Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
2n = 36
Hibiscus cannabinus L. var. punctatus (A.Rich.) Hochr. (1916).
Wild sorrel, false roselle (En). Roselle sauvage (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Hibiscus asper is widely distributed throughout tropical Africa and in Madagascar. It is occasionally cultivated as a vegetable, e.g. in Senegal and DR Congo.
Leaves of Hibiscus asper are eaten as a boiled vegetable; this use is particularly widespread in the Sahel region. In Nigeria the young fruits are used to thicken soup. Hibiscus asper is also used for its fibre, e.g. in Senegal. It is considered an important fodder plant in the Sahel and although eaten by all livestock, camels especially appreciate it. If eaten in excess it can cause bloat in cattle. It is unsuitable for making hay but can be used for making silage. The seeds form a main part of the diet of wild guinea fowl in northern Cameroon and are likely equally important for domestic poultry.
Leaves dried over a fire are applied to eczematous sores in Senegal. Various other skin problems of humans and domestic animals are treated with the leaves in Senegal, Guinea and Mali. The plant is used to treat urethritis in northern Nigeria, anaemia and jaundice in Benin and leucorrhoea in Cameroon. In addition, it is used as a poison antidote in Nigeria, to treat malaria in Mali and Benin, angina in the Central African Republic and painful and irregular menstruation in Benin, as a depurative and diuretic in Mali, as a tonic and restorative in Benin, and to control internal parasites in veterinary medicine in Guinea.
The plant is mucilagenous in water and the sap is slightly acid. There is no information on the nutritive composition of Hibiscus asper leaves, but it is probably comparable to that of the related Hibiscus cannabinus. The composition of plants used for fodder per 100 g dry matter is: crude protein 31 g, crude fat 3.5 g, crude fibre 13.5 g, P 0.09 g, K 1.1 g, Ca 1.1 g, Mg 0.4 g, Na 0.01 g. The seeds contain per 100 g: water 64.2 g, fat 15.2 g, N 4.2 g, P 0.8 g, K 1.3 g, Ca 0.3 g, Mg 0.4 g, Na 0.07 g.
Perennial herb up to 2 m tall; stem with fine prickles and simple or stellate hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules threadlike, up to 6 mm long; petiole 0.5–18 cm long; blade lanceolate to ovate, unlobed or shallowly to deeply palmately 3–5(–7)-lobed, up to 18 cm × 14 cm, margin serrate or slightly sinuate, with 2-fid stellate hairs on ribs and veins, palmately veined, with a distinct nectary at base of midrib. Flowers axillary, solitary or clustered, bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel up to 1 cm long, articulate; epicalyx of 6–7 subulate segments 9–18 mm long, apex entire; calyx campanulate, up to 2.5 cm long, ribs of lobes with fine prickles or bristles; petals free, obovate, up to 4.5 cm × 3 cm, pale yellow with red-purple base; stamens numerous, united into a column up to 1.2 cm long, dark pink; ovary superior, 5-celled, style with 5 branches, included in the staminal column. Fruit an ovoid capsule up to 2 cm long, sparsely and finely appressed-pubescent, many-seeded. Seeds reniform, up to 4 mm × 3 mm, dark brown.
Hibiscus comprises 200–300 species, mainly in the tropics and subtropics. Hibiscus asper belongs to section Furcaria, a group of about 100 species, of which about 30 in tropical Africa, having in common a pergamentaceous calyx (rarely fleshy) with 10 strongly prominent veins, 5 running to the apices of the segments and 5 to the sinuses. The leaves of several other species of section Furcaria are more well-known vegetables: Hibiscus acetosella Welw. ex Hiern, Hibiscus cannabinus L., Hibiscus sabdariffa L. and Hibiscus surattensis L. Hibiscus mechowii Garcke is cultivated as a vegetable in DR Congo and is used as a vegetable, cough medicine and for its fibre in Zambia. The leaves of Hibiscus noldeae Baker f. are eaten in DR Congo, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, whereas cordage is made from the bast fibre in DR Congo.
Hibiscus asper can be distinguished from related Hibiscus species by its stems with fine prickles, poorly developed vegetative branches, narrow epicalyx lobes which are not bifurcate, and a calyx with nectary, white woolly hairs and curved prickles or bristles. Hibiscus asper was and sometimes still is considered conspecific with Hibiscus cannabinus. It is probably mainly self-pollinating. This is favoured by the flower structure, with style branches included in the staminal column or hardly exserted.
Hibiscus asper is found in fallow fields, grassland and edges of gallery forest. As a weed it is not considered very harmful in its area of origin.
Genetic resources and breeding
In Senegal a locally selected type of Hibiscus asper with narrow leaves is cultivated on a small scale. Very few accessions are held in germplasm collections. As Hibiscus asper is widespread and often abundant, it is not in danger of genetic erosion.
Hibiscus asper will continue to be a minor vegetable of local importance, especially in the Sahel region. The possible use in breeding of commercially more important Hibiscus spp. has so far been neglected.
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• 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.
Correct citation of this article:
Schippers, R.R. & Bosch, C.H., 2004. Hibiscus asper Hook.f. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
top view of plant
Roadside market in northern Ghana where villagers sell Hibiscus sabdariffa and Hibiscus asper.