The attractive shrub is named for its
flower buds which grow in a column and look like fat yellow candles
each complete with a flame! The leaves fold together at night. It
was introduced to other tropical areas from the Americas and is now
widely considered a weed. Flowers: Buds covered with orange bracts
which fall off when the flower opens.
Fruits: Black pod with two broad wings; seeds small square and
rattle in the pod when ripe.
Traditional medicinal uses: Leaves or sap are used to treat fungal
infections such as ringworm. They contain a fungicide, chrysophanic
acid. Because of its anti-fungal properties, it is a common
ingredient in soaps, shampoos and lotions in the Philippines. The
effectiveness of this plant against skin diseases is confirmed by
modern scientific studies.
Other chemicals contained in the plant includes saponin which acts
as a laxative and expels intestinal parasites. In Africa, the boiled
leaves are used to treat high-blood pressure. In South America,
besides skin diseases, it is also used to treat a wide range of
ailments from stomach problems, fever, asthma to snake bite and
venereal diseases (syphilis, gonorrhoea).
Role in the habitat: It is the food plant of some butterflies. The
plant recruits ant bodyguards against these caterpillars. It has "extrafloral
nectaries" near the base of the leaves, that produce sweet nectar to