Biophytum sensitivum: Mukkutti

Family: Oxalidaceae
Common name: Little tree plant, Mukkutti, Lajjalu

A tiny annual herb seen in gardens, backyards and open areas, Mukkutti has many uses in traditional Indian medicine. It grows to a height of 25-30 centimeters with a straight stem and pinnate leaves crowded at the tip. Each plant has about 15-20 leaves with 10-15 pairs of leaflets that are broader towards the tip of the leaves.

These leaves beautifully arranged around the stem, and makes the plant look like a tiny palm tree. Flowers look like small lamp posts, with a raised stalk and bunches of 6-8 flowers at the very tip. 2-3 yellow flowers would be open at any point in time, with few buds and few spent flowers around it.

Mukkutti flowers are small and yellow, with distinct red and white markings towards the base. There are variants with white, orange and pink flowers as well, though the most commonly seen species is the one with yellow flowers. Stamens and style are also prominent.

Sepals are green but turn brown later when the flowers become small, brown fruit capsules. Mukkutti flowers are popular in Kerala and is used to make flower carpets or pookkalams during the state festival of Kerala, Onam.

These plants are sensitive and closes its leaves in response to touch, rain, wind and vibrations, like the Touch-me-not plant or Mimosa pudica. The movement is caused by the pulvinus or the small enlarged area between the leaf and the stem. This is the reason behind its name Lajjalu, or shy plant. It’s also called Biophytum nervifolium because of this characteristic.

Though it is a wild plant that spreads quickly, Mukkutti is not considered as an invasive weed because of its medicinal properties. They are used in treatment of inflammations, wounds, tumors, burns, asthma, cough, chest congestion, stomach pain, diarrhea, diabetes, snake bites, epilepsy, thyroid disorders and arthritis.

Studies have shown that the plant has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic and wound healing properties that make them a very valuable herb. It is used in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine in treatment of various common ailments.

Propagation is through seeds.

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