Spider Hibiscus (Fijian: Senitoa)

Spider Hibiscus (Fijian: Senitoa)

Hibiscus schizopetalus (Malvaceae)

Characteristics

Shrub, growing up to 3 m. Flowers red or pink, very distinctive in their frilly, finely divided petals. Leaves resemble those of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (#55 plant tour).

Distribution

Native to tropical eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Mosambique). Today, widespread as ornamental plant in tropical and subtropical gardens and parks.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

In Fijian, the word “Senitoa” is used for Hibiscus flowers in general.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Lemongrass (Fijian: Yagiyagi, Coboi)

Lemongrass (Fijian: Yagiyagi, Coboi)

Cymbopogon cf. coloratus (Poaceae)

Characteristics

Cymbopogon are evergreen, clump-forming, perennial grasses, 60-140 cm tall. Rich in essential oils, used for citronella oil, insect repellent and in the culinary arts (depending on the species).

Distribution

Genus Cymbopogon native to Asia, Africa and Australia.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

The most famous lemongrass is Cymbopogon citratus, commonly cultivated as culinary and medicinal herb because of its scent, resembling that of lemons.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Polynesian ‘ohe (Fijian: Bitu)

Polynesian ‘ohe (Fijian: Bitu)

Schizostachyum glaucifolium (Poaceae)

Characteristics

Evergreen bamboo species, up to 15 m tall. Culm diameter 8 cm. Clump-forming. Yellow woody culms with green stripes.

Used by Polynesians to produce baskets, mats, musical instruments, fishing rods etc.

Distribution

Native to South-Central Pacific (like Fiji). Today, cultivated in the United States of America.

Natural Medical Properties

The powdered culms are mixed with water and consumed as a treatment for a sharp pain in the stomach and pain associated with profuse sweating.

The ashes of the culms, combined with powdered Cyperus javanicus and Diospyros spp., as well as the sap of green kukui fruits (Aleurites moluccana) and ripe papaya (Carica papaya), is applied topically as a treatment for festering raw sores.

Did you know?

On the French Polynesian island Mo’orea, thickets of these bamboo were likely the exclusive breeding habitat of the critically endangered Moorea reed warbler (bird). Development, overharvesting and the invasive Miconia plant have severely depleted these thickets, and the warbler is now feared extinct.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Orchid trees

Orchid trees

Bauhinia sp. (Fabaceae)

Characteristics

Trees of this genus typically reach 6-12 m. Flowers with five petals, fragrant. Begin of flowering in late winter and often continues into early summer. Very easy to recognize leaves with two lobes, looking like a butterfly.

Distribution

Mainly planted in SE-Asia and India, but common around the tropics as an ornamental tree.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

The genus Bauhinia was named after the two Swiss-French botanists Gaspard and Johann Bauhin. It is related (same family) to legumes.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Eggplant

Eggplant

Solanum melongena (Solanaceae)

Characteristics

Delicate, tropical, perennial plant, often cultivated as a half-hardy annual plant in temperate climates. Stem spiny. Flowers white to purple, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. Fruit edible but low in nutrients, but the capability of the fruit to absorb oils and flavours into its flesh through cooking expands its use in the culinary arts.

Distribution

Native to India. Cultivated in Southern and Eastern Asia since prehistoric. Today grown worldwide for its edible fruit.

Natural Medical Properties

The aubergine is used mainly as a food crop, but it does also have various medicinal uses that make it a valuable addition to the diet. The fruit helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and is suitable as part of a diet to help regulate high blood pressure.

The warmed fruit paste is applied to painful joints.

The fruit is anti-haemorrhoidal and hypotensive.

It is also used as an antidote to poisonous mushrooms.

It is bruised with vinegar and used as a poultice for cracked nipples, abscesses and haemorrhoids.

The leaves are narcotic and poisonous.

A decoction is applied to discharging sores and internal haemorrhages.

A soothing and emollient poultice for the treatment of burns, abscesses, cold sores, haemorrhoids and similar conditions can be made from the leaves.

Aubergine leaves are toxic and should only be used externally.
The ashes of the peduncle are used in the treatment of intestinal haemorrhages, piles and toothache.
A decoction of the root is anti-asthmatic, astringent and general stimulant. It is made into a powder and applied both internally and externally as a remedy for bleeding.

The juice of the root is used in the treatment of otitis and toothache.

Did you know?

Botanically, eggplant is not a vegetable but a berry.

Eggplant is very close related (same genus) to potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum).

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Royal Palm

‎Royal Palm

Roystonea regia (Arecaceae)

Characteristics

Palm tree, up to 20-25 m tall. Trunk stout, very smooth and grey-white with a characteristic bulge below a distinctive green crownshaft.

Root nodules containing Rhizobium bacteria have been found on Roystonea regia trees in India, normally known from Fabaceae-species. This was the first (!) record of root nodules in a monocotyledonous tree.

Distribution

Native to Mexico, Central America, Carribean and Southern Florida. Today, planted as ornamental palm throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

Best known as an ornamental palm tree, it is also used as a source of thatch and construction timber. It is the National tree of Cuba and has a religious role in many countries used by Christians in Palm Sunday observances.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Small-leaved fig (Fijian: Baka ni viti)

Small-leaved fig (Fijian: Baka ni viti)

Ficus obliqua (Moraceae)

Characteristics

Tree, can grow up to 60 m (!), buttressed trunk, glossy green leaves. Fruit is a “syconium”, meaning that the fruit is an inverted inflorescence with the flowers lining an internal cavity. Pollinated by two species of fig wasps (Pleistodontes greenwoodi, P. xanthocephallus).

Many bird species eat the fruit. Commonly grown as shade tree in parks and is well-suited as indoor-plant or bonsai.

Distribution

Native to Eastern Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia and southwestern Pacific islands

Natural Medical Properties

All parts of the tree has been used in traditional medicine in Fiji.

Did you know?

Ficus obliqua is a so called “strangler fig”. This means, that it starts his life as an epiphyte (living on another plant) when its seed germinates in a crack or a crevice of a host tree. They grow roots down toward the ground and consequently may envelop part of the host tree. In the meantime, the host tree keeps growing and strangles himself within the root-net of the fig tree.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Madagascar periwinkle

Madagascar periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus (Apocynaceae)

Characteristics

Evergreen shrub or herbaceous plant up to 1 m tall. Leaves oval, 3-9 cm long and 1-3 cm broad, glossy green, hairless, opposite. Flowers white to dark-pink with a darker red center and a basal tube. Corolla 2-5 cm with 5 petal-like lobes.

Distribution

Native and endemic to Madagascar but cultivated and naturalised elsewhere in subtropical and tropical areas in the world as an ornamental and medicinal plant (source of the drugs vincristine and vinblastine, used to treat cancer).

Natural Medical Properties

Madagascar periwinkle has long been used as a traditional medicine.
Tests by pharmaceutical companies in the 1950’s showed the presence of a number of medically active alkaloids, especially the compound vincristine, which has been shown to have activity against leukaemia.
The alkaloids, when isolated from the plant, are highly toxic but have also been shown to reduce the numbers of white blood cells, leading to applications which have revolutionized conventional cancer therapy.The plant is cultivated as a source of these alkaloids, a number of which are extracted and used allopathically.The isolated alkaloids are used to treat and other cancers.

The alkaloids vincristine and vinblastine are prescribed in anticancer therapy, particularly in cases of acute leukaemia (especially in children) and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They are usually part of a complex chemotherapy protocol.

Used in isolation, they have a number of side-effects, including alopecia, nausea and bone marrow depression.

The dried root is an industrial source of ajmalicine, which increases the blood flow in the brain and peripheral parts of the body. Preparations of ajmalicine are used to treat the psychological and behavioural problems of senility, sensory problems (dizziness, tinnitus), cranial traumas and their neurological complications.

Ajmalicine, and another alkaloid serpentine, are prescribed in the treatment of hypertension.
The leaves and aerial parts of the plant have a wide range of traditional uses. Well known as an oral hypoglycaemic agent, the plant is also considered to be depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, purgative and vermifuge. A decoction is taken to treat hypertension, asthma, menstrual irregularities, chronic constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, dyspepsis, malaria, dengue fever, diabetes, cancer and skin diseases.

Extracts prepared from the leaves have been applied externally as antiseptic agents for the healing of wounds; to relieve the effects of wasp stings; against haemorrhage, skin rash and as a mouthwash to treat toothache.

The leaves are harvested when the plant is flowering and can be dried for later use.

An infusion of the flowers is used to treat mild diabetes.
A decoction of the roots is taken to treat dysmenorrhoea.

Did you know?

In the wild, Madagascar periwinkle is an endangered plant. The main cause of decline is habitat destruction by slash and burn agriculture.

Madagascar periwinkle can be extremely poisonous if consumed orally by humans.

It is closely related to “Dwarf periwinkle” (Vinca minor).

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Dwarf Cavendish Banana (Fijian: Jaina leka)

Dwarf Cavendish Banana (Fijian: Jaina leka)

Musa acuminata ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ (Musaceae)

Characteristics

The cultivar “Dwarf Cavendish” is due to its shortness more stable, wind-resistant and easier to manage than other banana plants. This, in addition to its fast growth rate, makes it ideal for plantation cultivation. The fruits range from 15 to 25 cm in length and are thin skinned. Each plant can bear up to 90 fingers.

Distribution

Musa acuminata is native to Southeast Asia and first cultivated by humans around 10’000 years ago. The variety “Cavendish” was first cultivated in Europe in the 19th century and shipped to various places in the Pacific and the Canary Islands. In 1888, bananas from the Canary Islands were imported into England and are known to belong to the “Dwarf Cavendish” cultivar.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

Banana plants are evergreen perennials, not trees! The trunk (known as the pseudostem) is made of tightly packed layers of leaf sheaths emerging from completely or partially buried corms.

The name “Dwarf Cavendish” is in reference to the height of the plant, not the fruit.

Botanically, bananas are berries.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species

Sea Almond (Fijian: Tavola)

Sea Almond (Fijian: Tavola)

Terminalia catappa (Combretaceae)

Characteristics

Large deciduous tree, up to 35 m tall, with horizontal branches. Large, glossy dark green, leathery leaves (15-25 cm long, 10-15 cm broad). Corky light fruits (drupe), dispersed by water. Seed within the fruit is edible when fully ripe, tasting almost like almond (name: Sea almond). The trees are monoecious with distinct male and female flowers on the same tree.

Distribution

The tree has been spread widely by humans and the native region is uncertain. It is grown in tropical regions of the world as an ornamental tree, providing deep shade with its large leaves.

Natural Medical Properties

No known.

Did you know?

During dry-season, Sea almond trees lose their leaves (dry-season deciduous). Before falling, they turn pinkish-reddish or yellow-brown, due to pigments such as violaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species