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Urena lobata L. (Malvaceae-Malvoideae)
by Ms. Nur Liyana Hazwani Shahdani & Dr. Avelinah Julius
© Avelinah Julius

The purplish-pink flower with obvious long tubular pistil of this weedy plant, at a glance, resembles the 'bunga raya' or Hibiscus that comes from the genus Hibiscus but actually, it belongs to another genus Urena in the same Malvaceae family. Urena Dill. ex L. is a small genus that has only seven species (POWO, 2021). Two of them viz. Urena lobata L. and U. rigida Wall. ex Mast. have been recorded for Peninsular Malaysia. At KEP herbarium, U. lobata is more commonly collected than the latter species.

Urena lobata is widely distributed in tropical and subtropical regions (POWO, 2021). In certain countries, it is commonly called Congo jute or Caesar's weed and is listed as one of the invasive weeds that spreads fast and displaces native plants (The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2011). In Peninsular Malaysia, fortunately, such invasion has not been reported so far.

Locally, U. lobata is found growing in disturbed forests, sunny roadsides, waste, riparian or swampy areas, and at the edges of forests or rice fields. It is a subshrub from 15 cm to 1.5 m tall. The leaves are narrowly or broadly ovate, 5-13 cm in diameter, and the young leaves are sometimes lanceolate with the margin entire or 3-5-lobed.

The fruit of this species is called a schizocarp (a dry fruit that splits into single-seeded parts when ripe), 8-12 mm in diameter and the shape is depressed-globose. It has 5 mericarps and each of them is trigonous with a rounded angle. The mericarps are covered with densely stellate hairs and glochidiate (hooked) spines. The hooked spines on the fruits can easily attach or stick to the fur of animals or human clothing upon contact, similar to sticky glutinous rice. Thus, U. lobata is locally called 'pulut-pulut' or 'pepulut' in Malay.

Despite its status as a weed, this species is commercially planted as a fibre crop in some regions of South America, South East Asia and tropical Africa for making carpets and ropes (Austin, 1999; Francis, 2000; Baert & Raemaekers, 2001; Ong 2001). Other than that, parts of leaves, roots and flowers are reportedly used as traditional medicine in Indo-China, Fiji, Malaysia, Java, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea to treat various ailments such as colic, malaria, gonorrhoea, fever, wounds, toothache and rheumatism (Ong, 2001). The decoction from boiled roots with other mixed herbs is used as a tonic after childbirth in Malaysia (Zakariah & Mohd, 2010).

References

  1. Austin, D.F. (1995). Caesar's weed (Urena lobata): An invasive exotic or a Florida native? Wildland Weeds. 3 (1), 13-16. https://www.se-eppc.org/wildlandweeds/pdf/WINTER-99-AUSTIN-P-13-16.pdf
  2. Baert, J. & Raemaekers, R.H. (2001). Urena. In Raemaekers, R.H. (Ed.), Crop production in tropical Africa. DGIC (Directorate General for International Co-operation), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, External Trade and International Co-operation, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 1083-1086.
  3. Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. (2011). Florida EPPC's 2011 Invasive Plant Species List. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.fdacs.gov/content/download/13821/file/2011ListBrochure.pdf
  4. Francis, J.K. (2004). Wildland Shrubs of the United States and its Territories: Thamnic Descriptions. General Technical Report - International Institute of Tropical Forestry, IITF-WB-1. 1, 785-787. https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_series/iitf/iitf_gtr026.pdf
  5. Ong, H.C. (2001). Urena lobata L. In Van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Eds.), Plant Resources of South-East Asia (PROSEA): Medicinal and Poisonous Plants, Volume 12 (2). Backhuys Publishers, Leiden. pp. 575-577.
  6. POWO (2021). Plants of the World Online: Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://powo.science.kew.org/
  7. Zakaria, M. & Ali Mohd, M. (2010). Traditional Malay Medicinal Plants. Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia (ITNM), Malaysia. pp. 185.
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