Armwe (Pipturus argenteus - Urticaceae)

Description: Armwe is a native shrub or small tree that grows to heights of 5-7 m (15-20 ft). It belongs to Urticaceae, the nettle family, which includes several species with stinging hairs. The hairs of some species contain a mild poison which can cause blisters and pain that may last for several days. Armwe is not one of these poisonous nettle plants. It has broad, soft leaves with distinct venation and small fleshy fruits.

Distribution: Armwe is indigenous to the Marshall Islands. It is found rather commonly on the outskirts of forested areas and in clearings.

Uses: Armwe is useful for medicinal and other purposes. Fiber is extracted from the main branches of this woody plant and used to make handicrafts such as a Marshallese fan. The bark of this tree furnishes strong strands useful for fishing line. Before metal nails were available, fiber from this native plant yielded sturdy cordage to bind together building materials and canoe parts. Brooms were also fashioned from armwe. Water mixed with boiled leaves was used as a hygienic bath to cure fungus or other skin problems of children. Pounded roots mixed with water are also sometimes still used to make a medicinal drink for diarrhoea and for coughs. Armwe leaves provide feed for pigs. Branches of this tree are also said to attract live cowries (marine invertebrates with attractive shells) when placed under a rock in the sea.



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