Entada rheedii

match box bean


Entada rheedii

Spreng. 1825

pronounced: en-TAH-duh REED-ee-eye

(Mimosaceae — the wattle family)


common names: match box bean, African dream herb

native 4Entada s a Malabar name used by Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede (1636 – 1691), for the genus of giant seeds that float across the Atlantic Ocean to wash up on the shores of northwest Europe. He was a Dutch East India Company administrator and a naturalist, who served as governor of Dutch Malabar and employed twenty-five people on his book Hortus Malabaricus, describing 740 plants in the region. The specific of this plant, named in his honour, is often spelled ‘rheedei’, but ‘rheedii’ was the spelling used in the original description.

This is is a vine with very twisty, corkscrew-like stems that can be very thick, even as much as 40 cm in diameter. The pith is eccentric, much closer to one margin than the other when a transverse section of the stem is made. These sections are dappled pink, red and white, more or less in lines.

The leaves are bipinnate, with the primary axis terminating in a bifid tendril. The leaflet blades are about 4 – 5 by 2 – 4 cm in size, on stalks about 1 – 5 mm long, and transversely wrinkled. They are elliptic to obovate in shape, the apex obtuse and emarginate. The stipules are about 2.5 mm in length. There are lateral veins on each side of the midrib, forming loops inside the blade margin, and the midrib is raised on the upper surface of the leaflet.

Inflorescences are about 12 – 15 cm long, with pleasantly perfumed flowers about 5 mm in diameter. The calyx is cup-shaped, its lobes scarcely visible, the calyx tube about 1 mm long, and the petals about 3 mm. There are 10 stamens, their filaments about 6 mm long, thicker at the apex than at the base, with tiny anthers. The ovary is only about 2 mm long, and the style 5 mm.

The segmented seed pods are 6 or 7 cm across, and vary greatly in length, from a single segment up to 10 or even more. The endocarp is woody, and the flattened seeds are about 4 – 5 cm in diameter. The testa is very hard. This allows them to survive lengthy periods of immersion in sea water, and their ability to float has enabled the vine to establish itself widely in tropical and subtropical countries, but strangely not in the Americas.

In Australia the vine is found in Cape York Peninsula, and down the Queensland coast as far as central Queensland, at an altitudinal range from sea level to about 120 m, where it grows in beach and monsoonal forests. The plant pictured is growing in remnant forest not far from the beach in Picnic Bay.

The seeds are used in traditional African medicine to induce vivid dreams, enabling the dreamer to communicate with the spirit world. The inner meat of the seed is either eaten directly, or chopped up and mixed with tobacco or other herbs, and smoked just before going to sleep.

Ointments are also made from the plant to treat jaundice, toothache, ulcers, and muscular-skeletal problems.

In many parts of the world the seeds are used to make jewellery, and as good-luck charms.

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 2015, 2016, 2019
Page last updated 28th December 2019