Herbarium: Medicinal Plants as Information

The History, Comparison, and Analysis of Parasitic Plants

Parasitic plants are plants that derive some or all of its nutritional requirements from another living plant. As a result, parasitic plants have many special characteristics as they are usually observed as growing on the other plants’ body. Parasitic plants also have many chemical properties, including medical properties. Throughout history, parasitic plants have been observed to be used in many purposes of medical treatments. There are also many types of parasitic plants, different from areas or families. In this project, we will introduce some parasitic plants: Phoradendron leucarpum subsp. macrophyllum, Rhipsalis tetragona (epiphyte), Pedicularis densiflora (Indian Warrior) and the Platycerium superbum (Staghorn Fern). Presenting our collecting process and our observations, we will analyze how unique parasitic plants characteristics are and how they contribute to materia medica. 

Over the duration of the quarter, our group has had the opportunity to explore and study multiple specimen of parasitic plants within different UCLA and other non-affiliated collections. The first collection we explored was that of the UCLA Herbarium through an online data base format called CCH2. This data base holds a vast collection of plant specimen from different herbariums across the nation, including our very own UCLA Herbarium. Although learning to navigate the CCH2 database provided us with valuable introduction to metadata and collection, we eventually had the opportunity to view our UCLA Herbarium specimen plants in person. Additionally, our group searched for these plants within the context of the “Materia Medica” using the Wellcome Collection. We were unable to find records related to the original plants, however, we were able to find historical images of parasitic plants that were quite similar. Lastly, our group observed specimen within the collection of plants at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA. Unfortunately, the gardens featured very few parasitic plants (for obvious reasons), so instead we observed epiphytic plant specimen.

Following the UCLA Herbarium, UCLA Botanical garden, and Materia Medica Viscum album, the first two plants we will introduce are Phoradendron leucarpum subsp. Macrophyllum and  (epiphyte). Phoradendron leucarpum subsp. Macrophyllum was collected in the database of UCLA Herbarium; was observed in the botanical garden. From the Viscum album, we will present the medical properties of mistletoe, the common names of both two plants. 

Phoradendron leucarpum subsp. Macrophyllum was observed from the media from the CCH2 resource of UCLA herbarium. The specimen was collected on 5th February 2018 by Rudy Diaz. Through our observation from the media, some unique characteristics of Phoradendron leucarpum subsp. Macrophyllum are the thin stem, smooth dark yellow green leaves, and small buddings. A general medical property is that the plant is toxic to consume by mouth, they resorted to taking extracts from these parts of the plant. 

Rhipsalis tetragone (epiphyte) was observed from UCLA Botanical Garden. We have had the chance to walk into the garden and observe the characteristics and environment of Rhipsalis tetragone (epiphyte). It was located under a warm and dry environment and was grown on Metrosideros kermadecensis, the supporting tree. Some highlight characteristics are the thin, straight, uniform bright green color, lightweight stem of Rhipsalis tetragone (epiphyte). Rhipsalis tetragone (epiphyte) has shown another perspective on parasitic plants. 

The second set of parasitic plants we will analyze include the Pedicularis densiflora, more commonly known as the Indian Warrior, from the UCLA Herbarium, as well as the Platycerium superbum, better known as the staghorn fern, which was observed in the UCLA Botanical Garden. 

Pedicularis densiflora is a parasitic plant sourced from the CCH2 website and was collected by Charles L. Hogue on March 6, 1954. Indian Warrior is a small and short plant reliant on being near the ground to get water and nutrients, spreading wide under the base of other trees and plants. Since it is a parasitic plant, it lives in or on other plants, but in turn, harms the host by decreasing its overall fitness and stealing its essential energy, water, and nutrients. One of the most notable of its medicinal uses is as a sedative to relieve nerve and muscle pain. It is known as being a potent skeletal muscle relaxant that can be used to treat cases of anxiety, tension, and insomnia.

The Platycerium superbum specimen was observed in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens at UCLA on Friday, February 4th, 2022 at about 12:30pm. The weather was sunny with less than 25% cloud coverage and a temperature of about 70℉. Immediately we noticed its striking size and large antler like fronds, from which the plant gets its common name “staghorn.” Similar to parasitic plants, epiphytes like this staghorn fern rely on other plants to grow. However, unlike parasitic plants, they grow on other plants for physical support and greater access to essential resources, such as moisture and sunlight, rather than leaching nutrients from a host. This specimen was observed growing on the trunk of Ficus watkinsiana, better known as the Watkin’s Fig. In terms of its medicinal uses, staghorn species are known to have been used for treating ulcers, irregular menstrual cycles, fever, bile problems, coughs, and hypertension, as well as preventing miscarriages.

Both of the plants that came from the UCLA Herbarium were parasitic plants (Phoradendron leucarpum subsp. Macrophyllum and Pedicularis densiflora), whereas the two plants found in the UCLA Botanical Garden were epiphytes (Rhipsalis tetragona and Platycerium superbum). All four of the plants share the feature of relying on other plants to grow, yet they each have their own unique medicinal properties, ranging from sedative muscle tension relaxation to use during pregnancy. Further research on the medicinal properties of the plants could help advance the field of pharmacology by providing society with natural remedies from plants.

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