Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Kew Bull. 1952: 170 (1952).
2n = 28
Sarcophrynium macrostachyum (Benth.) K.Schum. (1902), Sarcophrynium arnoldianum De Wild. (1904).
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.
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.
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Sources of illustration
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• 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.
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.
1, leaf; 2, inflorescence; 3, infructescence.