As a green leafy vegetable, Pohpohan is one of the underutilized vegetables in Indonesia.   Pohpohan is one of the favorite menus for peoples in West Java. Even Pohpohan also often available at Sundanese restaurants. Pohpohan has usually eaten fresh as Lalab. The leaves have an astringent flavor and a menthol aroma with a fresh sensation when we eat them.

Classification

  • Kingdom    :  Plantae
  • Phylum       :  Tracheophyta
  • Class           :  Magnoliopsida
  • Order          :  Rosales
  • Family         :  Urticaceae
  • Genus         :  Pilea
  • Species       :  Pilea sp

As with other genera in the family Urticaceae, there are many synonyms of a single species. It is confusing to identify. In scientific publications distribute in Indonesia, generally, the publications use two scientific names, Pilea melastomoides and Pilea trinervia. Until now, it seems that not many researchers have an interest in exploring further the diversity of Pohpohan in Indonesia. So far, only a few publications have been found reporting Pohpohan’s diversity exploration.

Description   

In general, Pohpohan grows in humid areas and not exposed to direct sunlight. Most species grow in medium to highland forests. Until now, personally, I have only found one species that grows in the lowlands. This plant is a perennial herb that can reach 2 meters in height. Pohpohan grows upright, monoecious, or dioecious herbaceous. Robust or subshrubs, stoloniferous, glabrous. succulent distally, woody at base, swollen between nodes, upper internodes shorter.

Distribution

The distribution of Pohpohan is very broad. Starting from India, China, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, to Papua New Guinea. In Indonesia. Actually Pohpohan can be found in Sumatra, Java, Nusa Tenggara, and Papua. However, currently, Pohpohan as a vegetable is only common in West Java

green leafy vegetable
Distribution of Pohpohan one of green leafy vegetable

How many species of Pohpohan are there in Indonesia?

Even though it is a favorite vegetable, this Pohpohan is still an underutilized vegetable. No intensive cultivation efforts have been made. Even studies to explore the edible genus Pilea are still very limited. Currently, almost all publications only focus on two species names, namely Pilea melastomoides and Pilea trinervia. In some reports, states that these two species are synonyms only.

Because of the many synonyms of this species, finally trying to browse the literature and research reports on the results of the researchers’ studies. In fact, there is one interesting publication by Alex K. Monro that appears in the American Journal of Botany 93 (3): 426–441. 2006. Alex tried to identify it by combining morphological data and molecular data using two conserve genes (trnL-F cpDNA, ITS nrDNA) in the genus Pilea. As a result, Pilea melastomoides and Pilea trinervia are indeed two different species, not synonymous.

Ocshe in the Indische Groenten book has reported that there are at least 2 species of Pohpohan in Indonesia, namely Pilea melastomoides and Pilea glaberrima. However, from experience during my exploration, up to now, at least 5 species have been found. All species are edible and have a distinctive base taste and aroma. However, it seems that with the high diversity that exists, there may be other species. However, this still needs scientific proof.

What are the differences between the 5 species?

Although the shape is very similar, especially the shape of the leaves and the arrangement of the branches, in fact, 5 species of Pohpohan can be distinguished easily based on the leaves shapes, the presence of anthocyanine in the petioles, young stem, and the color of young leaves.

1. Pilea trinervia

The distinctive character of this species is the broad leaves with reddish petioles. As same as Pilea melastomoides, this species is also found in the highlands. However, the astringent aroma is moderate and the taste is not very strong. In fact, this species is the common Pohpohan as a green leafy vegetable which described in many publications.

green leafy vegetable
Pilea trinervia

2. Pilea melastomoides (Syn. Pilea oreophila)

This species has wide and slightly wavy leaves, green leaf color, but green stems without any anthocyanins. Has a strong astringent aroma and a fresher taste. so this species is most suitable for green leafy vegetable as Lalab. Currently, this species is abundant in the wet forests of Mount Gede Pangrango and Mount Salak, but may also be found in other highland forests in West Java.

Pohpohan Pilea melastomoides
Pilea melastomoides redrawing from Ocshe (1931)

3. Pilea glaberrima (Syn. Pilea smilacifolia)

The leaves are slightly tapered with smooth leaf sides. Smaller leaf size compared to P. melastomoides. This species has a moderate astringent aroma compared to other species.

Pohpohan Pilea glaberrima
Pilea glaberrima redrawing from Ocshe (1931)

4. Pilea pumila

In short, this species can be found in lowland forests in West Java. Has a smaller leaf size, with green petiole and serrated leaf edges. The astringent aroma is not too strong, but the base taste is still fresh and delicious to eat raw as lalab

green leafy vegetable
Pilea pumila

5. Pilea rotinduculata

This species has a distinctive color. Reddish shoots, young leaves, and stems are also reddish in color. Reddish petiole. Shiny tapered leaves with flat edges. The astringent scent is not too strong, but it is still delicious to make Lalab.

green leafy vegetable
Pilea rotinduculata

Utilization

Most of the Pohpohan species are very well known as a fresh green leafy vegetable. Especially in West Java. You can find Pohpohan easily in Sundanese restaurants spread across Jakarta and West Java. The distinctive aroma and taste make this Pohpohan always refreshing when consumed. The use of Pohpohan as fresh vegetables has been going on for a long time and is also recorded in the Indische Groenten book. Although this Pohpohan is also abundant in the Gunung Slamet Forest, Central Java, it seems that the people living around it do not really use it as vegetables / lalab.

References

  • Alex K. Monro. 2006.  The Revision Of Species-Rich Genera: A Phylogenetic Framework For The Strategic Revision Of Pilea (Urticaceae) Based On CP-DNA, NR-DNA, And Morphology.  American Journal of Botany 93(3): 426–441. 2006.
  • Ochse J.J.  1931. Indische Groenten.  Department Landbouw, Nijverheid en Handel, Buitenzorg (1931)
  • Sopiana et. Al..  2018.  Similarity and Production Potential of Pohpohan (Pilea trinervia Wight.) Landraces from Several Areas in West Java.  J. Agron. Indonesia, April 2018, 46(1):81-88

Muryanto Paiman

always love to learn from nature.  Passionate on studying plants in some aspects: the DNA, Identification, propagation, and their uses

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