Scarlet Spiderling

Boerhavia coccinea
Family: Nyctaginaceae (Four O’Clock)
Synonym: Boerhavia caribaea
Aliases: red spiderling; red boerhavia; hogweed


Scarlet Spiderling 12_5-13

New growth on a Scarlet Spiderling plant, still early in the season. May 13, 2012.

Description

This is a low-lying, sprawling perennial herb producing reaching stems which can exceed a meter in length. The stems are somewhat hairy and sticky with glands. The generally oval-shaped leaves are held on short petioles. They are wavy along the edges and may have reddish margins. The inflorescence is a small head of tiny frilly flowers, each just a few millimeters long. The flowers are often bright scarlet to red-violet in color but can be shades of pink, yellow, or white.


Scarlet Spiderling 12_6-4

A flower cluster and a seed cluster at the end of a Scarlet Spiderling stem. June 4, 2012.

Range

Native range is not certain but probably an area between the southern USA and northern South America. Current range includes most of the southern U.S. from California to Virginia, south to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America; also in parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, and on some Pacific islands including the Hawaiian Islands.


Scarlet Spiderling 12_6-21

A plant that has grown a good bit, but has not yet shot forth stems with flowers. June 21, 2012.

Habitat

Often found in sandy soil along drainages, washes, roadsides and disturbed areas. Roadsides, weedy areas, upper beaches, rocky slopes, gravelly outwash fans, arroyos in tropical scrub, arid grasslands, desert scrub, pinyon-juniper woodlands.
On this acre, it grows mostly among the Bermudagrass around the house and what was long ago established by the previous owners as the main yard.


Scarlet Spiderling 12_9-1a

Closeup of a flower cluster. September 1, 2012.

Edible and Medicinal Uses

Used in traditional medicine in Africa, Mexico, South America and India.

The species is considered as a fodder for sheep. The roots are said to be medicinal and used as a purgative, febrifuge and an anthelmintic. The juice extract from the plant is used as a diuretic. The leaves can be used as a pot herb.

In Africa (Cameroon, Ethiopia, Namibia, Nigeria and Tanzania), the leaves and roots are widely used in traditional medicine. The plant is used to treat liver, loin, urinary and gastroenteric diseases, convulsions, prolapsed uterus, asthma, scabies, skin rashes, smallpox, oral candidiasis, apthous ulcers, toothache and pneumonia. The Kara and Kwego people in the lower Omo River Valley in Ethiopia use the leaves of the plant to prepare a powder that is used on external injuries and wounds. The roots specifically are used to treat jaundice, heart and kidney diseases and oedema.

In Mexico and South America (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay), it is also used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, headaches, fever, liver disease and syphilis, and as a diuretic. It has been reported to have important antiprotozoal activity. Pharmacological studies have shown that extracts of the root stimulate smooth muscle contraction.

B. coccinea is eaten as a vegetable in Namibia and Nigeria, where it is also used as fodder for animals.


Scarlet Spiderling 12_9-1b

Close-up of a bud cluster. Septeember 1, 2012.

Other Facts

  • Perennial herb, which can live for more than 10 years
  • Self-pollinated, either via insect pollination or as the stamens make contact with the stigma as the flowers close.
  • Blooms Mar-Nov, sometimes extending to winter
  • Enemies are Asphondylia boerhaaviae (a gall midge), Megalorrhipida (a moth), and in Mexico, Cuscuta umbellale var. reflexa (plant).
  • Adhesive seeds stick to clothing and animals, thus aiding dispersal
  • “Spiderling” is said to refer to “the long, slender, sticky peduncles that resemble a spider’s web”. I think the stems on a mature, sprawling plant make it look like a daddy longlegs spider.
  • The genus of this species is named after Hermann Boerhaave (1668–1738), an eighteenth century Dutch botanist, humanist and physician.

Scarlet Spiderling 12_9-2

Lush growth with stems and flowers in late summer. September 2, 2012.

Invasiveness

The Scarlet Spiderling is non-native and considered an invasive plant. I have just begun learning more about the issues involved with non-native invasives, such as their tendencies to crowd out native species, while being inedible to native insects. I have just begun to research which plants on my property are natives and which are not. It seems that not all non-native plants wreak havoc on local ecosystems, but many do cause some kind of issue or other..sometimes big issues. I’m feeling now like I want to reintroduce more natives to our property and remove or crowd out the non-natives, especially the most harmful ones, but I’m not yet certain if all of them should go, or whether that’s even entirely possible without the use of poisons (which I will not use). Some of them are edible and useful and perhaps not really such a problem. I don’t know yet.

At the time of this posting in 2018–six years after these photos were taken–the Scarlet Spiderling, although strong and robust, has not significantly spread. However, I will need to keep an eye on this plant throughout 2019 to see how whether insects are able to feed on it. I have observed certain insects feeding on the nectar, but according to these photos it doesn’t look like the leaves are being eaten. I still need to do more research.


Scarlet Spiderling 12_9-18

Mid-September activity on a thriving plant. September 18, 2012.


Scarlet Spiderling 12_9-21

This plant has been coming back every year at the back of our house for at least 8 years now. By late September it has many long stems and much of it has gone to seed. September 21, 2012.


Information Resources:

Web: Wikipedia
Web: Southwest Biodiversity
Web: Encyclopedia of Life
Web: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
Web: Invasive Species Compendium


Scarlet Spiderling 12_9-28

The last photo taken of the year and there is still much flowering happening. September 28, 2012.

I have learned that this plant is edible. I ate a leaf raw the other day and understood why it was referred to as a “pot herb”. Although it was mild in taste, the underside of the leaf left a gritty texture in my mouth. I assume that the cooking would eliminate that.


 

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