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