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Megaphrynium macrostachyum (Benth.) Milne-Redh.

Kew Bull. 1952: 170 (1952).
Chromosome number
2n = 28
Sarcophrynium macrostachyum (Benth.) K.Schum. (1902), Sarcophrynium arnoldianum De Wild. (1904).
Vernacular names
Yoruba soft cane (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Megaphrynium macrostachyum is distributed from Guinea and Sierra Leone to DR Congo, Cabinda (Angola), Sudan and Uganda.
The leaves are much used for wrapping food, packing and thatching. In Central Africa, for instance, they are often used for wrapping cassava sticks before cooking. The leaves are made into a range of other articles, such as disposable baskets, plates, cups, pots, containers, funnels, fans and parasols, and they are used as cushion under sleeping mats. In Gabon the leaves are used for wrapping clothes to keep them dry in the rain. In DR Congo they are used for covering clay walls. The entire or split petiole and strips from its bark are used for tying and for making mats, baskets, brooms and other utensils. It is also made into bracelets and other ornaments.
Young leaves are cooked with oil and water and eaten as a vegetable. The fruit pulp is eaten and used as a sweetener in food preparation. The fruits are also used to wean babies. The roasted seeds are eaten in DR Congo; they are said to taste like maize.
In traditional medicine in Cote d’Ivoire, the leaf sap is drunk for the treatment of epilepsy and madness, and the leaves and fruits are sometimes prescribed as an antidote for poisonings. In Cameroon a leaf decoction is taken against jaundice. In DR Congo the root ash is applied on pustules.
Production and international trade
The leaves and petioles are important in village life and are often traded in Central African markets. Bunches of leaves to be used for food wrapping were sold at prices ranging from US$ 0.22 to US$ 0.88 in markets of various towns in DR Congo in 2006, and baskets made from Megaphrynium macrostachyum at prices of US$ 0.22 to US$ 0.66. The high and increasing demand for cassava sticks in Central Africa means that there is a high consumption of Megaphrynium macrostachyum leaves as well, as at least two leaves are needed to wrap one stick. In Kisangani (DR Congo) it was recorded in 2008 that young leaves are often sold out early in the morning and consumers complain of the lack of supply.
The leaves of Megaphrynium macrostachyum and other Marantaceae are said to give a special taste to the food wrapped in them, which is why they are preferred above banana leaves. It has also been recorded, however, that the leaves are not preferred for wrapping food by the Lega people in DR Congo, because they are said to be burnt easily.
Adulterations and substitutes
The leaves of a range of other Marantaceae species are similarly used for wrapping and thatching.
Perennial herb up to 4 m tall, with rhizome up to 6 m long, stems bearing an inflorescence and a single subtending leaf, and numerous leaves arising directly from the rhizome. Leaves with petiole up to 5 m long, sheathing at the base, apical calloused part 7–15 cm long, transition of the petiole into the midvein marked by a V-shaped beak on the upper surface, but continuous on the under surface; blade ovate-elliptical, more or less symmetric, 30–60(–90) cm × 12–30(–40) cm, base rounded to attenuate, apex acute or shortly acuminate. Inflorescence terminal, arising 10–33 cm below the calloused part of the petiole, up to 25 cm long, branched, the branches spike-like and articulate with numerous nodes and at each node an abaxial, caducous bract enveloping a single cymule; cymule 2-flowered, backed by a an adaxial, caducous bract, short-pedunculate, the flowers side by side with a fleshy bracteole c. 2.5 mm long between them. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, c. 2 cm in diameter, white, tinged yellow or orange; sepals free, equal, c. 4 mm long, glabrous, yellow to bluish purple; corolla 8–10 mm long, tubular below, with 3 lobes, white to bluish purple, towards the tip yellow; staminodes and stamen in 2 cycles, at the base forming a tube fused to the corolla tube, outer cycle consisting of 1–2 petaloid staminodes, inner cycle consisting of 1 stamen and 2 staminodes, of which 1 hooded with a sword-like appendage; ovary inferior, glabrous, 3-locular. Fruit depressed globose, 2–2.5 cm in diameter, 3-lobed, with conspicuous sutures, smooth, bright red, with white pulp inside, normally 3-seeded. Seeds c. 15 mm × 10 mm, purple, bluish violet or black, with a deeply laciniate, whitish aril.
Other botanical information
Megaphrynium comprises about 5 species distributed in the forest regions of tropical Africa. Megaphrynium distans Hepper is a perennial herb c. 1 m tall, distributed in Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea. In Côte d’Ivoire the leaves are used for thatching, and in Ghana for wrapping meat. Megaphrynium gabonense Koechlin is a perennial herb 1–2 m tall, endemic to Gabon. Its leaves are used for thatching and for wrapping cassava, while its stems are used for making mats. The fruit pulp is edible. Megaphrynium trichogynum Koechlin is a perennial herb up to 2 m tall, distributed in Cameroun, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and DR Congo. In Cameroon its leaves and petioles are used for similar purposes as those of Megaphrynium macrostachyum. In Congo the pulped stem is eaten with palm oil against dizziness and vomiting, and a decoction of the stem is drunk in case of a beginning hernia. Megaphrynium velutinum (Baker) Koechlin (synonym: Sarcophrynium velutinum (Baker) K.Schum.) is a perennial herb 1.5–2 m tall, distributed in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and DR Congo, and possibly in Liberia. Its leaves are used for thatching.
Growth and development
Megaphrynium macrostachyum produces a dense leaf layer and resprouts rapidly from rhizomes after disturbance; as a result the plant competes successfully with other plants. The flowers are pollinated by bees.
Megaphrynium macrostachyum occurs from sea level up to 1500 m altitude in wet locations in primary and secondary forest and fallow land. Megaphrynium macrostachyum often occurs in large, monodominant thickets, which appear to be capable of delaying tree regeneration in forest gaps. It often reaches high densities after logging, shifting cultivation or fire, and represents an important stage of succession in Central African rain forests, most notably in areas of savanna re-introgression or old secondary vegetation, but also at much smaller scales such as forest gaps. In Central Africa the vegetative parts of Megaphrynium macrostachyum are an important food of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Propagation and planting
Plants reproduce rapidly and abundantly, by sprouting from rhizomes and by seed.
Megaphrynium macrostachyum is usually collected from the wild, but is sometimes planted. In Nigeria Megaphrynium macrostachyum is sometimes found in cocoa intercropping systems.
In Equatorial Guinea the leaves are harvested from the forest and brought fresh to the markets each day.
Handling after harvest
To obtain material for tying in DR Congo, the petiole is drawn vigorously back and forth several times on a tree stem to change it into a flat, flexible cord.
Genetic resources
In view of its wide distribution, common occurrence and rapid regeneration, Megaphrynium macrostachyum seems not in danger of genetic erosion, although locally overexploitation may take place. It Gabon, for instance, it has been recorded that the leaves are so much exploited, that the plants can only be found far away from houses.
Megaphrynium macrostachyum is useful local source of leaves for wrapping and thatching. As the leaves are in high demand and locally overexploited, the species seems to have potential for cultivation, and research on propagation and management practices is worthwhile.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Hattori, S., 2006. Utilization of Marantaceae plants by the Baka hunter-gatherers in southeastern Cameroon. African Study Monographs, Supplement 33: 29–48.
• Hepper, F.N., 1968. Marantaceae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 3, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 79–89.
• Koechlin, J., 1965. Marantaceae. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 4. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 99–157.
• Latham, P., 2004. Useful plants of Bas-Congo province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. DFID, London, United Kingdom. 320 pp.
• Milne-Redhead, E., 1952. Marantaceae. In: Turrill, W.B. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 11 pp.
• Terashima, H. & Ichikawa, M., 2003. A comparative ethnobotany of the Mbuti and Efe hunter-gatherers in the Ituri forest, Democratic Republic of Congo. African Study Monographs 24(1–2): 1–168.
• Thomas, D.W., Thomas-Mc Cauley, J., Bromley, W.A. & Mbenkum, F.T., 1989. Korup ethnobotany survey. World Wildlife Fund, Godalming, United Kingdom. 108 + 35 pp.
• Toirambe Bamoninga, B., 2007. Analyse de l’état des lieux du secteur des produits forestiers non ligneux et évaluation de leur contribution à la sécurité alimentaire en République Démocratique du Congo. Projet GCP/RAF/398/GER, Renforcement de la sécurité alimentaire en Afrique Centrale à travers la gestion et l’utilisation durable des Produits Forestiers Non Ligneux. 76 pp.
• White, L.J.T., Rogers, M.E., Tutin, C.E.G., Williamson, E.A. & Fernandez, M., 1995. Herbaceous vegetation in different forest types in the Lopé Reserve, Gabon: implications for keystone food availability. African Journal of Ecology 33(2): 124–141.
Other references
• Betti, J.L. & Lejoly, J., 2009. Contribution to the knowledge of medicinal plants of the Dja Biosphere Reserve, Cameroon: plants used for treating jaundice. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 3(12): 1056–1065.
• Bouquet, A., 1969. Féticheurs et médecines traditionnelles du Congo (Brazzaville). Mémoires ORSTOM No 36. Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre-Mer. Paris, France. 282 pp.
• Brncic, T., 2002. The ecology and patch dynamics of Megaphrynium macrostachium (Marantaceae) in southwestern Central African Republic. In: Oxford Forestry Institute. Annual report 2001. Oxford Forestry Institute, Oxford, United Kingdom.
• Cabezas, F.J., de la Estrella, M., Aedo, C. & Velayos, M., 2005. Marantaceae of Equatorial Guinea. Annales Botanici Fennici 42(3): 173–184.
• de Rouw, A., 1993. Regeneration by sprouting in slash and burn rice cultivation, Taï rain forest, Côte d’Ivoire. Journal of Tropical Ecology 9: 387–408.
• Hepper, F.N., 1968. Notes on Tropical African monocotyledons. 2. Kew Bulletin 22(3): 449–467.
• Lubini, A., 1994. Utilisation de plantes par les Yansi del’entre Kwilu-Kasai (Zaire). In: Seyani, J.H. & Chikuni, A.C. (Editors). Proceedings of the 13th plenary meeting of AETFAT, Zomba, Malawi. Volume 1. National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi. pp. 53–74.
• Missengoula, T.H., 2004. Contribution à l’étude des produits forestiers non ligneux : exemple de la commercialisation des feuilles d’emballage de manioc dans les marchés de Libreville. Rapport de fin de cycle pour l’obtention du diplôme d’Agent Technique des Eaux et Forêts. Direction des Etudes, Ecole Nationale des Eaux et Forêts (E. N. E. F), Cap-Estérias, Gabon. 23 pp.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nkeoua, G. & Boundzanga, G.C., 1999. Données sur les produits forestières non ligneux en République du Congo. FAO, Brazzaville, Congo. 125 pp.
• Oladokun, M.A.O., 1990. Tree crop based agroforestry in Nigeria: a checklist of crops intercropped with cocoa. Agroforestry Systems 11(3): 227–241.
• Pischtschan, E., Ley, A.C. & Claβen-Bockhoff, R., 2010. Ontogenetic and phylogenetic diversification of the hooded staminode in Marantaceae. Taxon 59(4): 1111–1125.
• Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
• Sunderland, T.C.H. & Obama, C., 1999. A preliminary market survey of the non-wood forest products of Equatorial Guinea. In: Sunderland, T.C.H., Clark, L.E. & Vantomme, P. (Editors). Non-wood forest products of Central Africa: current research issues and prospects for conservation and development. FAO, Rome, Italy. pp. 211–220.
• Tchatat, M., 1999. Produits forestiers autres que le bois d’oeuvre (PFAB) : place dans l’aménagement durable des forêts denses humides d’Afrique Centrale. Document Forafri 18. Cirad, Montpellier, France. 94 pp.
• Tehe, H., 1986. Utilisations des ressources forestiers chez les Guérés et les Oubis (Côte d’Ivoire). Banco 4: 26–30.
• Terashima, H., Kalala, S. & Malasi, N., 1992. Ethnobotany of the Lega in the tropical rain forest of Eastern Zaire: part two, zone de Walikale. African Study Monographs, Supplement 19: 1–60.
• Termote, C., Van Damme, P. & Dhed’a Djailo, B., 2010. Eating from the wild: Turumbu indigenous knowledge on noncultivated edible plants, Tshopo District, DR Congo. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 49(3): 173–207.
• Van Damme, P. & Termote, C., 2008. African botanical heritage for new crop development. Afrika focus 21(1): 45–64.
• Yembi, P., 1999. A preliminary survey of the non-wood forest products of the Libreville markets (Gabon). In: Sunderland, T.C.H., Clark, L.E. & Vantomme, P. (Editors). Non-wood forest products of Central Africa: current research issues and prospects for conservation and development. FAO, Rome, Italy. pp. 233–236.
Sources of illustration
• Koechlin, J., 1965. Marantaceae. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 4. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 99–157.
• White, L. & Abernethy, K., 1997. A guide to the vegetation of the Lopé Reserve, Gabon. 2nd edition. Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, United States. 224 pp.
R.B. Jiofack Tafokou
Ecologic Museum of Cameroon, P.O. Box 8038, Yaoundé, Cameroon

M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
E.G. Achigan Dako
PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya
Photo editor
G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Jiofack Tafokou, R.B., 2011. Megaphrynium macrostachyum (Benth.) Milne-Redh. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, leaf; 2, inflorescence; 3, infructescence.

Megaphrynium macrostachyum

Megaphrynium macrostachyum