Plant of the Month 4
Arabic name: El Rowa, Tuwaim
Common name: Desert Cotton, Kapok Bush
Family name: Amaranthaceae
Photo Credits: Alexey Sergeev, Flora of Qatar (All images from Qatar)
Aerva javanica, the kapok bush or desert cotton, is a species of plant in the Amaranthaceae family. It has a native distribution incorporating much of Africa (including Madagascar), and the south-west and south of Asia, and it has become adventitious in northern Australia.
It is a perennial straggly bush, up to 1.6m, with a woody base, erect stem, branched, and covered with fine hairs. Leaves alternate, greyish-green, on very short stalks, lance-shaped to oblong, 1.0-1.5 x 4.0-5.0 cm, with clear vein and midrib on underside, top surface covered with long matted hair. Flowers have five petals on 5-10 cm long spikes from leaf nodes. Buds are pinkish but opened flowers are white.
Leaf-like structures just below flowers become more and more woolly as season progresses. Fruits are inside woolly covering, contaning one small seed, 0.1 x 0.15 cm, black or brown, shiny. It flowers throughout the year except Nov - Dec.
Aerva javanica is deep rooted, and is used as sand binder in desert reclamation. This plant is being grown in some local plant nurseries.
Aerva javanica has been shown to accumulate heavy metals from soils and so it may be good in plantings where there is a need for bioremediation.
In traditional medicine this plant has many uses. It is used externally to remove swelling, relieve inflammation and promote healing of wounds and ulcers. The flowers and roots are used to alleviate kidney problems and rheumatism and the seeds are believed to cure headaches. A gargle is made from the plant to treat toothache.
The woolly flower and seed heads were gathered for use as stuffing for camel saddles and cushions (pillows) and to pack suppurating wounds after cleaning; and flowers mixed with water were made into a paste to apply to wounds to stop bleeding. The whole plant can be used as a diuretic and is said to be an antidote for arsenic poisoning.
Roasted, pounded roots were used as a substitute for eye antimony, often mixed with mother-of-pearl to give some sparkle. It is known to be an efficient source of antioxidants that helps in safeguarding healthy cells from harmful radicals.
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