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Waltheria indica L. 1753
pronounced: wal-THAIR-ee-uh IN-dik-uh
(Malvaceae – the hibiscus family)
common name: Sleepy Morning
Waltheria is named for Augustin Friedrich Walther (1688–1746), German anatomist, botanist and physician. Among his numerous writings was a 1735 botanical treatise called Designatio plantarum quas hortus AF Waltheri complectitur†, in which he provides descriptions of thousands of plant species from his private botanical garden. Indica means, of course, ‘from India’.
This is an erect short-lived herb or shrub, usually 20–150 cm tall, and up to 2 cm in stem diameter. It develops a weak taproot, robust lateral roots, and abundant fine roots. The roots are brown and flexible. This plant usually has a single strong stem emerging from the ground, but frequently branches near the ground. In some environments it may grow in a semi-prostrate habit, and this often seems to be the case here on Magnetic Island. The young stems and leaves are covered with a grey, velvety pubescence.
The alternate leaves are narrowly ovate or oblong with a rounded to almost heart-shaped base, irregularly serrate edges, and a rounded to acute tip. The petioles are from 5 mm to 3 cm long, and the blades 2–12 cm by 1–7 cm. Axillary inflorescences are usually very dense clusters that contain fragrant yellow to orange flowers. Each 2 mm capsule holds one tiny black obovoid seed.
Sleepy Morning now grows throughout the tropics and the warmer subtropics. It is thought to be native to the Americas, where it is found from Florida and Texas to Brazil. It grows in disturbed dry habitat, and also in well-drained moist habitat. It is found on construction sites, roadsides, burned forests and grasslands, and stream overflow areas. It is intolerant of shade and will not survive under a closed tree canopy, and cannot compete with grass in dense swards. It withstands drought, salt spray and mildly salty soils.
The plants begin flowering at about 6 months old, and bloom more or less continuously for the rest of their lives. Reproduction is by seeds, which are dispersed by water, agricultural equipment and grazing animals.
Sleeping Morning (which, by the way, has so many local names that it would take up too much space to list them) does have some uses. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, it is used to make a herb tea. The plant produces a fibre that was formerly used for making cords, sacking, padding and sandals. Durawhite, an extract of the plant, is used in a commercial cosmetic for its ability to inhibit melanin synthesis and whiten the skin. Various extracts are used in Africa as tonics, analgesics, purgatives, and to reduce fevers. In Hawaii, the root is chewed to ease sore throats. Stems are used as a chew stick, and extracts of the plant are used as an eye bath in Panama. Seed is sold commercially, and the plant cultivated in gardens as a medicinal plant. The plant is grazed by all types of livestock, especially when it is young. It is considered a weed in much of its range, but it is seldom aggressive enough to be a major problem. It is, however, host to a number of insects that are agricultural pests.
† A Description of the plants which A.F. Walther’s Garden contains
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 on the bushland track between Nelly & Geoffrey Bays, 2009, and in Nelly Bay 2014
Page last updated 9th March 2017