Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Cat. Afr. Pl. 1: 539 (1898).
Vernonia laurentii De Wild. (1915), Vernonia uniflora Hutch. & Dalziel (1931), Gymnanthemum auriculiferum (Hiern) Isawumi (2008).
Origin and geographic distribution
Vernonia auriculifera occurs from Nigeria and Cameroon eastward to Ethiopia and southward to Angola and Tanzania.
In Kenya Maasai use the stems and leaves in hut-construction and Kipsigis use these materials to make platforms in hut-roofs for grain storage. In Kenya the leaves are also used for wrapping plant drugs to be roasted and used as a poultice. In Uganda the leaves are used as a substitute for toilet paper.
The stems are burnt as fuel. In Rwanda and DR Congo the leaves and young twigs are eaten by domestic animals. The stems, leaves and flowers yield a dye: green coloured without mordant or with alum, and golden coloured with chrome. Vernonia auriculifera is left to grow or sometimes planted as a fallow plant to improve the soil or as a shade-providing nurse tree. In Ethiopia it is said that when the plant flowers it is time to sow millet.
In Kenya Vernonia auriculifera is used in traditional medicine in similar manners as Vernonia amygdalina Delile. Meinit people in Ethiopia apply the root topically against toothache. In Tanzania the root soaked in water is a purgative for children. In DR Congo a drop of juice from the crushed stem bark is instilled in each nostril to treat headache. Leaf preparations are used in various countries against dysentery and stomachache. In Uganda an infusion of the leaves is taken against worms and a leaf decoction is drunk for the treatment of malaria. Leaf extracts are drunk as oxytocic and abortifacient and against post-partum pains. Pulverized leaves are used against impetigo, and in Congo the dried and pounded leaves are applied on wounds. In Cameroon the leaf juice is used as eye drops for the treatment of cataract.
Production and international trade
Vernonia auriculifera is only used locally.
8-Desacylvernodalol was isolated from the methanolic extract of fresh leaves of Vernonia auriculifera. The compound exhibited phytotoxic activity against seedlings of lettuce. Chloroform, ethyl acetate and methanol leaf extracts have shown mild antiplasmodial activity against Plasmodium falciparum isolate K39. In a test in Uganda, the dichloromethane extract of the root has shown slight antitrypanosomal activity. In Kenya, extracts of Vernonia auriculifera were found to be toxic, possibly due to hydroperoxides of unsaturated fatty acid methyl esters.
Small tree, shrub or woody herb up to 9 m tall; stems branching from low down, at first brownish hairy; bark smooth, grey. Leaves petiolate or especially the upper ones sessile; petiole up to 7.5 cm long, often auriculate; blade elliptical or narrowly obovate to ovate, 10–45 cm × 3–23 cm, attenuate towards the rounded, truncate or cordate base, apex acute or shortly acuminate, margin toothed, upper surface dull green, thinly fine-hairy mainly on veins and glabrescent, lower surface whitish with often floccose tomentum. Inflorescence composed of numerous heads in very large terminal compound thyrsoid cymes, the whole inflorescence up to 150 cm in diameter; involucre narrowly cylindrical, 4–6 mm long; phyllaries in 6–7 rows, appressed, green, especially the inner rows often tinged purplish in the upper part, broadly ovate to ovate or elliptical, apex obtuse to rounded, minutely apiculate, the inner rows elliptical, 4–6 mm long, usually acute, the innermost eventually falling. Florets 1 per head; corolla 6.5–9 mm long, scented, mauve, lilac or purplish, fading to white with age, lobes 2–3 mm long, glabrous except the throat; anthers distally with linear or lanceolate appendage; style branches long-tapering with stigmatic papillae above near the base. Fruit an achene 3–4 mm long, 8–10-ribbed, shortly ascending-pubescent to almost glabrescent except at the apex; outer pappus of narrow scales up to 1.5 mm long, inner pappus white, 5–8 mm long.
Vernonia comprises about 500 species in the Old World tropics and the Americas. It is here retained in a broad sense, but major changes in the circumscription are underway in the Old World species; Vernonia auriculifera has recently been transferred to Gymnanthemum, but the old name is retained in the present article because not the whole genus has been revised yet.
Vernonia auriculifera occurs at 750–3000 m altitude in open grassland or at the margin of forest in mountainous areas. In south-western Uganda it is characteristic of the shrub layer in old secondary vegetation changing into forest, e.g. in abandoned banana plantations. It is locally abundant in wet montane forest, but also beside streams or lakes, e.g. in Uganda.
Vernonia auriculifera may be propagated by seed or wildlings. Plants are fast-growing and yield fuelwood in 3–5 years.
Genetic resources and breeding
Vernonia auriculifera has a wide area of distribution and is locally common. There are no indications that it is in danger of genetic erosion.
The medicinal uses of Vernonia auriculifera warrant further pharmacological research. Its role as a fallow and fuel crop deserves more attention. As a fibre plant it is likely to remain of local use only.
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Correct citation of this article:
Oyen, L.P.A., 2010. Vernonia auriculifera Hiern. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.