PROTA homepage Prota 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins
Record display

Mucuna flagellipes Hook.f.

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.
Major references
• Abbiw, D.K., 1990. Useful plants of Ghana: West African uses of wild and cultivated plants. Intermediate Technology Publications, London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. xii + 337 pp.
• Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
• Gillett, J.B., Polhill, R.M., Verdcourt, B., Schubert, B.G., Milne-Redhead, E., & Brummitt, R.K., 1971. Leguminosae (Parts 3–4), subfamily Papilionoideae (1–2). In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 1108 pp.
• Irvine, F.R., 1961. Woody plants of Ghana, with special reference to their uses. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 868 pp.
• Staner, P., 1936. Plantes congolaises à propriétés tinctoriales. In: Ceuterick, F. (Editor). Agricultura. Louvain, Belgium. 39 pp.
• Tanno, T., 1981. Plant utilization of the Mbuti Pygmies - with special reference to their material culture and use of wild vegetable foods. African Study Monographs Volume 1. The Research Committee for African Studies, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan. 53 pp.
Other references
• Dahal, K.R. & van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H., 2003. Mucuna Adanson. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(3). Medicinal and poisonous plants 3. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 305–308.
• Ghosal, S., Singh, S. & Bhattacharya, S.K., 1971. Alkaloids of Mucuna pruriens: chemistry and pharmacology. Planta Medica 19(3): 279–284.
• Hauman, L., Cronquist, A., Boutique, R., Majot-Rochez, R., Duvigneaud, P., Robyns, W. & Wilczek, R., 1954. Papilionaceae (troisième partie). 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 6. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. 426 pp.
• Hepper, F.N., 1958. Papilionaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 505–587.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Onweluzo, J.C., Obanu, Z.A. & Onuoha, K.C., 1994. Composition of some lesser known tropical legumes. Journal of Food Science and Technology 31(4): 307–310.
• Onweluzo, J.C., Leelavathi, K. & Rao, P.H., 1999. Effect of Detarium microcarpum (dm) and Mucuna flagellipes (mf) gums on the quality of white bread. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 54(2): 173–182.
• Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
• Szabo, N.J. & Tebbett, I.R., undated. The chemistry and toxicity of Mucuna species. [Internet] Accessed February 2005.
P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
D. Cardon
CNRS, CIHAM-UMR 5648, 18, quai Claude-Bernard, 69365 Lyon, Cedex 07, France
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

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.