1. Family: Acanthaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Brachystephanus Nees
      1. Brachystephanus africanus S.Moore

        Brachystephanus africanus has long been known to occur in central and eastern Africa, and in Madagascar, but in 2008 Stephen Mphamba collected the first specimen of this species in Mozambique during Kew-led fieldwork on Namuli Mountain. Since then it has also been collected on the nearby Mabu Mountain (also in Mozambique).


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    When this brightly-coloured, forest floor herb was found by a Kew-led team on Namuli Mountain, it was the first time Brachystephanus africanus had been recorded from Mozambique.

    Brachystephanus africanus has long been known to occur in central and eastern Africa, and in Madagascar, but in 2008 Stephen Mphamba collected the first specimen of this species in Mozambique during Kew-led fieldwork on Namuli Mountain. Since then it has also been collected on the nearby Mabu Mountain (also in Mozambique).

    There are currently three recognised varieties: B. africanus var. africanus (found only in tropical forest on mountains and the variety that occurs in Mozambique), B. africanus var. recurvatus (found on mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo), and B. africanus var. madagascariensis (found in Madagascar).

    The Madagascan subgroup is clearly geographically separated from the other subgroups , while the ranges of the East African and Congolese subgroups overlap geographically. As the structural differences seen in the plants are not significantly greater between the subgroups that geographically overlap compared to those that are separated, the decision was made to classify the three different subgroups as varieties.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Native to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.


    Brachystephanus africanus is a herb that produces fresh stems from a woody base. It grows to 0.3–2 m tall and has leaves 5.5–24 cm long and 1.8–10 cm wide, with a petiole (leaf stalk) 0.7–6.2 cm long.

    The inflorescence takes the form of a spike of flowers and is 5.5–25 cm long. It bears bracts (small, leaf-like, flower-protecting structures) 5–25 mm long, 1.7–6.5 mm wide, which are dark green or tinged pink, purple or red-brown with somewhat transparent margins and a group of hairs usually restricted to the tip. The inflorescence also bears bracteoles (even smaller, leaf-like, flower-protecting structures) 2–6.5 mm long and 0.5–1 mm wide, also with transparent margins. The calyx lobes (outer protective structures of the flower) are 2.5-17 mm long. The flowers are mauve, violet, blue, rose or red, and are 29-51 mm long. The tube of the flower is narrowly cylindrical, 22–38 mm long and covered with short hairs. The upper lip of the flower is 6.5–13.5 mm long and 5.5–8 mm wide, with the tip ending in a small, projecting point. The lower lip of the flower is 7–14.5 mm long and 6–8.5 mm wide. The stamens (male parts) are 13.5–36 mm long and project out of the flower. The style (female part) is 35–75 mm long.

    The fruit is a hard capsule, 11.5–15 mm long.

    In Brachystephanus africanus var. africanusthe tip of the bract is either straight or bent inwards, distinguishing it from B. africanus var. recurvatus, which has bracts with outward-bending tips. (In B. africanus var. madagascariensis the bracts are unlike those of the other varieties as they are widest near their tip and the tip is slightly outwardly bent but not completely revurved).

    Threats and conservation

    Brachystephanus africanus has been assessed as Least Concern as it is widespread and often locally abundant.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in Kew's seed bank vault at Wakehurst.

    Collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

    This species at Kew

    Several dried and pressed specimens of Brachystephanus africanus are held in Kew’s Herbarium, including a type specimen. The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue. Herbarium specimens are also available to researchers by appointment.

    Understorey in tropical forests.
    Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.

    None recorded.


    Flora Zambesiaca Acanthaceae (part 2) by Iain Darbyshire, Kaj Vollesen and Ensermu Kelbessa

    Perennial herb or subshrub, 30–150(250) cm tall, often decumbent and rooting at lower nodes; stems antrorse- to appressed-pubescent when young or largely glabrous.
    Leaves ovate, elliptic or oblong-elliptic, 5.5–24 × 1.8–10 cm, base often narrowly cuneate then abruptly attenuate, apex acuminate to caudate, lower surface sparsely to rather densely pubescent on veins beneath, upper surface glabrous or with scattered hairs, lateral veins 7–13 pairs; petiole 10–62 mm long.
    Inflorescence terminal, sometimes also in the upper leaf axils, narrowly spiciform, 5.5–25 cm long, bracts imbricate at least when young, sometimes more widely spaced at maturity; cymules single-flowered, sessile; axes antrorse-pubescent or glabrous; bracts dark green or tinged pink, purple or red-brown, ovate or lanceolate to oblong-elliptic or somewhat obovate to oblanceolate, (3.5)5–25 × 1.7–6.5 mm, apex attenuate to caudate, straight, incurved or recurved, margin narrowly hyaline, glabrous except for minute hairs on acumen or more rarely with scattered glandular hairs and/or eglandular-puberulous; bracteoles lanceolate, 2–6.5(8) × 0.5–1 mm, margin hyaline.
    Calyx lobes linear, ± unequal, longest (2.5)7.5–18 mm, usually with scattered glandular hairs in distal half.
    Corolla (blue-)pink to purple, rarely white, 29–51 mm long, tube and limb shortly pubescent externally, with scattered longer glandular hairs on limb; tube narrowly cylindrical, 22.5–38 mm long, straight to somewhat curved; upper lip (ovate-)elliptic, 6.5–13.5 × 5.5–8 mm, apex minutely apiculate; lower lip elliptic, 7–14.5 × 6–8.5 mm, lobes minute, to 0.5(1.3) mm long.
    Staminal filaments 13.5–36 mm long; anthers 1.7–3.5 mm long.
    Stigma capitate, 0.25–0.5 mm wide.
    Capsule 11.5–15 mm long, glabrous.
    Only immature seeds seen, tuberculate, tubercles elongating towards margin and with minute hair-like processes.



    Found In:

    Burundi, Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

    Brachystephanus africanus S.Moore appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jan 1, 2012 Congdon, T.C.E. [770], Mozambique K000823901
    Apr 23, 1897 Whyte, A. [56], Malawi K000394841 isolectotype
    Mphamba, S. [18], Mozambique K000613714
    Harris, T. [678], Mozambique K000614257
    Timberlake, J. [5231], Mozambique K000613959
    Drummond, R.B. [1986], Tanzania 4212.000
    Drummond, R.B. [1728], Tanzania 4213.000

    First published in Trans. Linn. Soc. London, Bot. 4: 31 (1894)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2015) Flora Zambesiaca 8(6): 1-314. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [2] (2011) Kew Bulletin 66: 241-251. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [3] (2010) Flora of Tropical East Africa , Acanthaceae (Part 2): 287-756
    • [6] (2009) Systematics and Geography of Plants 79: 115-192
    • [7] Sita, P. & Moutsambote, J.-M. (2005) Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Congo , ed. sept. 2005: 1-158. ORSTOM, Centre de Brazzaville
    • [10] Govaerts, R. (1996) World Checklist of Seed Plants 2(1, 2): 1-492. MIM, Deurne


    • [4] —Darbyshire in F.T.E.A., Acanthaceae 2: 474, fig.61 (2010).
    • [5] Darbyshire, I., Vollesen, K. & Kelbessa, E. (2010). Flora of Tropical East Africa: Acanthaceae. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [8] —White et al., Evergr. For. Fl. Malawi: 113 (2001).
    • [9] —Figueiredo & Jury in Kew Bull. 51: 753 (1996).
    • [11] —Clarke in F.T.A. 5: 177 (1899).
    • [12] in Trans. Linn. Soc., Bot. 4: 31 (1894).


    Flora Zambesiaca
    Flora Zambesiaca
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    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
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    Kew Species Profiles
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