Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Tent. fl. abyss. 1: 69 (1847).
Origin and geographic distribution
Abutilon longicuspe is distributed from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia through DR Congo and East Africa southward to Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It also occurs in Egypt and Yemen.
In Kenya the stem is locally used to make string and withies, e.g. for making baskets. In Tanzania it yields string for building houses. In Ethiopia the stem bark is used as rope. The cooked flowers are eaten as a vegetable. The plant is also used as fodder, as ornamental and as a source of bee forage.
In traditional medicine in Kenya the plant is used to ease childbirth and to expel the placenta. The root is used in Tanzania for the treatment of stomach problems.
Fibre from Kenya investigated in the 1950s was yellow, with a tensile strength of 66 kg/mm² and poor spinning quality. The sample had been taken, however, from plants grown under suboptimal conditions, and the growth period and retting time had probably been too short.
Much-branched shrub up to 6 m tall; all parts tomentellous, with or without long simple hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules linear, 6 mm long; petiole 2–19 cm long; blade broadly ovate up to 22 cm × 18 cm, cordate at the base, acuminate to cuspidate at the apex, margin toothed, upper surface dark green, lower surface much paler, both surfaces stellate-velvety, palmately 5–7-veined. Inflorescence a terminal or lateral panicle up to 23 × 13 cm, many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel 0.5–3(–4) cm long; epicalyx absent; calyx 4–12 mm long, persistent, broadly cup-shaped, 5-lobed, segments acute; petals 5, free, 8–20 mm long, white to pink with purplish centre; stamens many, staminal column cylindrical, 2–7 mm long, purple, filaments 4–12 mm long; ovary superior. Fruit a subglobose schizocarp of follicle-like mericarps, c. 9 mm × 13–15 mm, umbilicate, downy; mericarps c. 20, reniform, 6–10 mm × 4–7 mm, obtuse, 1-seeded. Seeds c. 3 mm × 2 mm, smooth, glabrous.
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 longicuspe occurs at 1000–3000 m altitude in secondary forest and scrub, edges and clearings of upland and riverine forest, grassland, rocky outcrops in grazed areas, and coffee plantations.
Abutilon longicuspe can be propagated by seed. Seeds have dormancy. In experiments in Molo (Kenya, 2500 m altitude) in the 1950s, yields of 700–1000 kg fibre per ha have been obtained, with dry stems yielding 9% of clean, dry fibre after 13 days of retting.
Genetic resources and breeding
Abutilon longicuspe is not under any threat of genetic erosion, as it has a wide distribution and is common in disturbed habitats.
The plant is up to now of local importance only. Too little information is available to capture its prospects as a fibre plant.
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Correct citation of this article:
Achigan-Dako, E.G., 2010. Abutilon longicuspe Hochst. ex A.Rich. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.