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Rivina humilis L. 1753
pronounced: ruv-VEE-nuh HEW-mill-iss
(Phytolaccaceae – the pokeweed family)
common names: Coral Berry, Pigeon Berry, Turkey Berry, Small Pokeweed
Rivina is named for August Quirinus Rivinus, the Latinized name of A.Q. Bachmann (1652 – 1723), a physician and Professor of Botany at Leipzig. Working pre-Linnæus, his main interest was not the medicinal properties of plants, but in the development of botanical taxonomy. Humilis is Latin for low, lowly, small.
This is a native of southern USA, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and parts of South America. It is widely naturalized in the coastal and sub-coastal districts of eastern Queensland and north-eastern NSW, as well as on Norfolk Island and the Cocos Islands. It is also naturalized in south-eastern Asia, on La Réunion and on several Pacific islands. It prefers damp, shady sites, and is a weed of forests and forest margins, riversides, disturbed sites, urban bushlands and gardens, and is tolerant of salt spray and saline soils. It is regarded as an environmental weed in Queensland and NSW. It is often cultivated as an ornamental in warm climates, and also as a house plant.
It is a small, vine-like, upright evergreen shrub or herbaceous plant, growing from a woody taproot, and whose slender stems become slightly woody with age, especially near the base of the plant. It can grow up to 2 m high. The leaves are simple, alternate, borne on petioles 1 – 5 cm long. The blades are about 3 – 13 cm long by 1 – 5 cm wide, oblong or narrow-ovate with entire margins and acuminate apices. They are glabrous, or sparsely hairy.
The numerous small whitish flowers are in elongated clusters 4 – 8 cm long in the forks of the upper leaves. These clusters lengthen to 5 – 15 cm when fruiting occurs. Each flower is borne on a short pedicel 1 – 4 mm in length, and has 4 petal-like perianth segments about 3 mm long, and 4 stamens. The ‘petals’ are initially white or pinkish, but turn greenish as they mature.
The fruits are small (3 – 4 mm) subglobose berries, each containing a single seed The fruits turn from green to bright red (sometimes orange) as they ripen. The seeds are spread by water and in mud attached to animals, people and vehicles, as well as by birds. The plant is also spread from stem and leaf cuttings in garden waste.
In America, this is a host plant for the caterpillars of Goodson’s greenstreak (Cyanophrys goodsoni).
The fruits are reported as being edible, although some sources say that all plant parts are poisonous. The leaves are said to be used for treating catarrh, and for treating wounds.
A red dye is produced from the fruits. It is used for dyeing small objects, and also as ink.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographed in Picnic Bay 2019
Page last updated 23rd January 2019