Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Kew Bull. 36(1): 145 (1981).
2n = 20
Girardinia erosa Decne. (1844), Girardinia heterophylla (Vahl) Decne. (1844), Girardinia condensata (Steud.) Wedd. (1854).
Himalayan nettle, Nilgiri nettle, Nepalese nettle (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Girardinia diversifolia is widespread in tropical Africa, from Senegal eastward to southern Sudan and Ethiopia, and southward to Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and also occurring in Madagascar. In Asia it occurs in Yemen and from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to Indonesia, southern China and Taiwan. It is cultivated as a fibre plant in South India.
The bast fibre is used in tropical Africa for making sewing thread, twine and rope. It has been tried to make barkcloth from the fibre, but complete removal of the stinging hairs has proved difficult. In Kenya it has been grown in demonstration projects aiming at producing fibre, paper and insecticide from the plant. In India and Nepal the bast fibre is traditionally made into cordage for strings, ropes and fishing nets, and woven into cloth for bags, sacks, jackets, porters’ headbands and mats. A more recent development in Nepal is the production of vests, shawls and a range of other articles aimed at tourist and export markets. The fibre is sometimes blended with ramie (Boehmeria nivea (L.) Gaudich.), cotton (Gossypium spp.) or wool. The woody stem parts can be used for papermaking.
The leaf and inflorescence are eaten as a vegetable. In Nepal the roasted and pickled seeds are eaten, and the plant is a source of livestock feed, bedding material, fuel and a blue dye. The seed can be used to make soap and other oil-based products.
In Rwanda Girardinia diversifolia is part of an antidote against snakebites, and in veterinary medicine a maceration of the leaves is used for treatment of theileriasis. In Kenya the root is boiled in goat’s bone soup, which is drunk to gain strength. In Nepal leaf preparations are used for the treatment of headache, fever and swollen joints, and juice of the root is given in case of constipation. Ash of the plant is applied externally for the treatment of ringworm and eczema. In north-eastern India the seeds are used as fish poison.
Production and international trade
There is some export of shawls and other woven products from Nepal to Europe, the United States and Japan.
The fibres are located in a wide ring in the outer part of the stem, not in bundles but as single fibre cells separated by parenchyma cells. In cross-section the fibre cells are polygonal or roundish in shape, with a wide lumen and relatively thin walls. They are (10–)200–400(–1300) mm long and (10–)30–160(–340) μm wide, with an average cell wall thickness of c. 5 μm.
The fibre content of the stem is 3.5–13.2% on a dry weight basis. In studies in Indo-China in the 1940s, the bark of Girardinia diversifolia yielded 61% fibre. Bark strips contained 16% moisture, 38% cellulose, 8% hemicelluloses, 8% lignin and 7% ash. After degumming, the fibre contained 11% moisture, 67% cellulose, 8% hemicelluloses, 4% lignin and 3% ash. Indian fibre has been recorded as containing 7% moisture, 90% cellulose and 1.5% ash.
The bast fibre is of good quality: long, strong, smooth and lustrous. The tensile strength of Nepalese fibre was 180–550 N/mm², with the lowest values at the tip and the highest values at the base of the stem. The modulus of elasticity was 5.8–22.5 GPa, without differences between segments of the stem. The fibre is comparable to ramie fibre, but contains more gums, which, however, are removed easily. The fibre can be spun into long filaments.
The aerial parts contain alkaloids, acetylcholine, histamine and 5-hydroxytryplamine. The seed contains 10–12% oil. The sting of the hairs is sharply felt, and is said to last from only a few minutes to a few hours.
Erect annual or short-lived perennial herb up to 1.5(–3) m tall, monoecious or dioecious; stem up to 1(–2) cm in diameter, sparsely branched, hollow; bark often furrowed, greenish to dark brown, densely covered with stinging hairs 7–9 mm long and with short stiff hairs. Leaves alternate; stipules linear-lanceolate, fused for over four-fifths of their length, hairy outside; petiole 3–15(–24) cm long, pubescent to pilose, densely covered with stinging hairs and stiff hairs; blade elliptical to ovate in outline but extremely variously lobed or divided, 6–20(–25) cm × 3.5–18(–25) cm, base cuneate, truncate or cordate, apex acute or acuminate, margin toothed, upper surface not bullate, with scattered stiff hairs and stinging hairs up to 7 mm long, and dot-like mineral concretions, lower surface with stinging hairs on the larger veins and pubescence on fine reticulation of veins, lateral veins in 3–6 pairs. Inflorescence unisexual, cylindrical; male inflorescence a narrow, spicate panicle up to 10 cm long, with flowers in dense clusters, peduncle up to 2 cm long, with stinging hairs; female inflorescence a dense cymose dichasium 2–3 cm long at anthesis, elongating to 10–15 cm long in fruit, densely covered with stinging hairs. Flowers unisexual; male flowers on a 1 mm long pedicel, perianth 4–5-merous, c. 1 mm in diameter, tepals without dorsal appendages; female flowers sessile, perianth 1.5–2 mm long, with 3 almost completely fused tepals and the fourth one usually lacking, ovary superior, enclosed in the perianth, stigma filiform. Fruit an ovoid to subcordate achene 3–4 mm in diameter, compressed, brown.
Other botanical information
Girardinia comprises 2 species distributed in mountain areas in the Old World tropics. It has the longest stinging hairs in the Urticaceae, but the sting seems less severe than that of some other genera, such as Laportea. Girardinia diversifolia is a highly polymorphic species, with particularly much variation in leaf morphology and in the shape and size of the female inflorescence.
Girardinia diversifolia occurs at (300–)1000–2500 m altitude in rainforest and dry forest, especially in clearings, natural glades and along edges, also in woodland, savanna, cultivated areas and moist rocky locations. It prefers partial shade. In Madagascar it is a weed of cultivated areas.
Propagation and planting
Girardinia diversifolia can be propagated by seed and vegetatively by offsets.
Handling after harvest
After harvesting, the leaves and stinging hairs are removed from the stem, and the bark is stripped off. In Cameroon the stinging hairs are removed with a cloth before the fibre is extracted from the stem.
To extract the fibre in Asia, the bark is boiled for 3–4 hours in an alkaline solution made from wood ash, before it is beaten and washed until it is clean, after which it is rubbed with mica-rich clay, rice husk or maize flour, and dried in the sun. Rubbing with clay seems to have the combined effect of bleaching and lubricating the fibre. Alternatively, the fibre may be extracted by stripping the bark off the stem, after which it is washed or scraped until the fibre is clean, or the stripped-off bark is dried, and the fibre is freed by pounding, after which it is boiled with an alkaline solution, and then washed until it is clean.
In view of its extensive distribution and wide range of habitats, Girardinia diversifolia is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Girardinia diversifolia yields fibre of good quality, similar to ramie fibre in many respects. Therefore, the prospects for increased use of the plant are good. The fibre is especially suitable for the production of textiles, for which the same techniques can be applied as those used for ramie. The fibres with their large lumina and thus low density can also be used as renewable raw material in composites. A major disadvantage of Girardinia diversifolia compared to ramie is the presence of stinging hairs on all plant parts, which makes handling unpleasant.
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Sources of illustration
• Friis, I., 1989. Urticaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 64 pp.
Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2009. Girardinia diversifolia (Link) Friis. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, part of flowering stem; 2, male flower; 3, part of infructescence.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman