Ruellia purshiana2.jpg Ruellia chartacea_bract.jpg Ruellia oaxacana2_photo by V. Steinmann.jpg Petalidium ramulosum_pollen.jpg Ruellia ciliosa_photo by Bruce Sorrie.jpg Bravaisia integerrima_habit2.jpg Ruellia pringlei2.jpg

Acanth Fact of the Day

A structure called the rentinacula is a modified funiculus that acts like a catapult to launch mature seeds away from the parent plant. This structure is unique and shared among all Acanthaceae in the strict sense.
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With > 4,000 species in the family displaying a great number of different morphologies, it’s no wonder that many plants in the Acanthaceae are cultivated ornamentally. Many are grown in the horticulture industry for landscaping purposes, particularly in tropical environments where they thrive year round. Most Acanths in temperate environments are grown only as annuals. Another manifestation of their use to humans has been documented in primarily small, rural communities throughout the tropical biome. Although western medicine does not yet have full knowledge of the effects of the diverse chemicals found in a given species, traditional cultures have been making use of plant compounds for centuries. It is in this practice of “folk medicine” that horticulture interfaces with ethnobotany, and from this many of our modern medicines are derived. 

Below is a list of some of the horticultural and ethnobotanical uses of plants in Acanthaceae. Though the ecological importance of plants should never be undermined, these plants have many practical purposes suited for the purposes of mankind.  By expanding our knowledge of human uses of such plants, the protection that can be bestowed upon them will increase, and so too will the protection for the ecosystems that harbor plants that are medicinally important to human culture. 

Scientific Name 
Common Name
Natively Found
Cultivated Location
Ornamental or Medicinal Uses
Andrographis paniculata 
Tropical Asia
India (Assam)
Medicinal uses: remedy for jaundice, bittering agent increases appetite
Asystasia gangetica  
Hunters Spinach
Tropical Africa and Asia
Tropical America; Kenya, Tanzania, West Africa
Used medicinally and as a vegatable 
Asystasia schimperi
Climbing Asystasia
Tropical Africa
Tropical Africa 
Eaten as a vegetable 
Asystasia vogeliana
N / A
Tropical Africa
Tropcial Africa 
Eaten as a vegetable 
Baphicacanthus cusia
N / A
South China, Bangladesh and Japan 
Used for it's blue dye; also medicinal purposes
Barleria cristata
Blue Bell, Philippine violet
India to South East Asia
India, South China and South East Asia
Used ornamentally as a hedge as well as medicinally
Barleria lupulina
Hophead Philippine violet
South East Asia 
Indonesia (Java)
An ornamental whose purpose serves as a hedge
Barleria prionitis
Yellow Barleria
Tropical Africa and Asia
India and South East Asia 
Grown as an ornamental for use as a hedga; also used medicinally 
Barleria strigosa
N / A
India , Pakistan, Bangladesh 
Used medicinally in India for it's congestion clearing properties
Blechum pyramidatum
Sornia (central America)
Cuba; Costa Rica, Panama 
Medicinal plant 
Brillantaisia patula 
YORUBA owo(Nigeria)
Topical West Africa
Africa (Gabon)
Used as a "magic" plant
Clinacanthus nutans
N / A
South China, South East Asia 
Indonesia (Java) Maylaysia (Malacca)
Used as a hedge plant, as well as medicinally
Crossandra infundibuliformis 
Pakistan, India, South East Asia  
Northern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh 
Medicinal uses
Dicliptera laevigata 
N / A
Eaten as a vegatable; the sap is used medicinally as an aide against dysentery
Dicliptera papuana 
N / A
Papua New Guinea (Em)
Papua New Guinea
Eaten as a vagatable with pork; reproduced via cuttings
Hemigraphis alternata
Red Flame Ivy
Malaysia, Indonesia
Java, SE Asia, Latin America 
Used medicinally in Java; ornamental in SE Asia and Latin America
Hygrophila auriculata 
Elephant’s Thorn
Tropical Africa, India, Sri Lanka
Tropical West Africa
Grown in water marshes as a vegetable and dried for obtaining table salt
Justicia adhatoda
Cow’s Knee
India, Sri Lanka, S China, SE Asia
India, Pakistan, SE Asia, Cuba
Used to vegetativley restore polluted soils; ornamental, insecticide, yellow dye, medicinal uses
Justicia flava 
KISSI yogbo (Guinea)
Topical Africa
Papua New Guinea
Eaten as a vegetable
 Justicia gendarussa
Cow’s Knee *
India, South East Asia
India, Maylaysia (Malacca), Philippines
Used as a fever remedy as well as for rheumatism.  "magic plant" in SE asia
 Justicia insularis
Tropical Africa
Tropical West Africa
Eaten as a leafy vegetable 
Justicia neotinctoria
N / A
Central America 
Central America 
Leaves boiled, solution extracted and used as a laundry detergent
Justicia pectoralis
Mexico, N S. America, Caribbean
Brazil, Colombia, Cuba; Amazonian areas 
Ornamental; a stimulant drug
Justicia spicigera
Mexico (Puebla) and Costa Rica 
Ornamental; also a dye and medicinal plant 
Pachystachys coccinea 
Cardinal's guard
Northern South America 
Indonesia (Java) 
A common ornamental, used as a hedge
Peristrophe bivalvis
N / A
India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia
India, Philippines, South East Atlantic Islands 
An orange dye is extracted from ground-up stems
Peristrophe japonica
N / A
India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia
Used medicinally 
Peristrophe paniculata
Flower of the Horse
Topical Africa and India to SE Asia
South India 
Used for horse feed
Phlogacanthus curviflorus
N / A 
South East Asia 
Dark blue dye extracted from leaves through fermentation process 
Phlogacanthus jenkinsii 
N / A
India to Berma 
India (Assam)
Medical use, it's ornamental use is as a hedge
Pseuderanthemum racemosum
N / A
South East Asia 
Indonesia (Moluccas) 
A common ornamental; leaves consumed as a vegetable
Rhinacanthus nasutus
N / A
E Africa, SE Asia, India, Sri Lanka
Indonesia (Java)
Local remedy for skin disorders; used to prevent mass wasting
Rungia klossii
N / A
Papua New Guinea, Indonesia 
Papua New Guinea
Ornamental use as well as cooking; is prepared together with leaves of Setaria palmifolia
Staurogyne elongata 
N / A
South East Asia 
Indonesia (Java)
The leaves are consumed cooked or uncooked; also used for medicinal purposes 
Teliostachya lanceolata
N / A
Colombia and Ecuador
East Ecuador 
From the leaves, a drug is obtained for solving stomach problems
Thunbergia alata 
Black-eyed Susan
East Africa
Mexico (Puebla)
Is a common ornamental throughout the tropics; used medicinally in Mexico 
Thunbergia erecta 
Bush Clock Vine
Tropical West Africa
Indonesia (Java); Asia, Africa and Central America 
Hedge plant in Java; Common ornamental plant in other localities 
Thunbergia lacei 
Blue Trumpet Vine
South East Asia 
China (Xishuangbanna) 
Where cultivated, common in gardens and for medical use

 * Here is a good example of why scientific nomenclature is important: Justicia gendarussa and Justicia adhatoda seem to share the common name "Cow's Knee". 


Hanelt, Peter  et al. "Acanthaceae". Mansfeld's encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops.  (2001 ed., vols.  6) Print. Berlin ; New York : Springer.