Sida acuta: Common wireweed

Family: Malvaceae
Common name: Common wireweed, Morning mallow, Common fanpetals, Broom grass, Broom weed, Clock plant, Common fanpetals, Paddy’s lucerne, Southern sida, Spiny-Head sida, Cheese weed, Cheeseweed

It’s not possible to miss these sturdy, long-lived Common wireweed plants with their pretty yellow flowers, growing in the wild, in tropical countries. They can grow to a height of 1 m with a woody, brown stem that turns green towards the tips.

Leaves are long, green, alternate, lance-like with toothed margins. Petioles, the stalk that connects the leaves to the stem is very short.

The tip of the leaves form an acute angle giving this plant the name ‘acuta’, although this is the case with most narrow leaves. The leaves are 5-9 cms long and .5-3 cms wide, with tiny hairs on the lower surface.

Flowers are borne on the axils, the angle between the leaf and the stem, singly or in small clusters of 2-4. Common wireweed flowers have 5 sepals that are fused at the base; and 5 yellow, rounded petals that overlap at the base of the flower.

The flowers are 1-2 cms in diameter and come in light yellow, yellow, and orange colors. There is a rare variant with whitish blooms as well.

The fruits of Common wireweed are very interesting, like tiny money bags divided into 4-6 segments, covered with green sepals. As the fruit matures, the color changes from green to deep brown, and the sepals open up to reveal the seeds. Each segment contains a black seed, about 1-2 mm long, and has two tiny horns, making them look like small antlions.

Common wireweed plants are quite sturdy and can propagate really fast. Hence they are considered invasive weeds in many tropical countries, especially in agricultural land where they can choke tiny seedlings.

The best way to remove them is by hand-plucking plants before they bloom and produce seeds. There is another closely related species, Sida rhombifolia which looks very similar except for the shorter, rhomboid, or diamond-shaped leaves.

Though they are considered invasive, Common wireweeds have some medicinal uses, in the treatment of fever, indigestion, abscesses, wounds, ulcers, sores, headaches, tooth pain, and digestive disorders.

Fiber from the stem is quite strong and is used to make ropes and fishnets. Stems and young twigs are used to make crude brooms, giving the plant its name Broom weed.

Propagation is through seeds.