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Tinospora smilacina Benth. 1861
pronounced: tee-noh-SPOR-uh smy-luh-KIN-uh
(Menispermaceae - the moonseed family)
common names: Tinospora Vine
Menispermaceae is a family of mostly dioecious climbers with alternate (usually simple) leaves, margins entire or lobed, often palmately-veined. The species in at least one of its genera twine clockwise. The flowers are small, usually unisexual or functionally so, and trimerous. The fruit is a drupe, usually with the style/stigma displaced to one side. The name derives from the Greek μηνη (méné), a moon, transferred to the Latin menis, a tiny half-moon device inscribed at the opening of books, and σπερμα (sperma), a seed. This refers to the shape of the seeds. The botanical dictionaries I have consulted are unanimously silent about the derivation of this genus name. The ‘-spora’ part is certainly from the Greek σπορος (sporos), a seed. My best guess for ‘tino-’ is that it may come from the Latin word tinus, the Roman name for Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus), although this plant belongs to a different family. Smilacina is botanical Latin for ‘like the genus Smilax’.
Tinospora smilacina is a slender climber with more-or-less succulent stems, glabrous, and dioecious. The leaves are variable in shape, the lamina usually triangular-ovate to broad triangular, 4–10 cm long, 2–8 cm wide, rather thin, the base mostly cordate to truncate; the petiole 1–8 cm long. There is a swell at the junction of the leaf stalk with the stem.
The inflorescence is not branched, and is usually 4–8 cm long, borne amongst the leaves, or sometimes appearing when the plant is leafless. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, the males greenish, and the females with white sepals. The fleshy fruits are almost 1 cm in diameter, ovoid in shape, red when ripe, and produced in groups of three.
The plant is found in and along the boundaries of dry rainforest and dry eucalyptus forest in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and northern NSW. Joseph Banks collected specimens of it near the Endeavour River at Cooktown in 1770. The vine photographed was on the roadside near the Rocky Bay lookout.
This plant has long been used in Aboriginal medicine, mainly for the treatment of headaches, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory disorders, and for snakebite. For headaches, mashed stems were wrapped around the head. For stings and bites, heated leaves were applied.
Medicine plants were always common plants. Aborigines carried no medicine kits, and had to have remedies that grew at hand when needed. If a preferred herb was not available, there was usually a local substitute. Plants were prepared as remedies in a number of ways. Leafy branches were often placed over a fire while the patient squatted as close as possible to the fire and inhaled the steam. Sprigs of aromatic leaves might be crushed and inhaled, inserted into the nasal septum, or prepared into a pillow on which the patient slept. To make an infusion, leaves or bark were crushed and soaked in water (sometimes for a very long time); the infusion was then drunk, or washed over the body. Ointment was prepared by mixing crushed leaves with animal fat. Other external treatment included rubbing down the patient with crushed leaf paste, fruit pulp or animal oil, or dripping milky sap or a gummy solution over him or her. Most plant medicines were externally applied.
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.
Photographs taken above Rocky Bay 2010, 2012, Nelly Bay 2017
Page last updated 20th May 2017