Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Fl. Seneg. tent.: 91, t. 18 (1831).
Tiliaceae (APG: Malvaceae)
Burweed, cordleaf burbark (En). Mchochokoe (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Triumfetta cordifolia is widespread in the moister parts of tropical Africa. It is sometimes planted.
The bark of the stem and branches yields a fibre which, in the form of bark ribbons or after retting, is locally used for making strong rope, bowstring and fishing lines. It is sometimes made into belts used for climbing trees and palms, for instance to collect palm wine. The fibre is locally used for making brooms, bags, baskets, mats, hammocks, and traditional dancing costumes. Commercially it has been used for making burlap cloth, sacks and packaging material. Plant parts are locally used as toothbrushes. The soft leaves have been used as toilet paper.
In DR Congo the wood is used for house construction, and as fuelwood and fire sticks. The bark of green shoots is a source of mucilage used for making soups and sauces with a sticky consistency. The mucilage obtained from Triumfetta species is often used as baby food and for young children not yet able to eat coarse starchy foods. Because of its high energy value, the soup is often the first dish given to women who have delivered a child. It is also used as appetizer. The leaf is commonly eaten as a cooked vegetable. In Tanzania the tender leaf is chopped and cooked alone or mixed with other vegetables, after which coconut milk or pounded groundnuts are added, and it is served with ‘ugali’, rice, potatoes or bananas. Ash from the burnt leaf of Triumfetta cordifolia has been used for making soap and in the indigo industry in Guinea. The shrub is browsed by livestock, and it is a good source of nectar and pollen for bees.
Triumfetta cordifolia is widely used in African traditional medicine. Root preparations are applied on burns, and the powdered root is mixed into food for the treatment of diarrhoea. The sap of the root or leaf, diluted with water, is taken to ease childbirth, to expel the placenta, and for treatment of sterility in women. A maceration of the bark is taken against lumbago and muscle pain. Palm wine in which the pounded bark has been steeped is drunk for the treatment of lung problems. A decoction of the twigs with sugar is taken for the treatment of dyspnoea and intercostal neuralgia. In case of insanity or possession, the sap of leafy twigs is drunk and the body sprinkled with it. Young shoots are made into dressings for wounds to keep away insects. The leaf is used in preparations to treat diarrhoea and dysentery. Softened leaves are rubbed on against lumbago, and warmed leaves are rubbed on the gums against caries. A leaf decoction is taken against rhinitis, as a galactagogue and to induce labour, and applied as a wash against vaginal prolapse. A decoction of the leaf or leaf sap is drunk to cure diseases of the liver, lumbago and muscle pain, or as a laxative. The leaf sap or an infusion or maceration of the leaf is drunk to expel the placenta. A leaf extract is taken for the treatment of asthenia, marasmus, hepatitis and dysentery. An infusion of the flower is applied in enemas as a purgative, and ground flowers are steeped in water which is taken against nausea. In veterinary medicine the leaf sap is given for the treatment of diarrhoea.
Production and international trade
Triumfetta cordifolia is mainly used locally. In DR Congo it has sometimes been an important item of commerce, and retted fibre was exported, mixed with that from Clappertonia polyandra (K.Schum.) Bech. In 1950 about 3000 kg of this fibre mixture was exported to Belgium, where it was used for making sacks and packaging material.
The fibre is durable and water resistant. It has the right balance between stiffness and elasticity to tie bundles into brooms. Fibre obtained from the branches is less flexible and more fragile than that from the stem. Fibre from Ghana examined in the early 20th Century was judged to be of equal quality to the finest grades of jute; strands were 1.5 m long, pale buff in colour, fine, of even diameter, strong, soft and lustrous. Later tests indicated that the fibre is comparable to jute in length and strength, but less fine and flexible.
The stem is mucilaginous and recorded to be pungent. The stem contains ceramides (triumfettamide and triumfettoside Ic), heptadecanoic acid, β-sitosterol glucopyranoside, friedelin, lupeol, betulin, maslinic acid, 2-hydroxyoleanolic acid and the mixture of stigmasterol and β-sitosterol. Maslinic acid and an oxidized derivative of betulin (betulinic acid) are known to have anti-HIV activity. An aqueous extract of the stem induced weight loss and showed anti-hyperlipemic effects in guinea pigs.
The leaf is fragrant when crushed. The nutritional composition of burweed leaves (Triumfetta sp.) per 100 g edible portion is: water 78.4 g, energy 285 kJ (68 kcal), protein 4.2 g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrate 15.2 g, fibre 3.4 g, Ca 392 mg, P 76 mg, Fe 29.2 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968). Saponin is reported present throughout the plant. The plant is said to be resistant to fire and to have potential to be used in fire-breaks.
Adulterations and substitutes
The fibre is comparable to that of Clappertonia polyandra, but coarser than Congo jute (Urena lobata L.). Other Triumfetta species, such as Triumfetta rhomboidea Jacq. and Triumfetta tomentosa Bojer, yield fibres used locally for similar purposes. The leaves of related species such as Triumfetta annua L., Triumfetta pentandra Guill., Perr. & A.Rich. and Triumfetta rhomboidea are also used as a cooked vegetable, and their bark as a source of mucilage.
Shrub up to 2.5(–5) m tall; stem 1.5 cm in diameter at base, sparsely branched; bark smooth, red-brown, in younger stems subscabrous to softly velvety with brownish hairs. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules triangular, 4–17 mm long, densely stellate-hairy; petiole terete, up to 13.5 cm long, hairy as stem; blade elliptical to almost orbicular, 4.5–20 cm × 2–18 cm, almost unlobed to 3(–5)-lobed with a central lobe 2.5–4.5 cm long and lateral lobes 0.5–2.5 cm long, base cordate, rarely obtuse, apex acuminate to acute, margin doubly toothed, usually discolorous, upper surface with minute, thinly scattered stellate hairs, lower surface sparsely hairy or densely covered with soft stellate hairs with a few longer simple hairs, greyish or brownish white. Inflorescence terminal, with 5–10 ultimate branches 5–35 cm long, each with nodes 8–20 mm apart, each node bearing 3–10 cymes, lower nodes with reduced leaves, cymes 1–3-flowered; peduncle 4–11 mm long; bracts triangular, 1.5–5 mm long, densely stellate-hairy. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel up to 3 mm long; sepals 5, free, narrowly oblanceolate, up to 11 mm long, with an extremely short apical spine, outer surface densely brownish-grey stellate-hairy to almost glabrous; petals 5, oblong to almost orbicular, 5–7 mm × 2–3 mm, white, yellow or orange, with basal claw 1–2 mm long, margin densely woolly hairy; stamens 8–12; ovary superior, 4–5-locular. Fruit a dehiscent, almost spherical capsule 7–15 mm in diameter (including bristles), dark brown, glossy and glabrous or with sparse simple hairs (rarely dense), with c. 80 patent bristles 3–4 mm long, apex of bristles tightly hooked, with a single terminal hair. Seeds c. 2 mm long.
Other botanical information
Triumfetta is a pantropical genus of about 100 species. The classification within Triumfetta is mainly based on fruit characteristics. Within Triumfetta cordifolia several varieties are distinguished. Triumfetta cordifolia var. cordifolia has an unlobed leaf blade, with sparse indumentum consisting mainly of stellate hairs. Var. tomentosa Sprague has a markedly 3(–5)-lobed leaf blade, with dense greyish white tomentellum on the lower surface. Var. hollandii Sprague has an unlobed or 3-lobed leaf blade, with numerous long simple hairs and small stellate ones.
Growth and development
Triumfetta cordifolia grows fast. In Benin flowering is in May–February and fruiting in January–March. The fruits stick to the fur of animals that disperse them. They are also dispersed by elephants which swallow the fruits when they browse the foliage.
Triumfetta cordifolia occurs from sea-level up to 2650 m altitude, and is locally common in wooded grassland, secondary forest, edges and clearings of wet forest, riverine forest, marshy locations, fallows, roadsides and disturbed land. It is a common weed in cultivated land and not easy to eradicate.
Propagation and planting
Triumfetta cordifolia can be propagated by seed. A germination rate of 80–90% is normal. Cuttings from leafy stems can also be used for propagation. When Triumfetta species are cultivated for the mucilage, cuttings of 15–20 cm long are taken from the top end of the harvested stems. Since the crop does not perform well under direct sunlight, the cuttings are usually planted in the shade of a tree. They are planted in a circle with a spacing of 10–15 cm. If the cutting is not planted straight upward, adventitious roots may develop, causing a reduced capacity to produce slime. Therefore, some farmers tie the cuttings to a taller plant, e.g. plantain, to ensure that they grow upright.
Earthing up, mulching and shading are recorded to have beneficial effects on the growth of Triumfetta cordifolia. The management of Triumfetta plants cultivated for mucilage is restricted to weeding, provision of support and some irrigation during periods of drought.
Diseases and pests
Triumfetta cordifolia is a host plant of the cotton stainer Dysdercus superstitiosus, a pest of cotton.
At harvesting the stems are cut, leaving 1–2 buds at the base. Stems can be harvested from the same plant for many years. Stems for mucilage are cut just above ground level when they are 75–100 cm long. They are prepared by removing all leaves and the terminal part where the stem has a diameter of less than 1 cm. The resulting sticks are either taken to the homestead or tied into bundles and brought to the market. Leaves to be eaten as a vegetable are collected during the rainy season.
In DR Congo yields of about 260 kg dry fibre per ha have been obtained after 13 days of retting. In Equatorial Guinea 600 kg of stems yielded about 100 kg of bark, from which about 10 kg of yarn could be obtained.
Handling after harvest
Removing the bark from the stem requires some force. To obtain the fibre, the stem may be retted in water for several days. It takes more time in running water than in stagnant water, but the fibre obtained after soaking in running water has a lighter colour and better quality. It is difficult to extract the fibre from dry stems.
Mucilage is extracted by softening the bark in hot water, followed by kneading it in a small amount of clean water. During kneading, the mucilage is released into the water, which is added to stews to make them sticky. Bark peeled from the stem can be stored.
In view of its wide distribution and broad range of habitats, Triumfetta cordifolia is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Triumfetta cordifolia is a useful local source of various materials, including strong fibre, edible leaves, mucilage and medicines. The medicinal uses are widely known in tropical Africa, but its value as a fibre plant is not always known, which is limiting its actual use. Triumfetta cordifolia seems to have potential as a fibre plant, as it is widespread and common in the more humid parts of tropical Africa, and reports on the fibre properties are positive. Most of the information on the fibre properties is old, however, and renewed research is needed to assess the potential of this species for modern applications.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jiofack Tafokou, R.B., 2010. Triumfetta cordifolia A.Rich. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering and fruiting branch; 2, leafy twig; 3, flower; 4, fruit.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman