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Alchornea cordifolia (Schumach. & Thonn.) Müll.Arg.

 Linnaea 34: 170 (1865).
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Chromosome number  
 2n = 36
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Vernacular names  
 Christmas bush, dovewood (En). Arbre de djeman (Fr). Bugi-bugi, bunce, pô d’arco (Po).
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Origin and geographic distribution  
 Alchornea cordifolia occurs from Senegal east to Kenya and Tanzania and south throughout Central Africa to Angola. It is cultivated in DR Congo for its medicinal use.
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 Alchornea cordifolia is commonly used as a medicinal plant throughout its area of distribution. The leaves are mostly used, but also the stem bark, stem pith, leafy stems, root bark, roots and fruits enter in local medicine. The leaves or leafy stems, as an infusion or chewed fresh, are taken for their sedative and antispasmodic activities to treat a variety of respiratory problems including sore throat, cough and bronchitis, genital-urinary problems including venereal diseases and female sterility, and intestinal problems including gastric ulcers, diarrhoea, amoebic dysentery and worms. As a purgative, they are also taken as an enema; high doses taken orally are emetic. They are also taken as a blood purifier, as a tonic and to treat anaemia and epilepsy. In Senegal a leaf decoction is taken to treat tachycardia. Young stem pith is bitter and astringent and is chewed for the same use. The pith may also be rubbed on the chest to treat respiratory problems. The leaves are eaten in West Africa and Congo as an emmenagogue and to facilitate delivery, and in Gabon as an abortifacient. A cold infusion of the dried and crushed leaves acts as a diuretic. Leaf and root decoctions are widely used as mouth wash to treat ulcers of the mouth, toothache and caries, and twigs are chewed for the same purposes. Crushed fresh leaves or powdered dry leaves are applied externally as a cicatrisant to wounds, to relieve pain, e.g. backache and headache, to fractures to improve healing and to treat eye infections and numerous skin afflictions including venereal diseases, sores, abscesses, yaws and filariasis. A decoction or paste of leafy twigs is applied as a wash to treat fever, malaria, rheumatic pains, enlarged spleen and as a lotion or poultice to sore feet; vapour baths can also be taken. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana the leaves are applied as a haemostatic to stop prolonged menstruation and a decoction of roots or leaves is applied in the vagina to stop post-partum haemorrhage and to treat vaginitis. In Sierra Leone and Congo young leaves or pounded bark are made into a suppository to treat haemorrhoids. In DR Congo bruised leaves are applied as an enema to treat impotency. In West Africa pulped root is widely taken to treat venereal diseases. Dried leaves or roots, alone or with tobacco, are smoked to cure cough. The leaves and root bark are externally applied to treat leprosy and as an antidote to snake venom. In Gabon and Congo a root decoction or maceration is taken to treat amoebic dysentery and diarrhoea and used as eye drops to cure conjunctivitis. In Nigeria a decoction of bruised fruit is taken to prevent miscarriage. The sap of the fruit is applied to cure eye problems and skin diseases. In veterinary medicine a leaf or root infusion is given to livestock to treat trypanosomiasis. In Nigeria the stem bark is thrown in dammed streams as a fish poison.
Alchornea cordifolia is used for alley cropping for in-situ mulch production in banana or maize plantations in West and East Africa. In Burkina Faso the plant is used as a windbreak around crops. In West Africa the leaves are used as forage for small ruminants and poultry. Chicken produce egg yolks with a deeper yellow colour when fed regularly with the leaves. In West Africa the leaves are used for packing cola nuts and ‘okpeye’, a Nigerian condiment produced by fermenting seeds of Prosopis africana (Guill. & Perr.) Taub. Pipe stems are made from the branches with the pith removed. The Iwo people of Nigeria chew the leaves as an appetizer. Dried leaves are a tea substitute.
In West Africa mats and cloth are cooked with the fruits and natron to colour them black; the fruits are often combined with fermented Parkia pods or the bark of Bridelia ferruginea Benth. This dye is also used on pottery, calabashes and leather. The leaves are often added to indigo to darken its colour. In Nigeria fishermen use leaves and fruits for dyeing and preserving fishing nets; dried leaves give a darker colour than fresh ones. In Gabon bark and leaves are used to blacken cloth and pottery. The wood ash serves as a mordant. The wood is light, soft and perishable and is used for house construction, stakes and kitchen utensils, and also benches when large stems are available. The wood is also used as fuel. In DR Congo the split stems are used to line baskets. In Cameroon and Gabon the acidulous fruits are considered edible and are also used as bait to trap birds. The infructescences are used in decorations.
Alchornea cordifolia extract has been patented for various other applications: antifouling adjuvant in paints, coatings and polymers, and alchorneic acid was proposed as a raw material for hemi-synthesis of plastic.
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Production and international trade  
 In Ghana and Burkina Faso the leaves, root bark and fruits of Alchornea cordifolia are sold in local markets from November to January. The Centre National de Semences Forestières of Burkina Faso sells seeds at a price of US$ 10 per kg in the region and US$ 14 outside the region.
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 The leaves, roots and stem bark contain terpenoids, steroid glycosides, flavonoids ( 2–3%), tannins (about 10%), saponins, carbohydrates and the imidazopyrimidine alkaloids alchorneine, alchornidine and several guanidine alkaloids. The leaves also contain a range of hydroxybenzoic acids: gallic acid and its ethyl ester, gentisic acid, anthranilic acid (vitamin L1) and protocatechuic acid, and also ellagic acid (alizarine yellow). A C20 homologue of vernolic acid, named alchornoic acid, was found in the seed oil.
Different leaf, stem bark and root extracts (macerations or decoctions and methanolic, ethanolic or acetonic extracts) have shown significant activities against a range of bacterial and fungal pathogens of humans. The root bark showed the strongest activity. The results of tests on anti-HIV activities of the seed extract are contradictory; in African tests, HIV-1 strains were sensitive to the seed extract, whereas American tests seemed inconclusive. Methanol or ethanol extracts of leaf and root at a concentration of 100 μg/ml did not show cytotoxic activity against 60 different tumour cell lines from 8 organs. The ethanol extracts of the leaf and fruit showed significant trypanocidal, anthelminthic and amoebicidal activities. The amoebicidal activity of the root bark was even much higher. The ethanol extract of the leaf exhibited mild in-vitro activity against Plasmodium falciparum, whereas chloroform and ether extracts were inactive. Ellagic acid was found to be the active constituent of the extract. Crude ethanol extracts of the leaves showed moderate in-vitro anthelmintic activity against Haemonchus contortus, a nematode pathogenic to small ruminants.
Different leaf extracts showed a significant anti-anaemic activity by increasing the level of haemoglobin and iron in the blood after oral administration to anaemic rats. Crude extracts of the leaves coagulated blood plasma in vitro. The high tannin content was thought to be responsible for this activity.
The ethanol extract of the leaf showed significant activity against castor oil-induced diarrhoea in mice. The presence of tannins and flavonoids may account for the increased colonic water and electrolyte reabsorption. The crude methanol extract of the leaf has a moderate relaxing effect on smooth muscles in vitro, which is attributed to the flavonoid quercetin and its derivatives. The ethanol extract of the root significantly delayed the effect of histamine-induced broncho-constriction characterized by shortness of breath in guinea pig. The crude methanol extract of the leaves and several fractions of it have shown anti-inflammatory activity in the croton oil-induced ear oedema test in mice and in the egg albumen-induced hind paw oedema test in rats. The cytotoxicity of the crude extract was very low. Alcohol extracts from root bark, stem bark, leaves, fruits and seeds disrupted mitotic cell division in onion (Allium cepa L.). A methanol extract of the seed has shown inhibition of vascularization in chicken embryos.
The approximate nutrient composition of leaf meal for use in chicken feed was per 100 g dry matter: energy 1930 kJ, crude protein 18.7 g and crude fibre 16.4 g. While the production of leaves is high, their palatability to cattle, goats and sheep is rather low.
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 Straggling, laxly branched, evergreen dioecious shrub or small tree up to 8 m tall; young shoots erect, later becoming horizontal, hollow, glabrous. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules triangular, c. 1.5 mm long, acute, soon falling; petiole (3–)5–15 cm long; blade ovate to elliptical-ovate, (5–)10–25 cm × (3–)7–15 cm, base cordate, with basal lobes slightly auriculate and overlapping, apex acute to acuminate, margins toothed, shortly hairy when young, later almost glabrous, 3–5-veined at the base with 4 glandular patches in the angles of the veins. Male inflorescence an axillary panicle up to 30(–45) cm long, sparingly hairy, bracts minute; female inflorescence an axillary spike or lax panicle up to 30(–45) cm long, 1-several together, bracts broadly triangular-ovate, c. 1 mm long, acuminate. Flowers unisexual, sessile; male flowers with 2 cup-shaped sepals, petals absent, stamens 8, the united filaments forming a basal plate; female flowers with 2–4-lobed calyx, lobes obtuse, hairy, petals absent, ovary superior, conical, c. 2 mm × 2 mm, smooth, densely silky hairy, styles 2–3, 1–2 cm long, free or fused at base, dark red. Fruit a 2-lobed capsule c. 1.5 cm × 1.5 cm, lobes somewhat compressed, smooth, shortly hairy, green to red, 2-seeded. Seeds ovoid-ellipsoid, c. 6 mm long, smooth, bright red.
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Other botanical information  
 Alchornea is pantropical and comprises about 60 species of which 6 occur in tropical Africa.
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Growth and development  
 In West Africa Alchornea cordifolia flowers at the start of the dry season, in October–November; in DR Congo flowering is from June to August. The nectar glands at the leaf base attract ants, which protect the plant from attacks from other insects.
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 Alchornea cordifolia is widespread in secondary forest and riverine forest, especially in marshy areas but sometimes in drier sites, from sea-level up to 1500 m altitude. It often forms thickets in disturbed, unburned localities. It is well adapted to acid soils. In DR Congo the tree is reported to improve soil fertility and is known to be effective in restoring calcium levels in acid soils. It is one of the first trees to appear in vegetation dominated by Chromolaena odorata (L.) R.M.King & H.Rob.
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Propagation and planting  
 Alchornea cordifolia is propagated by seed or stem cuttings. The weight of 1000 seeds is about 77 g. Plants are most easily propagated from stem cuttings, which root in 9 weeks. When grown from seed, germination takes 3–12 weeks when directly planted in moist soil.
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 Coppice regrowth of Alchornea cordifolia is vigorous. In Nigeria field tests with Alchornea cordifolia showed that it is a promising alley crop. As a mulch crop it has good potential for restoration of soil fertility considering its standing biomass, root distribution, nutrient content in the biomass, decomposition and nutrient release patterns, and association with mycorrhiza.
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Diseases and pests  
 Alchornea cordifolia is a preferred feed plant of the desert locust Zonocerus variegatus.
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 For medicinal purposes Alchornea cordifolia is mainly harvested from the wild.
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 The yearly biomass production of Alchornea cordifolia is 2000–3000 kg/ha.
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Handling after harvest  
 In traditional medicine, the leaves and root bark are used fresh or dried in the shade for later use.
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Genetic resources and breeding  
 Alchornea cordifolia is widespread and common in secondary forest and produces much seed; it is therefore not threatened.
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 Alchornea cordifolia is an important medicinal plant in traditional medicine and much pharmacological research has been effected including its antibacterial, antifungal and antiprotozoal properties, as well as its anti-inflammatory activities, with significant positive results. However, the link between activity and particular compounds is often not clear, although the flavonoids and tannins seem to play a major role. More research is needed to elucidate these relations. It is probable that Alchornea cordifolia will remain a major medicinal plant. Its use as an alley-cropping component is promising, especially as a mulch crop for restoration of soil fertility, but other, especially leguminous, species are preferred in most situations.
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Major references  
 • Agbor, G.A., Leopold, T. & Jeanne, N.Y., 2004. The antidiarrhoeal activity of Alchornea cordifolia leaf extract. Phytotherapy Research 18(11): 873–876.
• Aké-Assi, L., Guinko, S. & Aya-Lazare, A., 1991. Plantes utilisées dans la médecine traditionnelle en Afrique de l’Ouest. Edition Roche, Basel, Switzerland. 151 pp.
• Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
• Kapnang Jepang, J.R., 1997. Etude de l’effet anti-anémique d’Alchornea cordifolia. Mémoire de Maîtrise en Biochimie, Université de Yaoundé, Département de Biochimie, Yaoundé, Cameroon. 26 pp.
• Koné, W.M., Kamanzi, A.K., Traoré, D. & Bruno, B., 2005. Anthelmintic activity of medicinal plants used in northern Côte d’Ivoire against intestinal helminthiasis. Pharmaceutical Biology 43(1): 72–78.
• Mavar-Manga, H., Brkic, D., Marie, D.E.P. & Quetin-Leclercq, J., 2004. In vivo anti-inflammatory activity of Alchornea cordifolia (Schumach. & Thonn.) Mull.Arg. (Euphorbiaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 92: 209–214.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Nia, R., Paper, D.H, Franz, G. & Essien, E.E., 2005. Anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant potential of an African recipe: Alchornea cordifolia seeds. Acta Horticulturae 678: 91–96.
• Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1987. Euphorbiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 407 pp.
• Stäuble, N., 1986. Etude ethnobotanique des Euphorbiacées d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 16: 23–103.
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Other references  
 • Adewunmi, C.O., Agbedahunsi, J.M., Adebajo, A.C., Aladesanmi, A.J., Murphy, N. & Wando, J., 2001. Ethno-veterinary medicine: screening of Nigerian medicinal plants for trypanocidal properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 77: 19–24.
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
• Ayisi, N.K. & Nyadedzor, C., 2003. Comparative in vitro effects of AZT and extracts of Ocimum gratissimum, Ficus polita, Clausena anisata, Alchornea cordifolia, and Elaeophorbia drupifera against HIV-1 and HIV-2 infections. Antiviral Research 58: 25–33.
• Banzouzi, J.-T., Prado, R., Menan, H., Valentin, A., Roumestan, C., Mallie, M., Pelissier, Y. & Blache, Y., 2002. In vitro antiplasmodial activity of extracts of Alchornea cordifolia and identification of an active constituent: ellagic acid. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 81: 399–401.
• Boampong, J.N., 1992. A preliminary investigation of the anti-asthmatic properties of ethanolic root extracts of Alchornea cordifolia and Cassia alata. B.Pharm. degree thesis, Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. 32 pp.
• Ebi, G.C., 2001. Antimicrobial activities of Alchornea cordifolia. Fitoterapia 72: 69–72.
• Iwu, M.M., 1993. Handbook of African medicinal plants. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, United States. 464 pp.
• Kamara, A.Y., Akobundu, I.O., Sanginga, N. & Jutzi, S.C., 2000. Effect of mulch from 14 selected multipurpose trees (MPTs) on growth, nitrogen nutrition and yield of maize (Zea mays L.). Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science 184: 73–80.
• Kang, B.T., Caveness, F.E., Tian, G. & Kolawole, G.O., 1999. Longterm alley cropping with four hedgerow species on an Alfisol in southwestern Nigeria - effect on crop performance, soil chemical properties and nematode population. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 54: 145–155.
• Kanmegne, J., Duguma, B., Henrot, J. & Isirimah, N.O., 1999. Soil fertility enhancement by planted tree-fallow species in the humid lowlands of Cameroon. Agroforestry Systems 46: 239–249.
• Lamikanra, A., Ogundaini, A.O. & Ogunbamila, F.O., 1990. Antibacterial constituents of Alchornea cordifolia leaves. Phytotherapy Research 4: 198–200.
• Latham, P., 2004. Useful plants of Bas-Congo province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. DFID, London, United Kingdom. 320 pp.
• Muanza, D.N., Euler, K.L., Williams, L. & Newman, D.J., 1995. Screening for antitumor anti-HIV activities of nine medicinal plants from Zaire. International Journal of Pharmacognosy 33: 98–106.
• Nkum, M.G., 1997. Determination of tannin in some Ghanaian Plants. B.Sc. Chemistry degree thesis, Faculty of Science, Department of Chemistry, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. 37 pp.
• Obadoni, B.O. & Ochuko, P.O., 2002. Phytochemical studies and comparative efficacy of the crude extracts of some haemostatic plants in Edo and Delta States of Nigeria. Global Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences 8(2): 203–208.
• Ogungbamila, F.O. & Samuelsson, G., 1990. Smooth muscle relaxing flavonoids from Alchornea cordifolia (leaves). Acta Pharmaceutica Nordica 2: 421–422.
• Okeke, I.N., Ogundaini, A.O., Ogunbamila, F.O. & Lamikanra, A., 1999. Antimicrobial spectrum of Alchornea cordifolia leaf extract. Phytotherapy Research 13: 67–69.
• Osadebe, P.O. & Okoye, F.B.C., 2003. Anti-inflammatory effects of crude methanolic extract and fractions of Alchornea cordifolia leaves. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 89: 19–24.
• Ruhigwa, B.A., Gichuru, M.P., Spencer, D.S.C. & Swennen, R., 1994. Economic analysis of cut-and-carry, and alley cropping systems of mulch production for plantains in south-eastern Nigeria. Agroforestry Systems 26: 131–138.
• Tona, L., Kambu, K., Ngimbi, N., Mesia, K., Penge, O., Lusakibanza, M., Cimanga, K., De Bruyne, T., Apers, S., Totté, J., Pieters, L. & Vlietinck, A.J., 2000. Antiamoebic and spasmolitic activities of extracts from some antidiarroeal traditional preparations used in Kinshasa, Congo. Phytomedicine 7: 31–38.
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Afriref references  
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Sources of illustration  
 • Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1987. Euphorbiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 407 pp.
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H. Mavar-Manga
Laboratoire de Pharmacognosie, Unité CHAM 72.30, Ecole de Pharmacie, Université Catholique de Louvain, Av. E. Mounier 72, B-1200 Bruxelles, Belgium
J. Lejoly
Laboratoire de Botanique systématique et de Phytosociologie, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Avenue F. Roosevelt 50, C.P. 169, B-1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
J. Quetin-Leclercq
Laboratoire de Pharmacognosie, Unité CHAM 72.30, Ecole de Pharmacie, Université Catholique de Louvain, Av. E. Mounier 72, B-1200 Bruxelles, Belgium
G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors  
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors  
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor  
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Correct citation of this article  
 Mavar-Manga, H., Lejoly, J., Quetin-Leclercq, J. & Schmelzer, G.H., 2007. Alchornea cordifolia (Schumach. & Thonn.) Müll.Arg. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>. Accessed .

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General importance
Geographic coverage Africa
Geographic coverage World
Dye and tannins use
Ornamental use
Forage/feed use
Fruit use
Timber use
Carbohydrate/starch use
Auxiliary use
Fuel use
Medicinal use
Stimulant use
Fibre use
Climate change

Alchornea cordifolia

Alchornea cordifolia
1, leafy branch; 2, part of young male inflorescence; 3, tip of female inflorescence; 4, fruit; 5, seed. Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin

Alchornea cordifolia

Alchornea cordifolia
male inflorescences

Alchornea cordifolia
fruiting branches

Alchornea cordifolia
leafy branch with infructescences

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