Thanks to Jackie Chambers of UBC Botanical Garden for today’s photograph and write-up!
Nepal is home to an amazing diversity of plants due to its unique geographic location. With influences from both the warm Indian subcontinent and the mountainous terrain of Tibet and China, a wide range of native plants are present (see Flora of Nepal). Hemiphragma heterophyllum is one of the interesting plants found in this part of the world. The Nepali name for this plant is Nash Jhaar.
This prostrate perennial is usually found at altitudes between 1800-3500m throughout the Himalayan region – Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and into southeast Asia. This particular specimen of Hemiphragma heterophyllum was found scrambling across a patch of open ground at the edge of a Rhododendron forest at an altitude of 2800m.
The hairy brown stems can reach 30-60cm long, and a closer look at the underside of the leaf nodes show that the plant easily forms roots where it comes in contact with the ground (see this botanical illustration for an idea of the growth habit).
The most interesting thing about this plant is the leaves. As the species name heterophyllum suggests, there are two types of leaves. The larger leaves occur in opposite pairs along the stalk. These leaf pairs are often sessile, meaning without a petiole or leaf stalk. The leaves are between 0.5-2cm long, and the leaf margin is slightly toothed. The other leaf type is very different. They are linear, almost needlelike, and are held in clusters on small petioles in the axils of the larger leaves. These leaf bunches are much smaller in size, usually only about 3-5mm (more photographs).
White to pinkish flowers are produced in the summer (July – August). They are 5-6mm in diameter and hermaphroditic – meaning they have both staminate (pollen producing) and carpellate (ovule producing) structures. The fruit is produced in the fall (September – October) and are shiny red capsules (also 5-6mm.) The plant has been used in Nepalese and Chinese traditional medicine – the red fruit is edible, and the rest of the plant was used to restrict blood vessels and stop bleeding. For more information see the Plants for a Future database entry on Hemiphragma heterophyllum.