Notes on Echinodorus macrophyllus (Kunth) Micheli,
an ornamental and medicinal aquatic plant

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Felipe de Araújo Pinto Sobrinho* & Bruno Rezende Silva**
Images below © Bruno Rezende Silva & Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro
Click to enlarge

Known as Chapéu-de-Couro (leather hat), Echinodorus macrophyllus is an aquatic plant native to Brazil of great popularity. It belongs to the family Alismataceae, Echinodorus and Sagittaria being the most common genera. The first presents hermaphroditic flowers and is restricted to the new world, occurring from the United States to Argentina. The second, on the other hand, has flowers with separate sexes on the same inflorescence and possesses a worldwide distribution. 

The popular name of this species comes from the fact that its ovate and lightly sagittate leaves resemble leather hats worn in the northeast of Brazil. It is also known as tea from minas, tea of campaign, congonha of the swamp, indian herb, herb of the swamp, and poor man`s tea. Its occurrence in Brazil encompasses the states of Minas Gerais, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and São Paulo. 


Growing as herbaceous perennials, these emergent aquatics occur mainly on the margins of rivers, lakes, drainage canals and wetlands, being able to live submerged for some time, although not flowering. They can also tolerate short drought periods. They root in the soil keeping the lower portions immersed and send out petioles, leaves and inflorescences composed of beautiful white flowers of about 5 cm (2") diameter with the petals white and yellow at the base. Infructescences are round and chestnut colored at maturity.

The most common form of propagation of the Chapéu-de-couro is vegetative, basically by division of the rhizome (Castro & Chemale, 1995). Also the seeds germinate easily. It has been increasingly used in landscape projects for the beautiful effect of its foliage when in groups and by the inflorescences that reach well above the foliage. Resistance to disease and fast growth rate also contribute to this increased popularity. 

This plant also presents great medicinal potential with proven depurative, diuretic, antiinflammatory, antiophidic and antirheumatic effects. The leaves are the main part used in the form of tea or infusion. Phytochemical studies about the family Alismataceae (Martins et al., 1995; Lainetti & Brito, 1980), found among its main chemical constituents: tannins, flavonoids, triterpenes, glycosides, echinodorosides, essences and mineral salts.

 

One of the traditional soft drinks of Brazil, the Mineirinho, with its unique flavor, uses in its formula the Chapéu-de-couro`s concentrate. According to the manufacturers the Chapéu-de-Couro is a special plant that adds to the formula a pleasing taste that is completely different from other soft drinks.   

Specimens of Echinodorus macrophyllus from Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens Herbarium
(RB)

References:

CASTRO, L.O.; CHEMALE, V.M. Plantas medicinais, condimentares e aromáticas: descrição e cultivo. Guaiba: Agropecuária, 1995. 196 p.

MARTINS, E.R.; CASTRO, D.M..; CASTELLANI, D.C.; DIAS, J.E. Plantas medicinais. Viçosa: UFV, 1995. 220p.

LAINETTI, R.; BRITO, N.R.S.. A saúde pelas plantas e ervas do mundo inteiro. Rio de Janeiro: Ediouro, 1980. 120p.

* Master student of Escola Nacional de Botânica Tropical. ENBT. IP/JBRJ
** Living Collections Office of Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens

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