Prota 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins
Niger fl.: 307 (1849).
Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Origin and geographic distribution
Mucuna flagellipes occurs from Sierra Leone east to Central African Republic, DR Congo, and south to Angola. Its reported occurrence in Uganda is doubtful.
Vegetable fibres and cloth, leather, wooden objects and pottery are dyed black or blue-black by boiling them up with stems and leaves of Mucuna flagellipes, often together with the fruits of Alchornea cordifolia (Schumach. & Thonn.) Müll.Arg. (Euphorbiaceae), both collected from the wild. The leaf sap is used fresh as blue-black dye for bark cloth (‘pongo’) by the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Forest in north-eastern DR Congo. The stems, branches and flower stalks are used as a rough fibre (e.g. as rope) and the seeds in games. In Côte d’Ivoire a decoction of leafy twigs is used as a beverage or a bath to treat rachitic children, and it is also taken as an emmenagogue and to stop diarrhoea. In Nigeria the hairs on the fruit, which intensely irritate the skin, are used in a medicine to expel tapeworm. The cotyledons are eaten raw against slipped disc. The pulverized fruits are applied against lice. The gum present in the seeds is an emulsifying and suspending agent and is, for example, applied in pharmacology to prepare suspensions of sulphadimine and zinc oxide and in bread baking to improve moisture retention and to reduce crumb firmness.
Tannins, cyanogenic glycosides and indolic alkaloids have been reported in various Mucuna species and may all contribute to the colouring effect of the sap and leaves. Mucuna flagellipes seed contains approximately 20% protein and 70% carbohydrate. The carbohydrate consists for up to 50% of a water-dispersible polysaccharide (gum), which has a high pseudoplasticity. The major monosaccharide is D-galactose. The seeds probably also contain the amino acid L-dopa.
Large liana up to 12 m long with stem up to 3 cm in diameter, glabrous. Leaves alternate, pinnately 3-foliolate; stipules deciduous; petiole 4–11 cm long, rachis up to 3.5 cm long; petiolules up to 7 mm long; leaflets ovate to oblong-elliptical, 7–14 cm × 3–7 cm, rounded to slightly cordate at base, apex acuminate. Inflorescence an axillary, pendent, silvery hairy raceme with zigzag rachis up to 20 cm long; peduncle up to 3 cm long. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous, showy; pedicel up to 5 cm long in fruit; calyx campanulate, 2-lipped, up to 3 cm long, tube and 4 lobes of about equal length, densely appressed pubescent with orange-brown bristles; corolla cream or greenish-white, standard rounded, up to 4 cm × 4 cm, with a median claw and a pair of inflexed lateral auricles at base, wings and keel up to 4.5 cm long, clawed and with a small auricle; stamens 10, 1 free and the other 9 fused; ovary superior, 1-celled, style long. Fruit a pod up to 19 cm × 6 cm × 2 cm, with about 12 interrupted transverse wing-like ridges, densely covered with red-brown irritant hairs, usually 2–4-seeded. Seeds discoid with convex faces, up to 3 cm × 3 cm × 2 cm, purple, distinctly rough.
Mucuna belongs to the tribe Phaseoleae and is a large genus comprising about 100 species, distributed pantropically. In tropical Africa about 10 species are present. The hairs on the fruits, which irritate the skin intensely, make the plants difficult to handle.
Mucuna flagellipes is found in wet shaded localities in riverine and swamp forests and at the borders of mangrove vegetation, from sea-level up to 1400 m altitude. Flowering and fruiting occur yearround.
Genetic resources and breeding
Mucuna flagellipes is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.
Mucuna flagellipes will remain only locally of importance for black or blue dyeing of clothes, wickerwork, pottery and wooden utensils. Ease of application, direct effect and intense coloration on various substrates using the leaf sap makes research on the indolic alkaloids in Mucuna spp. worthwhile, e.g. to investigate possible applications as cosmetic colorants.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Mucuna flagellipes Hook.f. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.