Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Hortus Brit. ed. 3: 382 (1839).
2n = 10
Cacalia coccinea Sims (1803), Emilia sagittata auct. non DC.
Tassel flower, Cupid’s paintbrush, red thistle (En). Emilie, cucolie écarlate (Fr). Kilembe cha mbwana, ulimi wa ngombe (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Emilia coccinea is native to DR Congo, Burundi, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Red- and purple -flowered plants have been imported in Mauritius and have become naturalized locally.
The use of Emilia coccinea as a vegetable is reported from Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. In Tanzania leaves are chopped and cooked alone or with pulses such as peas and beans. In Malawi the leaves are only occasionally eaten as a side dish; they are considered to have an unpleasant taste.
In Tanzania eye inflammations are treated by applying a cold water compress of the bruised plant or by soaking leaves mixed with those of Ipomoea eriocarpa R.Br. in water, after which the infusion is used for eye drops. Crushed green leaves are used to treat wounds, sores and sinusitis. Dried powdered leaves are also applied to sores. Roots or leaves are boiled and the decoction is used to treat syphilis. The roots are used to treat colic in babies in Tanzania and as a chest medicine in Kenya. Emilia coccinea is widely cultivated as an ornamental in tropical, subtropical and temperate regions.
All data on the nutritive value published under the name Emilia coccinea appear to refer to Emilia lisowskiana C.Jeffrey from West Africa. Toxic pyrrolyzidine alkaloids and flavonoids have been isolated from other Emilia species. Fresh leaf juice, methanolic and aqueous extracts of Emilia sonchifolia (L.) DC. and Emilia prenanthoidea DC. have shown antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities in various studies.
Erect annual herb up to 120 cm tall; stem pubescent in lower part, glabrous in upper part, or rarely glabrous throughout. Leaves alternate, simple; lower leaves shortly petiolate, blade spatulate to elliptical, up to 12 cm × 5 cm; median and higher leaves sessile, blade spatulate to lanceolate, up to 20 cm × 6 cm. Inflorescence a terminal head, 1–6 together in corymbs; involucral bracts (8–)13(–21). Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; corolla tubular, 5–9.5 mm long, yellow to orange or red (sometimes scarlet-red in ornamental cultivars); stamens with cohering anthers forming a tube; ovary inferior, 1-celled, style-arms terminating in an appendage of fused papillae. Fruit an achene 2–5 mm long, shortly hairy; pappus 3–5 mm long.
Emilia comprises about 100 species and is indigenous in the Old World tropics. About 50 species are found in Africa, and several of these have become naturalized in the Americas. Emilia is closely related to Senecio. Vegetatively it resembles species of Sonchus but it can be distinguished by its solid stems and the absence of milky sap. Emilia lisowskiana and Emilia praetermissa Milne-Redh. have often been misidentified as Emilia coccinea, and uses, properties and chromosome numbers reported in the literature for Emilia coccinea often refer to either of these 2 related species. The ranges of Emilia lisowskiana and Emilia coccinea overlap in DR Congo, Angola and Zambia but are separated ecologically, those of Emilia praetermissa and Emilia coccinea do not overlap although both occur in DR Congo. Among gardeners the names Emilia flammea and Emilia javanica are wrongly applied to ornamental Emilia coccinea.
Emilia coccinea is a weed of roadsides, waste places and fallow land. In eastern Africa it is found in dry areas up to 2000 m altitude.
In Tanzania Emilia coccinea is collected during the rainy season for home consumption and traded in local markets. As an ornamental it can be multiplied by cuttings, but is more commonly grown from seed. It is grown at a close spacing of about 15 cm and can be used as a cut flower and for drying.
Genetic resources and breeding
Emilia coccinea is a widespread and common weedy species which is not threatened by genetic erosion. Breeding and selection for ornamental purposes has resulted in distinct cultivars, among them ‘Scarlet Magic’.
As a vegetable Emilia coccinea is likely to remain only locally important. In view of the local medicinal uses and interesting properties of its close relatives, pharmacological research is desirable. As an annual ornamental it has a bright future in temperate regions.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Emilia coccinea (Sims) G.Don In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.