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Gomphrena celosioides Mart. 1826
pronounced: gom-FREE-nuh se-loh-see-OY-deez
(Amaranthaceae – the amaranth family)
common names: Gomphrena Weed, Soft Khaki Weed
The only derivation I have been able to find for Gomphrena refers to an ancient classical name for an amaranth. This sounds likely, but I have not been able to verify it. Celosioides means ‘resembling the Celosia genus’; κηλος (kelos) is Greek, burnt, dry.
This is a prostrate or sprawling annual herb from South America that grows in disturbed ground, roadsides, lawns and cultivated areas throughout the tropics and subtropics, up to about 25 cm in height. It has a thick, fleshy taproot, which enables it to survive quite well during dry periods, although it is at its best during the wet season. The stems are striate and hairy, with some older stems glabrous. Its leaves are opposite, simple, petiolate or subsessile, the petiole 2–10 mm long. The leaf blade is 2–6 cm long, sometimes a little more, and up to 2 cm wide, elliptic or ovate or obovate, the base tapering, the margins entire, the apex usually acuminate. The blade is hairy: ciliate; mainly glabrous above; silky hairy below.
The flowers are in spikes in a dense globose or ovoid or cylindrical head, usually 1 – 2 cm across, with white bracts and bracteoles. They are predominantly white or pale green, somewhat irregular, sessile between 2 leaves. The calyx is 5–8 mm long; there are 5 sepals, all free, and densely woolly outside for ¾ of their length. There are 5 stamens, opposite the sepals. coherent to each other, the filaments closely joined for most of their length into a 5-toothed staminal tube. The ovary is superior, and single-celled.
In Ghana, where malaria causes many deaths every year, Gomphrena Weed is one of the several plants prescribed by herbalists for the treatment of the disease.
The ‘real’ khaki weed, Alternanthera pungens, another South American native, is a very different kettle of fish. It is a sprawling plant, flat on the ground, and looks rather like Gomphrena Weed; but it has very sharp burrs, which, when mature, attach to animals, motor vehicle tyres, the pads on dogs’ feet, and to the feet of humans who like walking around without shoes. That included me when I was a boy growing up in Townsville, and my feet suffered accordingly. This weed also causes, it is claimed, skin problems in cattle, and hay fever, asthma and dermatitis in some people.
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 in Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 7th December 2016