozambique with medicinal properties. In: Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. (compiler). Medicinal and poisonous plants of the tropics. Proceedings of Symposium 5–35 of the 14th International Botanical Congress, Berlin, 24 July – 1 August 1987.Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 116–118.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Raffauf, R.F., 1996. Plant alkaloids: a guide to their discovery and distribution. Food Products Press, New York, United States. 279 pp.
• SEPASAL, 2009. Abutilon angulatum. [Internet] Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL) database. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. ceb/sepasal/. Accessed November 2009.
• Thulin, M., 1999. Malvaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 2. Angiospermae (Tiliaceae-Apiaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 40–83.
• Vollesen, K., 1995. Malvaceae. 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. 190–256.
E.G. Achigan Dako
PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya

M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
E.G. Achigan Dako
PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya
Photo editor
G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Achigan-Dako, E.G., 2010. Abutilon angulatum (Guill. & Perr.) Mast. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.

obtained from Zimbabweflora