Capparis acutifolia (Capparaceae)
by Dr. Avelinah Julius
Capparis acutifolia (Capparaceae)
by Dr. Avelinah Julius

This small tree, ca. 5 m high with slender, spreading branches is known to occur in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Indo-China, Hainan, China and Taiwan. Its distribution extends into the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia where it was first collected in 2008 and until now is only known from one location at Gua Labua, Ulu Muda F.R., Sik, Kedah.

Under this species, Jacobs (1965) recognised five subspecies viz. subsp. acutifolia, subsp. viminea (Hook. f. & Thomson) Jacobs, subsp. bodinieri (Lévl.) Jacobs, subsp. sabiifolia (Hook. f. & Thomson) Jacobs and subsp. obovata Jacobs. Kongkanda (1991), however, in her account for Flora of Thailand, sank the first three subspecies into Capparis acutifolia Sweet, and treated the latter two as C. sabiifolia because of the presence of the cataphylls (a rudimentary scale-like leaf). The Peninsular Malaysian plant lacks cataphylls, thus it matches C. acutifolia. This species has been reported for its medicinal value in Chinese Herbal Medicine. The extract obtained from the roots and stems has not only analgesic (as a pain killer) and anti-inflammation activities but is also effective in treating Freund's complete adjuvant arthritis (rheumatism) (Deng 2010).

It was found growing in rock crevices on limestone in lowland forest at altitude ca. 191 m. This is the only species among the ten known Capparis in Peninsular Malaysia which does not have thorny stipules. The discovery of this taxon brings to four species in total that inhabit limestone areas, while the rest grow in dense, riverside vegetation or in forest edges.

Capparis acutifolia is easily distinguished by its ovate-elliptic leaves measuring 10.5–12.5 × 4–5.5 cm, and the 1.5–2 cm long acuminate-caudate apex. The lamina is glossy when fresh; transparent and thinly chartaceous when dry. The slightly flexuous, lenticelate and glabrous twigs terminate in an inflorescence. The flowers are arranged in a series of 3–4 along the twigs. The ovate-elliptic sepals are keeled and measure 5–6 × 2–3 mm; they are hairy outside and glabrous inside. The oblanceolate petals (10–15 × 4–5 mm) are tomentose on both surfaces but more tomentous on the lower surface. The petals are white but pinkish on the elongated disc at the base of the dorsal petals. There are ca. 30 stamens; the whitish pink filaments are 2.5–3.5 cm long and the pale purple anthers are ca. 1.5 mm long. The ovoid ovary is ca. 1 mm long. The fruit is unknown in Peninsular Malaysia.

Capparis acutifolia is classified as Endangered in Peninsular Malaysia under the IUCN conservation status criteria because it is rare; only one mature individual was found during the expedition to Gua Labua limestone hills in 2008 (Kiew et al., 2009).


  1. Deng, Y. (2010). Method for manufacturing extract of Capparis acutifolia for treating Freund's complete adjuvant (fca) arthritis. Chinese Patent CN 101780124
  2. Jacobs, M. (1965). The genus Capparis (Capparaceae) from the Indus to the Pacific. BLUMEA - Biodiversity, Evolution and Plant Biogeography of Plants 12 (3), 426, 385-541
  3. Kiew, R., Rafidah, A.R. & Surin, S. (2009). Limestone Plants of Gua Labua. Conservation Malaysia (9), 1-2
  4. Kongkanda, C. (1991). Caparaceae. Flora of Thailand , Volume 5. pp. 241-271
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