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Seven Golden Candlesticks
Cassia alata

Candle Bush, Gelenggang (Malay), Akapulko (Philippines)

entire bush
The attractive shrub is named for its flower buds which grow in a column and look like fat yellow candles each complete with a flame! The leaves fold together at night. It was introduced to other tropical areas from the Americas and is now widely considered a weed.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Grows up to 3m.

Leaves: Simple pinnate.

Flowers: Buds covered with orange bracts which fall off when the flower opens.

Fruits: Black pod with two broad wings; seeds small square and rattle in the pod when ripe.

Status in Singapore: Introduced, common weed in wastelands.

World distribution: Native to tropical Americas.

Classification: Family Leguminosae.
leavesTraditional medicinal uses: Leaves or sap are used to treat fungal infections such as ringworm. They contain a fungicide, chrysophanic acid. Because of its anti-fungal properties, it is a common ingredient in soaps, shampoos and lotions in the Philippines. The effectiveness of this plant against skin diseases is confirmed by modern scientific studies.

fruit podsOther chemicals contained in the plant includes saponin which acts as a laxative and expels intestinal parasites. In Africa, the boiled leaves are used to treat high-blood pressure. In South America, besides skin diseases, it is also used to treat a wide range of ailments from stomach problems, fever, asthma to snake bite and venereal diseases (syphilis, gonorrhoea).

Role in the habitat: It is the food plant of some butterflies. The plant recruits ant bodyguards against these caterpillars. It has "extrafloral nectaries" near the base of the leaves, that produce sweet nectar to attract ants. As a short-lived plant that grows commonly in wastelands which are damp and on flood plains, it helps to colonise these areas and pave the way for regeneration of growth.

  • The Raintree online database of over 100 important rainforest medicinal plants: a long list of worldwide ethnobotany uses, diagram.
  • Dana Lee Ling's Homepage on College of Micronesia-FSM Federated States of Micronesia: brief facts plus lots of nice photos.
  • Tropilab: description and traditional medicinal uses.
  • on the Mt. Banahaw Health Products Corporation website: medicinal uses.
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Ivan Polunin, "Plants and Flowers of Singapore", Times Editions, 1987 (p. 99: description, habitat, distribution, photo).
  • Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to Medicinal Plants", BP Singapore Science Centre, 1992 (p. 33: description, chemical compounds, uses, photo).
By Ria Tan, 2001