Heterostemma piperifolium King & Gamble
by Dr. Sam Yen Yen

Heterostemma piperifolium is a twining plant from the family Apocynaceae. The slender stem readily coils on any available support to reach higher ground for more sunlight. It is a widespread but not very common plant which can be easily mistaken for the spice pepper plant (Piper nigrum, family Piperaceae) because of its twining habit and leaves. Its epithet 'piperifolium' means pepper-leaved because the plant has large green heart- or oval-shaped leaves much like the pepper plant. The leaves usually come in pairs and measure 5–10.5 × 2.5–6.5 cm. A quick way to distinguish it from the pepper plant is to check for the presence of white latex when any plant part is bruised. The presence of latex is one of the characteristics of the family Apocynaceae. Like many members of the Apocynaceae which contain alkaloids, H. piperifolium is reported to contain the purinium alkaloids (Rahman et al., 2002) but additional information is lacking.

While the large leaves of H. piperifolium are readily spotted, its flowers are less prominent. They are rather small, usually less than 1 cm across, with 5 widely open bright yellow petals. These flowers are produced in a bunch of 6–7 from the leaf axils along the stem.

The fruit pods of H. piperifolium are very long and thin, growing up to 12 cm in length. Once ripened, the pods split open releasing the seeds within. The seeds are very thin and lightweight with a tuft of long fine silky hairs attached to one end. All these features allow the seeds to be dispersed by wind.

Heterostemma piperifolium has been recorded from limestone areas of Selangor, Perak and Kedah (Kiew, 2014). It can also be found along the roadside and in belukar.


  1. Rahman, Z., Munro, M.H.G., Blunt, J. & Ikram, M.S. (2002). Alkaloids from the stem of Heterostemma piperifolium (Asclepiadaceae). Natural Products R&D : Transforming Rainforest Industries : Proceeding of the 18th Seminar of the Malaysian Natural Products Society, Kota Kinabalu, 21-24 October 2002. pp. 177-180
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