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Nature Weekly
Short Notes on Nature Singapore

7 February 2016 | Red Flame | Hemigraphis reptans |

Besides Red Flame, this prostrate herb is also known as Red Lily or Waffle Plant. Its botanical name is Hemigraphis reptans. It region of origin is the Pacific Islands.

photo photo photo photo photo

This low-lying herb is a relatively common weedy plant in Singapore. The main distinctive feature that is easily noticed visually is the purplish underside of the leaves. Its horticultural equivalence here is Hemigraphis alternata. The flowers bloom on an erect stalks protruding from the midst of the rosette-like leaf arrangement. In fact, the leaf arrangement is opposite but due to its short stem and low-lying nature, it is presented as a rosette appearance. Hence, it may look quite different from Hemigraphis alternata in overall appearance except for the same purplish leaf underside.

photo photo The flowers started in the morning and withered in the afternoon. The fruit capsule is elongated and looked similar to that of another common domestic herb, Andrographis paniculata (King of Bitters) here. The difference being that Hemigraphis reptans’s fruit capsule is much smaller than that of Andrographis paniculata. Both herbs are flourishing in my pots, which allowed me to make the visual comparison easily.

In Singapore, Hemigraphis reptans is the host plant of the butterfly, Junonia hedonia ida (Chocolate Pansy). Information on the usefulness of this herb is scarce. In Vanuatu, the juice of the root is claimed to speed up delivery [1] while in Papua New Guinea, the whole plant is use treat centipede bite [2]. In recent study designed to identify anti-dengue activities in 5 medicinal plants in Malaysia, this plant did not pass the test [3].

Needless to say, it is treated as one of the common weeds in the recently published (2005) 92-page Guide to Landscape Weed Management by the Centre of Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE).

I did a summary on some selective feature of this herb from the description presented in 3 websites. For the height, the approximately 15 cm would have to include the long erected flower stalk. Without this stalk, the herb rarely go beyond 10 cm above ground level. The length of the fruit capsules from the plant in my pot is about 8 mm. None of the websites have a description of its seeds.

Website Height Leaf (underside) Corolla (flower) Fruit
Some Magnetic Island Plants about 15 cm tall underside of the leaves are also a purple shade white or whitish, suffused with purple within capsules, up to about 1 cm long
James Cook University usually less than 15 cm tall undersurface of the leaves is purple pale blue capsule 12-16 mm long
Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER) (not mentioned) leaf with purple beneath white or whitish, suffused with purple within capsules 6-7 mm long

References:

[1] Bourdy G, Walter A. Maternity and medicinal plants in Vanuatu. I. The cycle of reproduction. J Ethnopharmacol 1992;37(3):179-196. | Read article |

[2] Koch M, Kehop DA, Kinminja B, Sabak M, Wavimbukie G, Barrows KM, Matainaho TK, Barrows LR, Rai PP. An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants used in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 2015; 11: 79. | Read article |

[3] Rothan HA, Zulqarnain M, Ammar YA, Tan EC, Rahman NA, Yusof R. Screening of antiviral activities in medicinal plants extracts against dengue virus using dengue NS2B-NS3 protease assay. Trop Biomed 2014;31(2):286-296. | Read article |

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