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Hibiscus surattensis L.

Sp. pl. 2: 696 (1753).
Chromosome number
2n = 36
Vernacular names
Wild sour, shrub althea (En). Oseille indigène, oseille malabare (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Hibiscus surattensis occurs in tropical Africa and tropical Asia. It is found in most countries of tropical Africa, including the Indian Ocean islands, and also in South Africa and Swaziland. It has been introduced in tropical America and is locally naturalized there.
The mucilaginous leaves of Hibiscus surattensis are commonly used as a potherb in many areas in Africa and Asia; they are sometimes eaten raw as a salad. In Uganda, it is a popular vegetable; the leaves are boiled and added to peas or groundnuts and sesame paste and served with a staple food. It is also used to thicken sauces. In DR Congo the leaves are cooked with fish or meat. Young leaves are sometimes used as a condiment.
The bark yields a fibre, which is occasionally used as cordage. In Uganda, cooked leaves are used to coagulate the latex of Landolphia spp. In Guinea and DR Congo the plant is regarded as a tonic for heart and stomach. In Nigeria the leaves are used in poultices; in Gabon softened leaves are applied to boils. In Senegal the seed has been used as a remedy for eye diseases and dysentery. In Tanzania leaf sap is taken to prevent miscarriage and to treat vertigo, whereas a root decoction is used as a laxative. In South Africa the Zulu people use a lotion of the leaf and stem for the treatment of penile irritation of any sort, including venereal sores and urethritis. An infusion is also used for injecting into the urethra and vagina to treat gonorrhoea and other inflammations. An ointment made from the leaves is sometimes applied for the same purposes, whereas in Nigeria decoctions of the leaves and roots are used similarly. In DR Congo dried leaf powder is used to cure wounds. In Kenya the ash from the plant is applied to cuts, and an infusion to treat itch caused by chickenpox.
Production and international trade
In many parts of tropical Africa leaves of Hibiscus surattensis are sold in local markets, but no statistical data on production and trade are available.
. There is no information on the nutritive value of Hibiscus surattensis leaves, but it is probably comparable to the related Hibiscus sabdariffa L. The leaves of Hibiscus surattensis have shown a growth inhibitory effect on Staphylococcus aureus.
Adulterations and substitutes
Hibiscus surattensis leaves in dishes can be replaced by the leaves of Hibiscus acetosella Welw. ex Hiern, Hibiscus sabdariffa L. or other Hibiscus spp., which give the same taste.
Prostrate or climbing annual herb; stem prickly with recurved prickles, pubescent. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules ovate, auriculate, amplexicaul, up to 1.5 cm × 1 cm; petiole 2–7(–11) cm long, prickly and pubescent; blade shallowly to deeply palmately 3–5-lobed, up to 10 cm × 10 cm, margin serrate, pubescent, prickly on veins below, palmately veined. Flowers solitary in leaf axils, bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel up to 8 cm long, articulate, prickly; epicalyx segments 8–10, bifurcate, the outer fork spatulate and c. 0.5 cm long, the inner fork linear, c. 1 cm long; calyx cup-shaped, up to 2.5 cm long, lobes prickly; petals free, obovate, up to 6 cm × 4 cm, bright yellow with red-purple base; stamens numerous, united into a column up to 2 cm long, red-purple; ovary superior, 5-celled, style with 5 branches. Fruit an ovoid to globose capsule up to 1.5 cm long, densely pubescent, many-seeded. Seeds reniform, c. 3 mm × 2 mm.
Other botanical information
Hibiscus comprises 200–300 species, mainly in the tropics and subtropics; many of them are grown as ornamentals. The estimated number of species varies because opinions differ about inclusion of several related groups of species in the genus. Hibiscus surattensis 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 a vegetable are Hibiscus acetosella L., Hibiscus asper Hook.f., Hibiscus cannabinus L., Hibiscus diversifolius Jacq., Hibiscus mechowii Garcke, Hibiscus noldeae Baker f., Hibiscus rostellatus Guill. & Perr. and Hibiscus sabdariffa L.
Growth and development
Hibiscus surattensis is an annual plant growing naturally during the rainy season. It is mainly self-pollinating.
Hibiscus surattensis occurs in grassland and at forest edges in lowland and at medium altitudes up to 1700 m, in regions with an average annual rainfall of 1000–1600 mm. It also occurs in marshes, abandoned fields and plantations, on waste ground near habitation, and in coastal habitats such as sand dunes. It is found on a wide variety of soil types.
When cultivated Hibiscus surattensis is propagated by seed. The main management practice is weeding. However, this species is rarely cultivated and the leaves are usually collected from the wild for use as a vegetable.
Diseases and pests
Hibiscus surattensis is a host to pink mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus).
Leaves of Hibiscus surattensis are collected in the early flush of the rainy season.
Handling after harvest
The leaves can be cooked immediately as a vegetable, or dried, pounded and kept for up to a year and used later in a similar way as the fresh leaves.
Genetic resources
There are no indications that Hibiscus surattensis is in danger of genetic erosion, although it is reported to be locally uncommon, e.g. in Uganda. No germplasm collections are known to exist.
Hibiscus surattensis is an underutilized but locally popular sturdy leafy vegetable. Genetic improvement and management practices should be studied for further domestication.
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.
• van den Bergh, M.H., 1993. Minor vegetables. In: Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 280–310.
• 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.
• Goode, P.M., 1989. Edible plants of Uganda. The value of wild and cultivated plants as food. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 42/1, Rome, Italy. 146 pp.
• 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.
• Kalanda, K. & Omasombo, W.D., 1995. Contribution à la connaissance des plantes médicinales du Haut-Zaïre - Plantes utilisées dans le traitement des maux d'estomac dans la ville de Kisangani. Revue de Médecines et Pharmacopees Africaines 9(1): 59–69.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• Lubini, A., Mossala, M., Onyembe, P.M.L. & Lutaladio, N.B., 1994. Inventaires des fruits et légumes autochtones consommés par les populations du Bas-Zaïre au sud-ouest du Zaïre. Tropicultura 12(3): 118–123.
• Mosango, M. & Isosi, W., 1998. Edible plant species used by the human population around Kisangani (Democratic Republic of Congo). Fragmenta floristica et geobotanica 43(1): 109–115.
• Ndjele, M. & Bigawa, S., 1982. Etude de l'action de quelques plantes vulnéraires de la région de Kisangani sur Staphylococcus aureus. Bulletin de la Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique 115: 240–242.
• Peters, C.R., O'Brien, E.M. & Drummond, R.B., 1992. Edible wild plants of sub-saharan Africa. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 239 pp.
• Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 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.
Sources of illustration
• Berhaut, J., 1979. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 6. Linacées à Nymphéacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 636 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.
M. Mosango
Department of Botany, Makerere University, P.O. Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda

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
Achmad Satiri Nurhaman
PROSEA Network Office, P.O. Box 332, 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:
Mosango, M., 2004. Hibiscus surattensis L. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, leaf; 2, part of flowering twig; 3, fruit; 4, seed.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

plant habit