Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Hort. Brit.: 53 (1826).
2n = 42
Sida hirta Lam. (1783), Abutilon graveolens (Roxb. ex Hornem.) Wight & Arn. (1833).
Florida Keys, Indian mallow (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Abutilon hirtum is a pantropical species. In tropical Africa it occurs in Cape Verde and from Niger and Nigeria eastward to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and southward to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. It also occurs in Réunion and Mauritius.
The stem bark is used for making string, and fibre from the bark is made into cordage and cloth. In Kenya the fruits are eaten raw, while the leaves are browsed by cattle, goats and camels. In the same country the species is said to be used to ease childbirth and to expel the placenta. In traditional veterinary medicine in Uganda a water extract of the bark is used to expel a retained placenta. The plant has ornamental value.
The bark fibre is recorded to be long, fine, soft and strong. The presence of alkaloids in the plant has been recorded.
Perennial herb or shrub up to 2.5 m tall; all or most parts with sticky yellow to orange basally swollen glandular hairs, sparsely tomentose and often with long simple hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules linear to subulate, 3–12 mm long, persistent; petiole 1–20 cm long; blade ovate to suborbicular, 2–24 cm × 1–19.5 cm, cordate at the base, acute to acuminate at the apex, margin toothed, both surfaces hairy, palmately 5–9-veined. Flowers solitary in leaf axils or in narrow panicle with simple or branched peduncle, bisexual, regular; pedicel 1.5–7 cm long, accrescent; epicalyx absent; calyx bell-shaped, 7–18 mm long, 5-fid with oval segments, cuspidate; petals 5, united at the base and adnate to the base of the staminal column, 15–27 mm long, yellow to bright orange, often with dark red to purple base, hairy at the base; stamens many, staminal column 5–9 mm long, filaments 3–5 mm long; ovary superior. Fruit a subglobose schizocarp of follicle-like mericarps, 1–1.5 cm × 1–2.5 cm, truncate, depressed; mericarps 16–30, oblong, 8–12(–14) mm × 5–9(–10) mm, truncate above and terminating in a minute tooth, (1–) 3-seeded. Seeds c. 2.5 mm × 2.5 mm, black, reticulate, papillose.
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.
The plant occurs from sea level up to 1800 m altitude in woodland, bushland, savannas, overgrazed grassland, roadsides, hedges and fences, often near rivers and other moist locations. It is sometimes found on termite nests.
Abutilon hirtum is a host for okra mosaic virus (OkMV).
Genetic resources and breeding
Abutilon hirtum is widely distributed in Africa and occurs in a wide range of habitats. Therefore it is not under any threat of genetic erosion.
Abutilon hirtum is of local importance only. Unfortunately, too little information on the fibre properties is available to make a proper assessment of its prospects as a fibre plant.
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Correct citation of this article:
Achigan-Dako, E.G., 2010. Abutilon hirtum (Lam.) Sweet. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.