Stephania japonica var. timorensis

tape vine


Stephania japonica var. timorensis

(DC.) Formam 1956

pronounced: ste-FAN-ee-uh juh-PAN-ik-uh variety tee-mor-EN-sis

(Menispermaceae — the moonseed family)

common name: tape vine

Stephania was named for Christian Friedrich Stephan (1757-1814), German botanist; japonica and timorensis mean, of course, ‘from Japan’ and ‘of Timor’ respectively. Stephania is a genus of flowering plants native to eastern and southern Asia, and to Australia and the Pacific islands. They are herbaceous perennial vines growing to about 4 m tall, with a large woody caudex. The leaves are arranged spirally on the stem, and are peltate, with the leaf petiole attached usually near the centre of the leaf.

Stephania japonica, of which there are other varieties apart from var. timorensis, are vines that may be glabrous or pubescent. The root is woody, not tuberous, and brownish yellow in colour. The stems are slender, slightly woody when old, sometimes prostrate and rooting at the nodes.

The petioles can be anything from 3 to 12 cm long; the leaves are subpeltate, the leaf blades more-or-less cordate, but quite rounded on the sides, 5 – 12 or more cm in length, as wide as they are long, or slightly wider, papery to thinly leathery, abaxially glabrous or hirsute.

The inflorescences are compound umbelliform cymes, usually axillary. There are separate male and female flowers. The males have 6 or 8 sepals in 2 whorls, membranous, yellowish green, oblanceolate or obovate-elliptic to spatulate or narrowly elliptic, 1 – 1.5 mm in length, either glabrous or pubescent. They have 3 or 4 petals that are slightly fleshy, yellow, broadly obovate to rotund, 0.5 – 1 mm, glabrous, rarely with the apex slightly concave. There are 6 anthers, exserted in some varieties. The female flowers have 3 or 4 sepals, the shape and size similar to the male, but often slightly smaller.

Infructescences are produced with hard and slightly curved umbellet pedicels. Red drupes are produced, obovate to subglobose, 6 – 8 mm in diameter.

Stephania japonica var. timorensis comes originally from India, China, the Philippines to Japan. It is usually found in village margins, shrublands, open forests, forest margins, and in limestone mountains. The plant photographed is in Picnic Bay, at the southern ‘dead end’ of Picnic Street.
All of the members of the genus are rich in a great variety of alkaloids, and var. timorensis contains Hasubanonine. There is much study of this alkaloid currently being undertaken, as it appears to have the potential to provide pain relief. It is very similar in structure to morphine.

Among the larvae that feed on the plant are those of:

      • the moth Plusiodonta coelonota;
      • the Fruit-piercing Moth Eudocima fullonia; and
      • the Green Fruit-piercing Moth Eudocima salaminia.


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 Picnic Bay 2009-2013
Page last updated 8th April 2019