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Curcuma caulina (Indian arrowroot)

A tall herb from southwestern India, Indian arrowroot is cultivated for its tubers, which are an important source of starch in times of food scarcity.
Curcuma caulina (Indian arrowroot) flowers

Curcuma caulina (Indian arrowroot) (Photo: Dr Sachin A. Punekar, Biospheres)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Curcuma caulina J.Graham

Common name: 

Indian arrowroot, arrowroot lily (English); chavar (Marathi); tikhur (Hindi)

Conservation status: 

Vulnerable (VU) according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Mixed deciduous forest.

Key Uses: 


Known hazards: 

None known.


Genus: Curcuma

About this species

Curcuma caulina is a tall, annual herb that is endemic to the state of Maharashtra in southwestern India. It is used to produce arrowroot (a starch normally obtained from Maranta arundinacea or Curcuma angustifolia).

A genus within the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), Curcuma contains nearly 100 species, including turmeric (Curcuma longa), the underground stems of which are the source of the bright yellow spice. The name Curcuma comes from the Arabic kurkum meaning turmeric.


Hitchenia caulina (J.Graham) Baker


Discover more

Geography and distribution

Curcuma caulina is restricted to the state of Maharashtra in southwestern India. It is also widely cultivated (for the production of arrowroot starch) in some parts of Goa, Diu, Daman, Dadra and Nagar Haveli.


Curcuma caulina (Indian arrowroot) inflorescence
Curcuma caulina (Indian arrowroot) inflorescence (Photo: Dr Sachin A. Punekar, Biospheres)

Overview: An annual herb reaching a height of 50–120 cm. Numerous tubers, each about the size of an orange with white flesh and covered with fibrous roots, develop under the perennial rhizomes (underground stems).

Leaves: Up to 50 cm long, narrow at the base, with prominent veins.

Flowers: Yellow or white, 10–15 cm long, borne in a spike, with prominent greenish-white or pinkish-white bracts.

Threats and conservation

Indian arrowroot is listed as Vulnerable (VU) according to IUCN Red List criteria. Threats to the native, endemic-rich flora of the high elevation plateaus of Maharashtra include grazing, soil erosion, mining for iron and aluminium ores, tourism and private land development.

Conservation assessments carried out at Kew

Curcuma caulina is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants project, 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.


The tubers of Indian arrowroot yield a white, edible starch that is used as a substitute for arrowroot (a starch normally obtained from Maranta arundinacea or Curcuma angustifolia). The tubers are harvested and scraped, washed, and then rubbed on a grater to produce a pulp. The pulp is washed with cold water, allowed to settle, and then washed again. The whole process is repeated until the sediment is pure white. It is then sun-dried and allowed to harden into a cake, which is then ground to a powder for use.

This species at Kew

Pressed and dried specimens of other species of Curcuma are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

References and credits

Cooke, T. (1908). Curcuma caulina. In: The Flora of the Presidency of Bombay, Volume 2, pp. 734. Taylor and Francis, London.

Kay, D. E. (1987). Root Crops. Tropical Development and Research Institute, London.

Lisboa, J. C. (1887). Notes on Mahableshwar and other Indian arrowroot-yielding plants. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 2:140–147.

Rommand-Monnier, F. (2009). Curcuma caulina. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 13 March 2012).

Kew Science Editor: Patricia Malcolm and Malin Rivers
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
Kew would like to thank the following contributors: Dr Sachin A. Punekar, Biospheres

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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