Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Bull. Soc. Roy. Bot. Belg. 83: 19 (1950).
2n = 26, 28
Yoruba soft cane (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Marantochloa leucantha is distributed from Guinea and Sierra Leone eastward to Ethiopia and southward to Angola.
The stems are often used for plaiting mats, baskets and traps. They are also used in fences, as a binding material in hut-building, and as base material for building mud walls. In Cameroon the bark is used for making cords and for weaving mats, baskets and knife sheaths, and the pith is made into brooms. The leaves are often used for thatching, for wrapping, especially food for cooking and kola nuts, and for lining carrying baskets. In Sierra Leone the leaf is folded into a cone to be used as a receptacle for honey collection. In Cameroon the leaves are used as fans. The petioles are used for making fishing nets. In Ghana sewing thread is obtained from the petioles, and in Nigeria veins from the leaf yield a thread.
In Nigeria the plants are browsed by goats and sheep. The fruit pulp is edible.
Marantochloa leucantha is widely used in African traditional medicine. In Côte d’Ivoire the root pulp is used as a dressing on abscesses, chancres and glandular swellings to soothe pain and to promote cicatrization. The leaf sap is drunk against epilepsy and madness, or pulverized leaves are taken in water or palm wine. For the treatment of bronchitis and cough the pulverized seeds are steeped in palm wine and the liquid is drunk or made into pellets and eaten. In Ghana the flowers are chewed for the treatment of stomach-ache and intestinal disorders, and the fruit or seed is swallowed to prevent boils. In the Central African Republic the plant is used for the treatment of skin mycosis. In DR Congo the leaves are rubbed on the body as a strengthening tonic before work. In Ethiopia preparations of the root and leaves are taken for the treatment of gonorrhoea. In Uganda and Tanzania root decoctions are drunk as an aphrodisiac, and in Tanzania sap squeezed from the rhizome is drunk as a galactagogue and rubbed into scarifications on the forehead and temples against headache.
In Nigeria mats made from the stems are considered durable, but somewhat inflexible.
Adulterations and substitutes
The stems and leaves of various other Marantaceae, particularly those of Ataenidia conferta, are used for similar purposes.
Perennial, erect or scrambling herb up to 4 m tall but often less, with rhizome; stems branched. Leaves alternate, homotropic (broader side of blade always to the right), petiole sheathing at the base, sheathing part up to 25 cm long, the uncalloused and calloused parts of the petiole not separated by a joint, uncalloused part of petiole up to 1 cm long, apical calloused part up to 2 cm long, transition of the petiole into the midvein marked by a beak on the upper surface, but continuous on the under surface; blade more or less ovate, asymmetric, up to 25 cm × 14 cm but often much smaller, base rounded, apex acuminate, with the acumen usually to the right of the midvein as seen from above, glabrous or hairy, lower surface whitish green or purplish. Inflorescence a panicle up to 40 cm long, lax, much branched, each branch with c. 4 nodes, with at each node a caducous abaxial bract 2.5–3.5 cm long with 1 cymule, rachis and bracts green; cymule 2-flowered, backed by a an adaxial bract, peduncle up to 3 cm long. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, c. 7 mm long, white to pink; pedicel up to 10 mm long; bracteole absent; sepals free, equal, c. 4 mm long, scarious; corolla 8–10 mm long, tubular below, with 3 lobes; staminodes and stamen in 2 cycles, at the base forming a tube fused to the corolla tube, outer cycle consisting of 2 petaloid staminodes, inner cycle consisting of 1 stamen and 2 staminodes, of which 1 hooded with a cushion-like appendage; ovary inferior, short-hairy, 3-locular. Fruit a subglobose capsule c. 9 mm in diameter, with conspicuous sutures, glabrescent, glossy, bright red, orange or creamy white, with deciduous withered perianth, not fleshy within, 3-seeded. Seeds shaped like a one-third segment of a sphere, 3–8 mm long, brown, grey or black, with a small basal aril.
Other botanical information
Marantochloa comprises c. 15 species, distributed in the more humid parts of tropical Africa. It is closely related to Ataenidia.
Marantochloa mannii (Benth.) Milne-Redh. is a perennial herb up to 3 m tall, distributed from Côte d’Ivoire to DR Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. The split stem and stem bark are used for plaiting mats and baskets. The leaves are used for thatching in Ghana, and for cooking food in Gabon. In Cameroon its use as a fibre plant is similar to that of Marantochloa leucantha. Marantochloa ramosissima (Benth.) Hutch. is a perennial herb up to 2.5 m tall, distributed in Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Bioko (Equatorial Guinea), and also recorded from Sierra Leone and Liberia. It resembles Marantochloa leucantha and has much the same uses.
Growth and development
The flowers are pollinated by bees.
Marantochloa leucantha occurs from sea level up to 1500 m altitude in primary and secondary forest, often in moist places. Its habitats include gallery forest, swamp forest, periodically inundated forest, fallows and roadsides in forest.
Propagation and planting
Marantochloa leucantha is usually collected from the wild, but in Sierra Leone the plant is grown in the outskirts of town.
The leaves are individually harvested by cutting the petiole at its base.
Handling after harvest
The usual preparation for mat-making is to split the stems, remove the central pith and to dry the split stems in the sun. The stems are sometimes dyed before being used.
Marantochloa leucantha is not threatened with genetic erosion. Wild stands are usually durably exploited.
The stems of Marantochloa leucantha are widely used for plaiting and in construction, and the leaves for thatching and wrapping, and the plant is widely used in traditional medicine. It is occasionally planted and may have potential for wider cultivation. Therefore, research on propagation and management practices seems worthwhile.
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Correct citation of this article:
Kémeuzé, V.A., 2011. Marantochloa leucantha (K.Schum.) Milne-Redh. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.