Phyllanthus reticulatus: Black honey shrub

Family: Phyllanthaceae
Common name: Black-honey shrub, Reticulated leaf-flower, Black-berried featherfoil, Potato-bush, Netted-leaved leaf-flower, Neernelli, Potato plant, Potato smell

A simple, quick-growing shrub or small tree, Black honey shrub is very commonly seen on roadsides, wastelands, hillsides, and empty plots. They can grow to a height of 4-5 meters with a heavily branched stem that droops down reaching the ground, if there is no support.

The stem has small, downy hairs when it is young, and becomes hairless when they mature. Leaves are dark green, ovate, with a smooth upper surface and a prominent midrib. Leaves are arranged alternately on the stem, which is dark brown and woody towards the base, and green towards the tips.

Black honey shrub leaves are about 3-5 cms long and 2-3 cms wide with a very short petiole connecting them to the stem. The plant produces both male and female flowers, the male flowers being more numerous compared to the female flowers.

Both are tiny, about 1-1.5mm long, the male flowers having stamens, anthers, and filaments, the female flowers have ovary and style. They are pollinated by ants and small insects.

After pollination, the plants produce small globular fruits which are initially green and later turn dark purple on maturity. These fruits contain 8-15 tiny seeds which are brown in color, about 1-2 mm long.

Black honey shrub plants are found in China, Malaysia, Srilanka, Africa, and few other tropical countries, almost always seen in the wild. But they also have some medicinal uses in Ayurveda and traditional herbal medicine, mainly because of the presence of tannins in the leaves.

Parts of the plant are used in the treatment of malaria, diabetes, polio, measles, asthma, sore throat, snake bites, conjunctivitis, anemia, eye diseases, sores, burns, gum bleeding, muscle spasms, worms, headaches, and abscesses.

The sturdy stems are used in making small huts, and the small twigs are used as toothbrushes. The fruits as well as root and stem yield black ink and dye which are used in dyeing cloth. Ripe fruits are used a famine food and also sold in markets. The wood of the plant is used for making small wooden implements and handles, and also as fuel for burning.

A closely related species is Phyllanthus Niruri, a tiny herb with many medicinal uses, usually seen in the wild.

Propagation is through seeds.