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Moth Plant

Araujia sericifera

Origin: Paraguay, Uruguay,
S Brazil and NE Argentina

Africa

Click on Map to see other species coming from the area
and geo-cultural connections


Flowers image by Gabriela Ruellan

Alternative Name(s): Araujia hortorum, Moth vine

Family: Asclepiadaceae.

Known Hazards: None known.

Habitat: Sandy sea shores.

Edibility Rating: 1 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 0 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Perennial climber with twining stems, climbing to 6 m on supporting vegetation. Leaves oblong to triangular, 3–11 cm long, 1–6 cm wide, base of midrib on upper surface with finger-like small glands; base at right-angles to leaf stalk that is 0.5–4 cm long. Fruit a blue-green pod initially, turning brown and woody with age, splitting to release seeds. Seeds black, numerous, about 4 mm long and ending in a tuft of white silky hairs about 2.5 cm long.
Flowers: White to pale pink in groups of 2–5 in axils of leaves. Flower perfumed, tubular, 0.8–1.4 cm long, 5-lobed, stamens 5. Flowers late spring to autumn.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies).


Distinguishing features: Distinguished by twining habit; milky latex exuded from damaged stems and leaves; leaves opposite, upper surface green with scattered hairs, lower surface blue-green with very short dense covering of hairs and pearshaped fruit 6–12 cm long and 3–7 cm wide.

Dispersal: Spread by wind-blown seeds.



Edible Uses

Fruit - after preparation. No further details are given but the fruit is a long grooved pod 12.5 x 7.5cm, tapering to a fascicle of hairs 2.5cm long.

Medicinal Uses

In folk medicine, an infusion made from the leaves and fruits, and a decoction from the roots, are drunk by nursing women in order to increase milk secretion (latex from the plant contains the 'lab' ferment). The infusion is drunk immediately; the decoction is often added to the water
for brewing maté. The latex is used as a mouthwash to relieve toothache or to encourage the falling off of teeth (antiodontalgic). In order to stop the spreading of venom, in cases of snakebite, it is recommended to employ the stalks to make tourniquets (Martínez-Crovetto, 1981)

Other Uses

It is cultivated as an ornamental because of its showy flowers and extended blooming period; it's easily propagated from seeds and cuttings. The ripe fruits have been cited as edible, being relished by children (Ragonese et Martínez Crovetto, 1947). According to Hieronymus (1930), the Pajagua indians from Paraguay (the Guarani name [for the plant] 'pajagua tembi'u' means 'food of the Pajagua') eat the fruits after roasting them.

Notes: Garden escape. Climber that smothers shrubs and small trees, depressing their growth. Weed of wasteland and forests adjoining settlement mainly in coastal higher rainfall areas.

References:



Infestation by the Nepean River, NSW

Gathering of seed pods in Motutapu, New Zealand. Image by Bridget Winstone

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

 

From Gabriela Ruellan

Now, regarding the uses for Araujia sericifera... I'm quoting (and translating) from this book:

Lahitte, H.B. & J.A. Hurrell (eds.).
"Biota Rioplatense. V. Plantas trepadoras nativas y exóticas"
(Biota of the Río de La Plata. Vol. 5. Climbing vines, native and exotic)
1st. Edition, 264 pp.
Editorial L.O.L.A. (Literature of Latin America), Buenos Aires, 2000.

Quote from the entry for Araujia sericifera:
"Uses: It is cultivated as an ornamental because of its showy flowers and extended blooming period; it's easily propagated from seeds and cuttings. The ripe fruits have been cited as edible, being relished by children (Ragonese et Martínez Crovetto, 1947). According to Hieronymus
(1930), the Pajagua indians from Paraguay (the Guarani name [for the plant] 'pajagua tembi'u' means 'food of the Pajagua') eat the fruits after roasting them. The same author points out that the fibers in the stalks are tenacious and have been used for textile purposes, and that the tufts from the seeds can be used as wool.

"In folk medicine, an infusion made from the leaves and fruits, and a decoction from the roots, are drunk by nursing women in order to increase milk secretion (latex from the plant contains the 'lab' ferment). The infusion is drunk immediately; the decoction is often added to the water
for brewing maté. The latex is used as a mouthwash to relieve toothache or to encourage the falling off of teeth (antiodontalgic). In order to stop the spreading of venom, in cases of snakebite, it is recommended to employ the stalks to make tourniquets (Martínez-Crovetto, 1981)."

That's the best reference I could find. Obviously the snakebite treatment can't possibly work, but I'm not sure about the galactagogue effect. Personally I haven't seen any of these uses, but my mom remembers from decades ago that it wasn't an unusual practice in our neighbourhood to
send someone for "tasi" (the local name of the plant) to make tea for a recent mother.
The Pajagua ethnic group, mentioned by Hieronymus, is now extinct, I believe.
As for the seeds "being used as wool"... I don't know if they can be used exactly like wool, but the silky tufts have been used for stuffing pillows.

On another note, yesterday I got curious about what keeps moth vines from growing out of control over here. Found a reference by local naturalist Ricardo Barbetti, who says that some beetle larvae, and caterpillars, feed on the insides of the stalks, and that would weaken the plants or
stunt their growth.

And about the original distribution area of A. sericifera... It could be described, I think, as the "River Plate basin", but (though very short and quite precise) this wouldn't work for most people. How about "Paraguay, Uruguay, S of Brazil and NE of Argentina"? (Thankfully there are no
more countries to add!)

 

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