Herbs & Plants

Biophytum sensitivum

[amazon_link asins=’B00323LXCG,B00ZV7ZSK4,B017UH0SW0,B019JGOSC6,B00PKZ0S02,B01H3YQHWA’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’finmeacur-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1497bdc1-f728-11e6-aed6-3578aeb477b7′]

[amazon_link asins=’B018ZNSRG2,B002DGOXCA,B00ODJDKWY,B01LB9W2J0′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’finmeacur-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8fed7d80-f727-11e6-b120-2f46cc63a81f’]

Botanical Name : Biophytum sensitivum
Family: Oxalidaceae
Genus: Biophytum
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Order: Oxalidales

Common Names :  life plant, alleluya (French), jhalai (Bengali), alm bhusha,  lajjaalu, lakshmana (Hindi), hara muni, jalapushpa (Kannada),  mukkutti (Malayalam), jharera, lajwanti (Marathi), jhullipuspa,  lajjalu,  panktipatra, pitapushpa, vipareetalajjaalu (Sanskrit), nilaccurunki, tintaanaalee (Tamil), attapatti, chumi, jala puspa,  pulicenta (Telugu), damong-bingkalat (Tag.), damong-huya (Bis.), guyankan (Sub.), hoya-hoya (P. Bis.), makahiang-lalaki (Tag.), lubi-lubi (P. Bis.), mahihiin (Ilk.), makahia (Tag.), niug-niug (Sul.).  Look-a-likes: Biophytum dendroides, which is considerably larger

Habitat :A common weed found in wet lands (mostly plains) of tropical Africa, Asia and India. Normally in the shade of trees and shrubs, in grasslands, open thickets, at low and medium altitudes.

Description: Biophytum is a genus of about 50 species of annual and perennial herbaceous plants
Biophytum sensitivum is truly a remarkable little plant, it looks like a miniature palm but don’t be fooled: it belongs to the wood-sorrel family. The little plant rarely exceeds 20cm (8”) in height and forms an unbranched woody erect stem. All leaves grow from the endpoint and are made of 8 to 17 pairs of leaflets. Each leaflet is up to 1.5 cm (0.5”) long and what makes them really remarkable is their ability to fold together – call it an extreme form of “sleep movement” which is exhibited by a lot of members in this family. When applying pressure, tapping or damaging them they neatly fold together in a few seconds. Tapping the leaf once more makes it droop down, often cascading the effect to adjacent leaves. This plant also displays this behaviour (albeit slower) when the level of light drops at night. This ability is not restricted to the leaves, the peduncle which carries the flowers has the same ability and also drops at night. This mechanism is probably a means against insects which would otherwise damage the plants, but this is peculiar since plants from this family contain poisonous oxalate.

The flowers (1cm ?) are normally yellow, white or orange with a red/orange streak in the center of each of the 5 petals. Not only do they look like miniature Primula flowers, they share a threat with this genus which is quite interesting: heterostyly. Heterostyly in Biophytum sensitivum is responsible for 3 flower morphs. The three morphs (tristylous) each have a stable difference in pistil- and stamen length:

*long-styled: the stigmas emerge above the stamen
*mid-styled: the stigmas sit at a level between two layers of stamina
*short-styled: the stigmas are located at the bottom, above it two levels of stamina

The flowers are many, and crowded at the apices of the numerous peduncles. The sepals are subulate-lanceolate, striate, and about 7 millimeters long. The fruit is a capsule which is shorter than the persistent calyx.

The flowers are many, and crowded at the apices of the numerous peduncles. The sepals are subulate-lanceolate, striate, and about 7 millimeters long. The fruit is a capsule which is shorter than the persistent calyx.

The flowers on the same plant are all of the same morph. This mechanism normally assures self-incompatibility because pollen from a long/mid/short stamen will only set seed if it’s germinating on a matching long/mid/short style. But oddly enough you’ll find that your Biophytum sensitivum can readily set seed without intervention. The reason is that there’s a 4th less-known and rarer morph: the homostyled form. Homostyly is rare in plants that show tristyly, but quite common in Biophytum sensitivum. This fourth morph is a form where the pistils are the same length as the stamen and has been the source of much confusion in the propagation of these plants. These homostyled morphs are true from seed when selfed, and can be recognized by a pure yellow flower which is a bit smaller than the heterostylous plants. This is quite important to know since this species is actually an annual. They can grow much longer than a year in cultivation but they’ll eventually give up, at which time it’s best to have a small batch of seeds. Selfing isn’t really an issue and the homostyled plants will happily set seed without intervention. The plants remain viable for many generations and seeds from commercial sources probably come from homostyled forms which could imply a very narrow genetic diversity.

A few sources mention that this plant can be found as a lithophyte. No photographic evidence backs this up.

Cultivation & Propagation:
The species has been widely adopted by terrarium growers due to its compact but attractive habit. They require an average warm (20-30°C) humid environment and will be at their best when a regular misting is applied. The temperature is allowed to drop to 16°C in winter but try not to go lower as it can lead to death – remember that this species is actually an annual.

They thrive on a rich soil that is slightly acidic in pH. They neither like wet nor dry soil, so add sand to the soil mix and water regularly to keep it damp. Reduce watering in Winter but don’t let it go dry. As a standard medium you can mix 2 parts general purpose garden centre soil, 1 part washed sand or perlite, 2 parts leafmould and 1 part peat. Grow them in a container of 15 cm diameter, don’t repot adults as the root system is quite delicate.

Biophytum sensitivum enjoys a position in bright indirect light. Too much direct sunlight can cause the leaflets to curl and shrivel but you might want to experiment. Too little light will result in dwarfed plants with a small number of leaves. Place them on a North-facing window or in a well-lit terrarium.

Biophytum sensitivum is easily propagated from seed. To get a good seedset read the guidelines regarding heterostyly in the introduction. There’s one more thing you should know: the seeds are catapulted away from the plant. Each seed is enveloped by a stiff and a flexible fleece, this builds up a tension as it dries. When the seed is mature the flexible part detaches and the seed is shot away. To harvest the seeds before they’re flung away wait until the seedpod opens (revealing a star-shaped structure with the brown seeds in 5 rows) and pinch the whole seedpod off by pressing it between thumb and index finger. Now gently rub the seeds so that the fleece comes off.

Sow the seeds in Spring on a lighter variation of the soil for mature plants: use only half a part of leafmould (or none at all) instead of 2 parts. Place the seeds on top of the soil and cover the container with transparent plastic or glass to increase humidity. Don’t place them in direct sunlight but in a bright position at 25°C. Seedlings can sometimes tumble over because the small roots have difficulty penetrating the soil – gently add a small amount of soil around them. Plant them in individual pots once they grow 2 leaves with 6 leaflets each.

Medicinal Uses:

Biophytum sensitivum has been studied in pharmacy and holds considerable potential in ethnobotany – don’t use it to make your own potions. In the Philippines the seeds (applied in the form of a powder) are used as a vulnerary. The roots in the are administered in cases of gonorrhea and bladder stone. Bruised leaves are applied to contusions. A recent work (unpublished) of Dr. F. Garcia indicates that the plant is a promising cure for diabetes mellitus, he claims that it contains an insulin-like component. Gross reports that an infusion of the leaves is useful as an expectorant. Apparently the plant is used in Brazil as an antiasthmatic, and also against scorpion stings. It is also a reputed medicine for tuberculosis. Crevost and Petelot say that the plant is given in India and Java against asthma. The annual Biophytum sensitivum is a traditional medicine in Nepal.

Ayurveda also see this little herb as a good medicine, used as a tonic, stimulant and in the treatment of stomachache, diabetes and asthma.

Other Uses:
In Kerala the flower of Biophytum sensitivum is used in athapoo, special floral formation that adores courtyards and public places during Onam, the national festival of Kerala.
It is a very good indoor plant

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


Mukkutti (Biophytum Sensitivum) -Flowers of Kerala

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 replies on “Biophytum sensitivum”

Hi !
I’m a plant lover and trying to find seeds from this little plant from India ( Mukkutti or Biophytum sensitivum), maybe you can help me with my search. I understand, that there is two varieties of this plant (Yellow and White). I found your e-mail on this blogger.
Let me know how much it will be, and I will send you the money thru Western Union.
Thank you very much.

Guido Alvarez
Florida 142 suite 1C
Capital Federal 1005
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.