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Family Acanthaceae
Purple scalystem
Elytraria imbricata (Vahl) Pers.

Scientific names Common names
Dicliptera ramentacea Spreng. ex Nees Purple scalystem (Engl.)
Elytraria amara Blanco Cordoncillo (Span.)
Elytraria apargiifolia Nees  
Elytraria caulescens Ledeb.  
Elytraria fasciculata Kunth  
Elytraria frondosa Kunth  
Elytraria imbricata (Vahl) Pers.  
Elytraria microstachya Oerst.  
Elytraria pachystachya Oerst.  
Elytraria ramosa Kunth  
Elytraria scorpioides Schult.  
Elytraria squamosa (Jacq.) Lindau  
Elytraria tridentata Vahl.  
Elytraria tridentata var. caulescens Nees  
Elytraria tridentata var. wrightii M.Gomez  
Justicia imbricata Vahl  
Tubiflora pachystachya (Oerst.) Kuntze  
Elytraria imbricata (Vahl) Pers. is accepted. KEW: Plants of the World Online

Other vernacular names
XXXX: Xxxx.
MAYAN: Cambal xan.
SPANISH: Cola de alacran, Cordon de San Juan, Cordoncillo, Pata de pollo, Pie de gallo, Riendilla.

Gen info
- Elytraria is a genus of flowering plants in the family Acanthaceae, with a pantropical distribution. They tend to lack stems.
- Etymology: The genus name Elytraria derives from Greek elytron referring to the scaly envelopes or sheaths of stem and flower scapes. The species epithet imbricata means "overlapping" or "closely put together" referring to the calyx lobes. (3)
- The English name Purple scalystem derives from its rough scale-like stalk, contrasting beautifully with the plant's almost iridescent purple flowers.

General: Acaulescent or leaves crowded at tip of a glabrous or sparingly pilose stem to 30 cm long. Leaves: Blades ovate to oblong or obovate, rarely linear–lanceolate, usually 3–12 cm long, 1.5–4 cm wide, blunt or acute at apex, narrowed at base to a slender winged petiole, both surfaces appressed–pilose or glabrate, margins undulate. Flowers: Numerous scapes, axillary, usually 5–24 cm long, simple or branched, covered by tightly appressed, ovate to subulate scales; spikes 1 to several to 6 cm long, bracts oblong to elliptic, 3–6 mm long, 1–2 mm wide, firm, awn–tipped and bearing near apex a pair of triangular or rhombic hyaline teeth; bractlets 3 mm long, calyx segments thin, upper bidentate; corolla narrowly funnelform blue, 5–8 mm long. Fruits: Glabrous capsule.  (3)

Caulescent perennial herb to 50 cm; stem subterete to sharply 3-angulate, sparsely pubescent; leaves clustered at stem apices, subsessile to petiolate; blades elliptic to obovate, 2.5-13.5 x 1-4.5 cm, pubescent, margin entire to crenate; inflorescence of scapose or pedunculate densely bracteate terminal dichasiate spikes, the spikes slender, cylindric, scapes or peduncules covered with imbricate coriaceous clasping scales; bracts alternate, green with hyaline margin, ovate to elliptic, 3-6 x 1.5-3 mm, 3-dentate apically, glabrous; bracteoles 2, subulate; calyx deeply 4- lobed, mostly hyaline, lobes heteromorphic; corolla blue and white, 3.5-7.5 mm long, glabrous, tube cylindric, limb bilabiate, lower lip 3-lobed, lobes apically cleft, upper lip 2-lobed; stamens 2; anthers 2-thecous, the thecae lacking basal appendages; capsule estipitate, subconic to ovoid; seeds 12-16. Extremely variable in its habit form, ranging from small plantainlike herbs of a few centimeters to subligneous-stemmed plants 50 cm high. (7)

- Introduced to the Philippines.
- Invasive. In open waste places, dry thickets, in and about towns at low altitudes.
- Also introduced to Galapagos, Madagascar, Vietnam.
- Native range is S. USA to NW Argentina.
- Grows primarily in the seasonally dry tropical biome. (1)

- No phytochemical studies found.

- Studies have shown neuroprotective, antimycobacterial properties.

Parts used
Leaves, shoots, flowers.


- In Mexico, the Mountain Pima prepare tea from shoots of the plant.

- No reported folkloric use in the Philippines.
- Plant use for treatment of dysentery. Infusion used for treatment of bronchits and coughs. Crushed leaves used for treatment of pimples. (2)
- In Mayan medicine, used to hasten childbirth: Thirteen plants boiled with 15 centimeters of pixoy (Guazuma ulmifolia) bark in one-half liter of water; drink warm, and baby will be born in one-half hour. Also used as remedy for dysentery, hematemesis (vomiting of blood) and liver complaints. (8)
- In Baja, Mexico, decoction of shoots used for treatment of fever, various urinary tract infections. In El Salvador, used for treatment of dysentery. (9)
- In Curacao, used for stomachaches.
- Decoction of leaves and flowers drunk for fever. Tea from whole plant used for diarrhea. Mayans believe mixing it with Carlowrightia arizonica has a synergistic effect. Tea brewed with an unidentified plant called "ortiga" is drunk for malaria.

Neuroprotective / Glutamate-Induced Toxicity:
Study evaluated the potential in-vitro neuroprotective property of plants used in Mayan traditional medicine tested on models in which neuronal damage was induced by glutamate, i.e., a human neuroblastoma cell line (SH-SY5Y) and rat cortical neurons. Of 34 plants studied in the analysis, three extracts exhibited neuroprotective effect in the rat neuron cortical model, with the most active being extract from Elytraria imbricata aerial parts with EC50 of 6.8 ± 3.1 µg/mL). (4)
Antimycobacterial: Study of ethanol extract in antimycobaterial test against Mycobacterium tuberculosis showed 24% inhibition at 100 µg/ml. (6)


February 2023

                                                 PHOTOS / ILLUSTRATIONS
IMAGE SOURCE: Photograph: Purple scalystem -- Barry Sullender / CC by NC / click on image to go to source page / iNaturalist
OTHER IMAGE SOURCE: Photo - Elytraria imbricata - flowering twigs / Copyright © 2011 by Leonardo L Co [ref. DOL29061] / Non-Commercial Use / Phytoimages.siu.edu
OTHER IMAGE SOURCE: Photo - Elytraria imbricata - flowering twigs / 2021 by Sune Holt / NON-FMNH / CC BY-NC 4.0 / Non-Commercial Use / clicking on image will link to source page / The Field Museum Herbarium

Additional Sources and Suggested Readings
Elytraria imbricata / KEW: Plants of the World Online

Elytraria imbricata / Ken Fern: Tropical Plants Database / Useful Tropical Plants
Elytraria imbricata / SEINet - Arizona - New Mexico Chapter
Neuroprotective effect of Mayan medicinal plant extracts against glutamate-induced toxicity / Cristina M Castillo-Bautista, Luis W Torres-Tapia, Rosa E Moo-Puc et al / Journal of Natural Medicines, 2019; 73: pp 672-678 / DOI: 10.1007/s11418-019-01284-w
Mineral composition of some traditional Mexican teas / Joseph E Laferriere et al / Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 1991; 41: pp 277-282 / DOI: 10.1007/BF02196397
Antimicrobial and Cytotoxic Activity of Some Medicinal Plants from Baja California Sur (Mexico) / J.I. Murillo-Alvarez, D.R. Encarnación and S.G. Franzblau / Pharmaceutical Biology, 20001; 39(6): pp 445-449
Elytraria imbricata / Dieter C Wasshausen, J R I Wood / Acanthaceae of Bolivia (Smithsonia Institute) Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, Vol 49: pp 1-152
Elytraria imbricata / Marianna Appel Kunow / Mayan Medicine: Traditional Healing in Yucatan / Google Books
Optimal use of ethnobotanical resources by the Mountain Pima of Chihuahua, Mexico / Joseph Edward Laferriere   / Dissertation  / The University of Arizona Libraries
Elytraria imbricata / David Yetman, Thomas R Van Devender / Mayo Ethnobotany: Land, History, and Traditional Knowledge in Western Mexico / Google Books

DOI: It is not uncommon for links on studies/sources to change. Copying and pasting the information on the search window or using the DOI (if available) will often redirect to the new link page. (Citing and Using a (DOI) Digital Object Identifier)

                                                            List of Understudied Philippine Medicinal Plants

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