Merremia Dennst. ex Endl.
Gen. Pl., Suppl. 1: 1403 (1841).


x = 15; Merremia dissecta: 2n = 30, 32; Merremia emarginata: 2n = 28, 30; Merremia hederacea, Merremia peltata, Merremia tridentata, Merremia tuberosa, Merremia vitifolia: 2n = 30.

Vernacular names Malaysia: ulan.

Origin and geographic distribution Merremia consists of about 80 species, widely distributed in the drier or humid tropics of both hemispheres. Approximately 23 species occur in South-East Asia.

Uses The tubers, roots or stems of several Merremia species are used as a purgative. The tubers of Merremia tuberosa are known as a drastic purgative in India and Java, and this is their only use. The tubers of Merremia mammosa in Indonesia and Malaysia, Merremia peltata in the Philippines, Merremia umbellata in India, and Merremia tridentata subsp. hastata in Indo-China are mildly laxative and are widely taken for dysentery. The sap from the stems of Merremia peltata, the leaves of Merremia emarginata and the aerial parts of Merremia tridentata subsp. hastata are also applied as a laxative in Indo-China and India.|The leaves or stems of Merremia are a popular medicine for chest problems. In Indonesia, an infusion of the leaves of Merremia emarginata mixed with lumps of sugar is a remedy for cough, and in the Philippines, the sap from the stem of Merremia peltata is used for this purpose. In Africa, an infusion of the leaves of Merremia dissecta is taken as a sedative for chest complaints, and a poultice of fresh, crushed leaves is applied as a resolutive. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the sap of the fresh tubers of Merremia mammosa is widely drunk in affections of the throat and respiratory organs.|Merremia is also widely used against inflammations of various kinds. In the Philippines, the leaves of Merremia peltata are applied as maturative for inflammation of the breasts, and as a poultice on superficial wounds. In Fiji, a decoction of the leaves of Merremia peltata is used to treat boils, infections and appendicitis. A decoction of the roots is used to treat stomach muscular rigidity. A drink made from the juice of the leaves of Merremia peltata is reputed to be taken for the treatment of hernia, and the heated leaves are applied as a poultice. A decoction of the leaves together with the leaves of Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott is used for the treatment of cysts. In Papua New Guinea, the leaf, part of the stem or the sap of Merremia peltata is put on wounds, sores and swellings. In the Philippines and India, a decoction of the roots of Merremia tridentata is used as a mouthwash for toothache. In India, a paste or powder made of the root of Merremia umbellata is applied to swellings. In Peninsular Malaysia and the Moluccas, pounded leaves of Merremia umbellata are used to poultice burns, sores and scalds. In India, the whole plant or the roots of Merremia tridentata are used for hemiplegia, piles, swellings and urinary disorders. The seeds of Merremia umbellata yield a mucilage used in India as an aperient and alterative in cutaneous diseases. The juice of the aerial parts of Merremia emarginata is dropped into the ear to cure sores. In Indonesia, Fiji and India, diluted sap from the young stems of Merremia peltata is used as eye or ear drops.|In Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand, a poultice of the leaves of Merremia hederacea, together with turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) and broken rice, is used to heal cracks in the hands and feet. In Indonesia, Merremia umbellata is used for this purpose.|In the Philippines and Thailand, a decoction of the leaves and tops of Merremia emarginata is sometimes used as a diuretic. In India, the decoction acts as a diuretic and alterative, and is used for rheumatism, neuralgia, and headache. The roasted seeds of Merremia tridentata are diuretic and antibilious. In the Philippines, a decoction of the roots of Merremia umbellata is drunk as a remedy for haematuria. In India, Merremia vitifolia is used for strangury and urethral discharges. The juice of the plant is considered cooling and diuretic. In the Philippines, the tubers of Merremia peltata are used to treat uterine haemorrhage.|In Peninsular Malaysia, a poultice of the leaves of Merremia tridentata is applied to the head for fever. In the Philippines, the roots of Merremia peltata are used in infusions to treat chills. The leaves of Merremia petaloidea (Choisy) Burkill from India, but sometimes planted in Peninsular Malaysia, are used for poulticing the head for fever. The sap of the fresh tubers of Merremia mammosa is widely drunk for fever or applied as a poultice on the head. In Peninsular Malaysia, an infusion of Merremia vitifolia is drunk for high fever. In Cambodia, an infusion of the stem is used internally and externally for malaria and small pox.|In the Philippines, sap from the stem of Merremia peltata or the roasted seeds of Merremia tridentata are taken as an anthelminthic.|In Indonesia and Malaysia, the tubers of Merremia mammosa used to be widely used in the treatment of diabetes, but this use is no longer common, as it has been shown that the plant does not posses suitable properties.|Several Merremia species are planted as ornamentals, e.g. Merremia dissecta and Merremia vitifolia in India and Merremia tuberosa in Africa. In India, the leaves of Merremia emarginata are eaten as a pot-herb, and in India and Peninsular Malaysia, the young leaves of Merremia umbellata are eaten as a vegetable. In Malesia, the tubers of Merremia mammosa and Merremia peltata are eaten, although they tend to have a purgative effect. The leaves of Merremia dissecta smell like bitter almonds and are used in India for making liquor.|The stems of Merremia mammosa yield a fine, strong fibre, with a satin shine, which is made into cloth. The clothes made have to be dried in the shade after washing them, to prevent loss of this shine. In the Philippines, the stem of Merremia peltata is sometimes used for tying purposes.|Merremia dissecta is poisonous to cattle in India. The hairs on the leaves of Merremia vitifolia are irritating. Merremia hederacea however, is eaten readily by cattle, which thrive on it even if given nothing else to eat.

Production and international trade Merremia species are mainly cultivated and traded on a local scale, for medicinal purposes.

Properties The tubers of Merremia mammosa contain a resin, of which the greater part consists of glycosides of hydroxy fatty acids (sometimes referred to as glycoretins) e.g. jalapinolic acid, convolvulinolic acid, ipurolic acid and 3,11-dihydroxyhexadecanoic acid. The resin also contains the ether-insoluble jalapins woodrosin I and II, and the ionophoric resin glycosides, merremosides, and mammosides AG, H1 and H2. In general, these glycosides are responsible for the laxative effects of the resin.|An ethanol extract of the tubers of Merremia mammosa inhibited the growth of the tumour Crown gall in potato disks, inoculated with Agrobacterium tumefaciens, in vitro. Tuber extracts also significantly decreased the blood glucose levels in male white rats.|The roots of Merremia tuberosa contain 1225% resin of which 56% is soluble in ether. The resins show, as do the resins of the roots of Merremia dissecta, allelopathic activity on the radicle growth of Amaranthus sp., wheat and oats, but had no antibacterial activity against Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli.|The leaves of Merremia dissecta contain cyanogenic glycosides, which on hydrolysis yield hydrocyanic acid (with a characteristic odour of bitter almonds). In addition, the seeds contain amygdalin acyl derivatives (cyanogenic glycosides), prunasin and prunasin-6'-malonate, and the roots tropane alkaloids (known as merresectines). The leaves of Merremia vitifolia also contain a glycoside, which on hydrolysis yields hydrocyanic acid and benzaldehyde.|The seeds of Merremia emarginata contain caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid and sinapic acid. The extract exhibits antibacterial activity against Bacillus sp., Pseudomonas sp. and Typhimurium sp.|In a general screening, the leaves of Merremia peltata showed antimicrobial activity, and gave a positive reaction for alkaloids. An MeOH extract of Merremia peltata showed anti-HIV activity, inhibiting HIV-1 reverse transcriptase and gp120-CD4 binding, in vitro.|The flavonoids diosmetin, luteolin, diosmetin-7-O-'BETA'-D-glucoside and luteolin-7-O-'BETA'-D-glucoside have been isolated from the aerial parts of Merremia tridentata. The ethanol extract of the aerial parts of Merremia tridentata subsp. hastata also showed significant larvicidal activity on the larvae of the tick Boophilus microplus.

Description Annual or perennial herbs or shrubs, usually twining, but also prostrate and rooting at the nodes, erect herbs or low, erect shrubs; sometimes with tuberous roots. Leaves alternate, variable in size and shape, entire, dentate, lobed or palmately or dentately partite or compound; petiole present; stipules absent. Inflorescence axillary, few- to many-flowered, variously ramified, large to small; peduncle present to almost absent; bracts usually small. Flowers bisexual, regular, small to large, pedicel present; sepals 5, usually subequal, often somewhat enlarged in fruit; corolla funnel-shaped or campanulate, slightly 5-lobed, mid-petaline bands well-defined, white, yellow to orange; stamens 5, inserted near the base of corolla tube, included, filaments often unequal in length, anthers often contorted, pollen glabrous; ovary 24-celled, with 4 ovules, style 1, simple, filiform, included, stigma 2-globular. Fruit a globose or ovoid capsule, 4-valved, 4-seeded. Seed glabrous, pubescent or villose, especially at the margins. Seedling with epigeal germination; cotyledons often deeply divided into lobes or slips.

Growth and development In Java, most Merremia species can be found flowering throughout the year. Merremia hederacea is found flowering from April to November, and Merremia vitifolia from May to November. The flowers of Merremia dissecta open in the evening and remain open till the following afternoon; of many other Merremia species the flowers open well after dawn.|The tubers of Merremia mammosa are bunched, and on sandy soil long and thin; on clayish soil however, they can become as large as coconuts.

Other botanical information Merremia and Ipomoea are taxonomically closely related. The main differences are the spiralled anthers and the smooth pollen in Merremia, as well as campanulate corollas, which are commonly yellow, while yellow is rare in Ipomoea.

Ecology Merremia grows on disturbed sites, such as roadsides, grasslands, cultivated areas, and along forest borders, sometimes covering entire shrubs and trees. Several Merremia species are serious weeds in tree plantations, and can be reduced by burning or cattle grazing.

Propagation and planting Merremia is mainly propagated by seed, sometimes from stem cuttings. Merremia mammosa and Merremia vitifolia are propagated by stem cuttings. They are fast growing, and suitable for covering walls, trellis and pergolas. The seeds of Merremia dissecta germinate within one week.

Husbandry Tubers of Merremia mammosa will grow bigger when planted in fertile soil. Before planting, the soil is well tilled, and raised beds are made, 5060 cm high, to prevent waterlogging. Fertilization with potassium is especially beneficial for tuber growth.

Diseases and pests Merremia dissecta and Merremia emarginata are highly susceptible to the fungus Albugo ipomoeae, resulting in irregular growth. The Coleoptera Mylabris pustulata and the Chrysomelid Aspidomorpha furcata feed on flower buds of Merremia tuberosa.

Harvesting In Java, the tubers of Merremia mammosa are harvested when the plant has dried out, more than 1 year after planting.

Handling after harvest In Ambon, the tubers of Merremia mammosa are cooked whole, in Bali they are first peeled thickly before cooking and afterwards they can be mashed. In India, the root of Merremia tuberosa is cut into slices of 58 cm in diameter and 0.51 cm thick before drying.

Prospects The use of Convolvulaceae resins as a laxative, e.g. from Ipomoea, is quite well established due to the presence of glycosides of hydroxy fatty acids. Some of the resins found in several Merremia species are of similar composition and may therefore be of local importance. In general, more information on the pharmacology and phytochemistry is needed to fully evaluate other potential uses of the species.

  • Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Vol. 2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. pp. 14551457.
  • Fanoka, 1990. Studies of anti-tumour effects of six plant ethanol extracts on potato disks inoculated by the bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens. In: Research on medicinal plants at the University of Indonesia. Proceedings V. Department of Health, Jakarta, Indonesia. pp. 4950. (in Indonesian)
  • Perez-Amador, M.C., Garcia-Argaez, A., Contreras, C., Herrera, J. & Rios, M., 1998. Resins of four species of Convolvulaceae and their allelopathic potential. Phyton Buenos Aires 62(12): 195198.
  • Quisumbing, E., 1978. Medicinal plants of the Philippines. Katha Publishing Co., Quezon City, the Philippines. pp. 763-765.
  • van Ooststroom, S.J., 1953. Merremia. In: van Steenis, C.G.G.J. (Editor): Flora Malesiana. Series 1, Vol. 4. Noordhoff-Kolff, Djakarta, Indonesia. pp. 439454.
  • Yamamoto, T., Takahashi, H., Sakai, K., Kowithayakorn, T. & Koyano, T., 1997. Screening of Thai plants for anti-HIV-1 activity. Natural Medicines 51(6): 541546.

Author: Muhammad Mansur

Source of This Article:
Mansur, M., 2001. Merremia Dennst. ex Endl.In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. and Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publisher, Leiden, The Netherlands, pp. 366-373

Recommended Citation:
Mansur, M., 2001. Merremia Dennst. ex Endl.[Internet] Record from Proseabase. van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. and Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors).
PROSEA (Plant Resources of South-East Asia) Foundation, Bogor, Indonesia.
Accessed from Internet: 04-Aug-2021