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Common Derris
Derris trifoliata

Akar Tuba (Malay)

flowering patch
It is the only common climber that grows in mangroves.
climbing habitWith delicate white flowers, when Common Derris blooms in the Park, it can be as pretty as bridal decorations!

Uses: The leaves contain the chemical compound rotenone, a poison that kills a wide range of creatures from insects to earthworms and fish. Derris trifoliata and another species, D. elliptica, are used to produce rotenone in commercial quantities as an insecticide.
Locals use crushed leaves to stun or kill fish and shrimp which are then easily collected. This method of fishing, however, is prohibited in many areas because it is so destructive.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Mangrove associate. A creeper with woody stems that thicken.

Leaves: Compound leaves of 3-5, dark green shiny.

Flowers: White in racemes.

Fruits: 1-3 seeds in flat oval pods which are green at first, turning brown when they ripen.

Status in Singapore: Common in mangroves.

World distribution: Tropics of the Old World from East Africa to Australia, Polynesia and even subtropical Asia.
pod opened to show seed
Classification: Family Leguminosae. World 1 mangrove associated species.
Derris is also one of the components of poison-arrow. The plant is also used to produce cordage.

choke marks on treeRole in the habitat: Like other climbers, Common Derris provides shelter for the smaller creatures of the mangroves. The plants also form an interlocking framework among trees for added strength against coastal storms.

An aggressive plant, Common Derris can form deep "choke" marks on its host tree (see right). But eventually, the host trees usually prevail, breaking the vines. Thus Common Derris doesn't "strangle" its host.

  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Peter K L Ng and N Sivasothi, "A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore I: The Ecosystem and Plant Diversity", Singapore Science Centre, 1999 (p. 108: description, habit, photo).
  • Tony Whitten and Jane Whitten (ed.), "Indonesian Heritage: Plants", Plants used as Medicine by Trond Schumacher, Editions Didier Millet, 1996 (p. 69: uses).
By Ria Tan, 2001