Chlorophytum tuberosum (musli)
The dried roots of Chlorophytum tuberosum are used as a popular tonic and aphrodisiac in Ayurvedic medicine.
About this species
Chlorophytum tuberosum is one of several species of Chlorophytum used in Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional Hindu system of medicine. Safed musli, as it is known in Hindi, is a herb commonly found in forest patches in India, and is used in a tonic intended to give strength and vigour. The spider plant (C. comosum), of which the variegated form is a popular houseplant, is a member of the same genus and is native to Africa, where the genus Chlorophytum is most diverse.
Geography & Distribution
Widespread from Nigeria to eastern tropical Africa, and also found across central and southern India to Burma (Myanmar). Chlorophytum tuberosum normally grows at up to 1,700 m above sea level, but has been found at the summit of the Travancore Range in India at 2,695 m above sea level. It occurs in woodland, bushland or grassland, often in degraded vegetation, and in India is also found in mixed forest.
Chlorophytum tuberosum is a herb usually growing up to 20–50 cm tall. Its underground parts comprise a short rhizome, often surrounded by fibres, which bears swollen roots with dark tubers to up 7 cm long at their tips. The leaves are borne in a rosette and are linear-lanceolate, 10–50 cm long and 1–3 cm wide. The flowers are borne in a simple raceme with two flowers at each node. The flowers are large, white, showy and sweetly-scented and there is no differentiation between the petals and sepals (hence known as tepals). C. tuberosum is the only species within the genus which has tepals that are more than seven-veined (they are 10–14-veined). The stamens are shorter than the tepals. The fruits are three-edged capsules containing seeds 2 mm in diameter.
Threats & Conservation
The wild collection of Chlorophytum tuberosum in Africa is likely to be minimal, and therefore not considered to be a threat there. However, C. tuberosum is collected from the wild in India, where it is heavily used, and not cultivated, so that over-harvesting could affect wild populations there. Consequently, it is increasingly considered as ‘rare’ in India. Chlorophytum roots are usually collected before plants have reached maturity, thus hampering natural regeneration.
The related species C. borivilianum was first described from India in 1954, but by 1988 the Botanical Survey of India had assigned it to the IUCN category Rare (according to criteria in operation at that time) due to overexploitation. C. borivilianum is now cultivated, which has helped to reduce the collection of wild plants.
Conservation assessments carried out at Kew
Chlorophytum tuberosum is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.
Chlorophytum tuberosum is cultivated as an ornamental for its large, showy flowers. Its leaves and roots are edible. In India the roots are dried and used as a popular tonic and aphrodisiac in Ayurvedic medicine. In northern Nigeria its tubers are crushed to produce a lotion used to treat guinea-worm.
This species at Kew
Pressed and dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Chlorophytum tuberosum are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details, including images, of some of these can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue.
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