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Hibiscus acetosella Welw. ex Hiern

Cat. afr. pl. 1(1): 73 (1896).
Chromosome number
2n = 72
Vernacular names
False roselle, red-leaved hibiscus, cranberry hibiscus, African rosemallow (En). Fausse roselle, fausse oseille de Guinée (Fr). Azedas (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Hibiscus acetosella is an amphidiploid species possibly originating from hybridization between Hibiscus asper Hook.f. and Hibiscus surattensis L., most probably in the region of southern DR Congo-Angola-Zambia. The hybridization may have occurred as a result of cultivation. Hibiscus acetosella is cultivated, but also occurs under natural conditions, usually in ruderal habitats, where it may have become naturalized after escape from cultivation. It is a popular vegetable in Cameroon and DR Congo. The crop was introduced to South-East Asia and to Brazil. In Brazil, where it was probably used as food for slaves, it is now more popular than in Africa. Red-flowered types with dark red leaves are mainly used as ornamentals and can be found throughout Africa as well as the tropics and subtropics of other continents.
The young, somewhat fleshy leaves and shoots are used as a vegetable. Yellow-flowered types with green leaves are most popular for this purpose, but red-flowered types with dark red leaves are also eaten. The leaves are mucilaginous and more sour than the similar looking Hibiscus sabdariffa L. and are used as a cooked vegetable, sometimes with pounded peanuts added to improve the flavour. The red leaves remain reddish after cooking. In South America, people often use types with decorative pinkish-brown leaves in fresh salads and appreciate their special rather sour taste. The red flowers and possibly also the leaves are occasionally used to make a tea, somewhat similar to the use of the red calyces of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. The root is edible but insipid and fibrous. Pink- or red-flowered types are often grown as ornamental plants in gardens. Some people in Cameroon and DR Congo combine the use of Hibiscus acetosella as a vegetable with its use as a hedge to separate plots. In Angola an infusion of the leaves in water is used as post-fever tonic; it is also used as medicine to treat anaemia. In East Africa children with an aching body are washed in cold water to which some mashed Hibiscus acetosella leaves have been added.
Production and international trade
Hibiscus acetosella is mainly grown in small gardens, often in association with Hibiscus sabdariffa. Farmers combine these two species so that they can adjust the acidity of the final product to the wishes of the consumer and mixed bunches of the two species are often found in local markets. Mixtures of green-leaved and red-leaved types of Hibiscus acetosella with different taste are also found. Although the two Hibiscus species look very similar when green, people can distinguish them. No data on production are available and no international trade is reported.
There is no information on the nutritive value of Hibiscus acetosella leaves, but it is probably comparable to that of the related Hibiscus sabdariffa L. and Hibiscus cannabinus L.
Adulterations and substitutes
The leaves of Hibiscus cannabinus, Hibiscus sabdariffa or other Hibiscus spp. can be used as a substitute for Hibiscus acetosella leaves in dishes.
Annual or perennial herb or subshrub up to 2(–2.5) m tall; stem glabrous to sparsely pubescent. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules very narrowly lanceolate to linear, up to 1.5 cm long; petiole 3–11 cm long; blade shallowly to deeply palmately 3–5-lobed but upper leaves sometimes undivided, up to 10 cm × 10 cm, margin crenate, glabrous or sparsely pubescent, palmately veined, with a distinct nectary at base of midrib. Flowers solitary in leaf axils, bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel up to 1 cm long, articulate; epicalyx segments 8–10, bifurcate at apex, one fork lanceolate and spoon-shaped, the other linear, both c. 3 mm long; calyx campanulate, up to 2.5 cm long, lobes nearly glabrous; petals free, obovate, up to 5.5 cm × 3.5 cm, lemon-yellow with red-purple base or wine-red; stamens numerous, united into a column up to 2 cm long, red-purple; ovary superior, 5-celled, style with 5 branches. Fruit an ovoid capsule up to 2.5 cm long, almost glabrous to appressed-pubescent, many-seeded. Seeds reniform, c. 3 mm × 2.5 mm, dark brown. Seedling with epigeal germination; cotyledons rounded, up to 2 cm × 2 cm, leafy.
Other botanical information
Hibiscus comprises 200–300 species, mainly in the tropics and subtropics; many of them grown as ornamentals. The estimated number of species varies because opinions differ about inclusion of several related groups of species in the genus. Hibiscus acetosella belongs to section Furcaria, a group of about 100 species which have in common a pergamentaceous calyx (rarely fleshy) with 10 strongly prominent veins, 5 running to the apices of the segments and bearing a nectary, and 5 running to the sinuses. Other species belonging to this section and used as vegetable are Hibiscus asper Hook.f., Hibiscus cannabinus L., Hibiscus diversifolius Jacq., Hibiscus mechowii Garcke, Hibiscus noldeae Baker f., Hibiscus rostellatus Guill. & Perr., Hibiscus sabdariffa L. and Hibiscus surattensis L. Hibiscus acetosella can best be distinguished from related Hibiscus species by its non-prickly stems, more or less glabrous leaves and bifurcate epicalyx lobes with lower fork spoon-shaped.
Growth and development
Hibiscus acetosella is probably mainly self-pollinating. This is favoured by the flower structure, with style branches included in the staminal column or hardly exserted.
Hibiscus acetosella occurs in abandoned fields and plantations, on waste ground near habitations, in marshes and forest clearings. It is cultivated at low to medium altitudes, usually in high rainfall areas, and requires good drainage. It can be fully exposed to the sun, but prefers some shade.
Hibiscus acetosella is frequently grown in home gardens, where people keep a few plants or grow it as a hedge from which they collect shoots when required. When grown on a larger scale as a vegetable, weeding is rarely necessary because it rapidly covers the ground after sowing, suppressing most weeds.
Propagation and planting
Vegetable types of Hibiscus acetosella are almost always propagated by seed, whereas the use of cuttings is a more common method of propagation for ornamental types. Market gardeners propagate Hibiscus acetosella in the same way as more common Hibiscus leaf crops by broadcasting the seed, but some farmers sow in lines. It may also be grown as an intercrop. When grown in home gardens, people usually establish a small nursery, from where they transplant seedlings.
Diseases and pests
Hibiscus acetosella is highly resistant to root-knot nematodes and is therefore an excellent crop to be used after tomatoes or other solanaceous vegetables that are affected by nematodes.
When the plants reach a size of about 25 cm, the first crop is harvested by uprooting, leaving remaining plants at a spacing of approximately 15 cm. Harvesting takes place early in the morning or late in the evening, allowing a fresh crop to arrive at the market. The next harvest is either by uprooting or by removing the tops only and allowing new side shoots to form. The latter process may be repeated 2 or 3 times, depending on soil fertility and the humidity of the soil.
Handling after harvest
When Hibiscus acetosella is grown for the market, farmers make bundles of about 10 shoots of 40 cm long and these bundles may be bundled together again. At the market the leaves are sprinkled with water when there are signs of wilting. The crop’s perishability does not allow for long-distance transport.
Genetic resources
A limited number of accessions of Hibiscus acetosella are included in germplasm collections of Hibiscus, e.g. at the Southern Regional Plant Introduction Station, Griffin GA, United States. It is not in danger of genetic erosion.
Hibiscus acetosella is used to transfer nematode resistance to other Hibiscus species, e.g. Hibiscus cannabinus, and the closely related Hibiscus radiatus Cav. can be used as a bridging species since their hybrids are fertile.
Hibiscus acetosella remains a locally popular indigenous vegetable and may see some expansion. Agronomy and breeding merit more attention. It will probably become more important as an ornamental 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, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Katende, A.B., Ssegawa, P. & Birnie, A., 1999. Wild food plants and mushrooms of Uganda. Technical Handbook No 19. Regional Land Management Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 490 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.
• Stevels, J.M.C., 1990. Légumes traditionnels du Cameroun: une étude agrobotanique. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers No 90-1. Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 262 pp.
• Widodo, S.H., 1993. Hibiscus acetosella Welwitsch ex Hiern. In: Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 176–178.
• Wilson, F.D., 1999. Revision of Hibiscus section Furcaria (Malvaceae) in Africa and Asia. Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Botany Series 29: 47–79.
Other references
• Akpan, G.A., 2000. Cytogenetic characteristics and the breeding system in six Hibiscus species. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 100(2): 315–318.
• Hauman, L. & Wouters, W., 1963. Malvaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 10. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 92–190.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• 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.
• Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp. (Reprint: Williamson, J., 1975. Useful plants of Malawi. University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi).
Sources of illustration
• Widodo, S.H., 1993. Hibiscus acetosella Welwitsch ex Hiern. In: Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 176–178.
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate Editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
PROSEA Network Office, Herbarium Bogoriense, P.O. Box 234, Bogor 16122, Indonesia
Photo Editor
E. Boer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Schippers, R.R., 2004. Hibiscus acetosella Welw. ex Hiern In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild and planted

1, part of flowering twig; 2, fruit.
Source: PROSEA

decorative flowering plant

young fruits

the red-leaved variety has a pleasant sour taste