West Indian Holly

Turnera ulmifolia


Location in our garden

Section A (Principal)


Shrubs. Herbaceous perennial, with aromatic and densely strigose foliage, grows up to 1.2 m tall. 

Part Used

  • Leaves
  • Roots

Growing Requirements

  • Full Sunshine


  • Rocky Areas
  • Grassland


This plant is native to Mexico, Central America and several islands in the West Indies. It is widely naturalized in Australia, Indonesia, South America, Malaysia, Madagascar, and Oceania; and has been reported as an environmental weed. In the Virgin Islands, it was first collected in 1882 on the island of St. Thomas (US National Herbarium). It has been reported as “abundant” in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Vernacular Names

Chanana (Brazil), Mari-lope (Cuba), Turnera (German), Cuban buttercup (India), Ram-goat dashalong (Jamaica), Caléndula (Mexico), Gujg (USA).


It grows in areas with full sun or partial shade. This species is well-adapted to a variety of soil conditions including alkaline pH and dry sites. Freezing temperatures kill plants to the ground, but warm spring weather brings them back to life. The plant is widely cultivated as an ornamental in the tropics, where it often escapes from cultivation. Prefers a lower limit temperature of 20ºC and upper 35ºC, and mean annual rainfall of 800-2,500 mm.


  • Stem - simple to very branched, woody at the base, cylindrical, brown or reddish in colour.
  • Leaves - clustered toward the tips of the branches, lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate or narrowly elliptic, 4-1× 2-3 (-5) cm, moderately to occasionally sparsely strigillose, margins doubly serrate, petioles 0.8-1.5 cm long,stipules erect, triangular, approximately 1.5 mm long.
  • Flowers - calyx approximately 20 mm long, the tube 5-8 mm long, the lobes lanceolate, apex caudate; petals yellow, sometimes with a brown spot toward base, obovate, 20-35 mm long; ovary ovoid, with 6 small apical tubercles.
  • Fruits - capsules ovoid, 7-8 mm long.
  • Seed - narrowly obovoid, slightly curved, about 2.5 mm long.

Chemical Constituents

Saponins, Polyphenols, Flavonoids, Alkaloids, Tannins and Phenolic compounds.

Traditional Medicinal Uses

  • The leaves are used for treating hair loss and thrush.
  • New laboratory evidence suggests that yellow alder (Turnera ulmifolia) extract may enhance the effects of antibiotics in the treatment of methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a type of bacteria that does not respond to treatment with certain antibiotics, including ampicillin (Principen®) and other penicillins.
  • A tea made from leaves used in traditional medicine in South America and the West Indies to treat gastrointestinal problems (constipation,
    diarrhea), colds and flu, and circulatory problems (heart palpitations), menstrual spasms, and dermatological issues.


  • It is propagated by seed, cuttings, or by division.
  • Best sown the seeds in spring. Cuttings can be rooted any time of the year, roots easily in water or moist sand. Divisions should be taken in spring when new growth emerges.

Snapshot of Part Used

Reference Sources

  1. Brito, N.J.N., Lopez, J.A., and et all. (2012). Antioxidant activity and protective effect of Turnera ulmifolia Linn. var. elegans against carbon tetrachloride-induced oxidative damage in rats. Journal & Books: Food and Chemical Toxicology. V0l 50 (12)(pp.4340-4347)  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027869151200556X. 26-11-2020.
  2. CABI Database. West Indian Holly. Turnera ulmifolia (Passifloraceae).https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/55353#8E7EA70C-90A0-4842. 15-09-2020.
  3. Useful Tropical Plants Database. Turnera ulmifolia. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Turnera+ulmifolia.15-09-2020.
  4. Wiktrop Portal. Turnera ulmifolia L. https://portal.wiktrop.org/species/show/335. 26-11-2020