Natures Treasures Blog
Website by Vanessa Kienmoser
I started cutting these impressive creatures yesterday and felt so bad for it...in winter they are like dead spiders with their rotting leaves and then rise out of them like a Phoenix 🔥the roots are really alive you see so many insects living in them!
Gunnera manicata or elephant ears are native to Brazil and are about 150 million years old. Their leaves can grow up to 3m!
Gunnera is the only genus of angiosperms known to host the cyanobacteria Nostoc and the only group of land plants that hosts cyanobacteria intracellularly. Nostoc are nitrogen fixing, which Gunnera is using for its growth (Chiu et al., 2005). So even if the soil has low amounts of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, Gunnera is able to thrive.
They were introduced to Europe a few hundred years ago as gardening plant, close to ponds etc.
There are now regarded as invasive species...
I did some research about Gunnera. There are 63 species mostly in the Southern Hemisphere.
Gunnera Perpensa (last picture) which is native to Africa, is the most studied plant, due to its medicinal properties!
This plant is actually endangered in Africa now, because the leaves, stems and roots have been used for centuries to treat various conditions including; inducing or augmenting labour, as postnatal medication, treating parasitic diseases, urinary complaints, kidney problems, general body pains, sexually transmitted infections, and many more.
Scientific studies on G. perpensa indicate that it has a wide range of pharmacological activities including acetylcholinesterase, anthelmintic, antibacterial, antifungal, antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumour, lactogenic, and uterotonic. (A. Maroyi, 2016)
Then I found only two papers from Mariotti et al. (From 2011 and 2014)studying the Chemical constituents and pharmacological profile of Gunnera manicata L. extracts.
They found that G. manicata antioxidant activity results were similar to those obtained with G. Perpensa. Moreover, antimicrobial activity in an agar diffusion assay was effective against Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans, both very common bacteria in humans, which can become harmful.
Their conclusion was, that G. Manicata has great potential to be used in drug production!
With changing climate, we should probably start to change our perspective and attitude towards invasive species. Gunnera have flowers and pollen, insects and birds can feed on, their body seems like a full ecosystem in itself.
We need to study their symbiosis with the existing ecosystem more.
I will definitely keep an eye on them throughout the year and keep you posted about their own development and the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
It would be fantastic if institutes and the Pharma industry could fund this kind of research trying to make use of plants that are outcompeting native species by including them in our medicine. Instead of trying to kill them by using harmful and destructive methods such as pesticides and fire, which seems to be an endless fight anyways...
Chiu et al. http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/139/1/224.short
Mariotti et al. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1984-82502014000100015