Scientific Name
Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Schweinf.) B.L.Burtt
Higher Classification
Kaempferia aethiopica (Schweinf.) Benth., Kaempferia ethelae J.M.Wood, Kaempferia natalensis Schltr. & K.Schum., Siphonochilus natalensis (Schltr. & K.Schum.) J.M.Wood & Franks
Common Names
Gemmerhout (a), Indungulu (z), Isiphephetho (z), Natal Ginger (e), Sherungulu (z), Wild Ginger (e), Wildegemmer (a)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Critically Endangered A4acd
Assessment Date
M. Lötter, J.E. Burrows & L. von Staden
The most highly sought-after medicinal plant in South African muthi markets. It is now extinct over most of its former range, with a 90% reduction in extent of occurrence (EOO) over the last 100 years. Numbers remaining in the wild are critically low: subpopulations numbering 4000 individuals or more were common in the past, but at present over 60% of remaining subpopulations consist of fewer than 100 mature individuals. Monitoring of subpopulations in Mpumalanga recorded an 84% decline in only four years. All indications are that harvesting is unsustainable and that this species is rapidly heading towards extinction. It is therefore assessed as Critically Endangered under criterion A.
Not endemic to South Africa
Provincial distribution
KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
This species has gone extinct in KwaZulu-Natal and occurs sporadically from the Letaba catchment in the Limpopo Lowveld to Swaziland. It also occurs in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and northern Ghana.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Granite Lowveld, Crocodile Gorge Mountain Bushveld, Pretoriuskop Sour Bushveld, Tzaneen Sour Bushveld, Legogote Sour Bushveld
It grows in tall open or closed woodland, wooded grassland or bushveld.
The harvesting of underground rhizomes for medicinal purposes has caused extensive decline in this species since the early 1900s, to such an extent that it is now considered to occur only in critically low numbers in the wild. Many publications on medicinal plant trade in South Africa (e.g. Cunningham 1993, Williams et al. 2000) report than this species is now considered among traders as the most scarce of all traded plants.

Thirty-nine known subpopulations could be traced by Crouch et al. (2000), after surveys it was found that only 17 of these were still extant in 2000. Nine subpopulations occurring in Mpumalanga were monitored over a few years by the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency, and they recorded 64% decline in numbers of individuals in just four years. Formerly, subpopulations consisting of over 4000 individuals were recorded. Currently 60% of known extant subpopulations contain less than 100 individuals (Crouch et al. 2000).

Population trend
Conservation of this species in the wild is failing as even protected areas are being stripped of individuals (M. Lötter pers. comm.).
Assessment History
Taxon assessed
Status and Criteria
Citation/Red List version
Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Schweinf.) B.L.BurttCR A4acdRaimondo et al. (2009)
Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Schweinf.) B.L.BurttEN A1cdScott-Shaw (1999)
Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Schweinf.) B.L.BurttNot Threatened Hilton-Taylor (1996)
Kaempferia aethiopica (Schweinf.) Benth.Rare Hall et al. (1980)
Kaempferia natalensis Schltr. & K.Schum.Uncertain Hall et al. (1980)

Crouch, N.R., Lötter, M.C., Krynauw, S. and Pottas-Bircher, C. 2000. Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Zingiberaceae), the prized Indungulu of the Zulu - an overview. Herbertia 55:115-129.

Crouch, N.R., Smith, G.F. and Condy, G. 2003. Siphonochilus aethiopicus. Flowering Plants of Africa 58:56-68.

Cunningham, A.B. 1993. African medicinal plants: setting priorities at the interface between conservation and primary health care. People and Plants working paper 1. UNESCO, Paris.

Gordon-Gray, K.D., Cunningham, A.B. and Nichols, G.R. 1989. Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Zingiberaceae): Observations on floral and reproductive biology. South African Journal of Botany 55(3):281-287.

Hall, A.V., De Winter, M., De Winter, B. and Van Oosterhout, S.A.M. 1980. Threatened plants of southern Africa. South African National Scienctific Programmes Report 45. CSIR, Pretoria.

Hartzell, J.F. 2011. Response of the endangered medicinal plant Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Schweif.) B.L. Burt. to agronomic practices. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

Hilliard, O.M. and Burtt, B.L. 1971. Notes on some plants of Southern Africa chiefly from Natal: II. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 31(1):1-33.

Hilton-Taylor, C. 1996. Red data list of southern African plants. Strelitzia 4. South African National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.

Raimondo, D., von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. and Manyama, P.A. 2009. Red List of South African Plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Scott-Shaw, C.R. 1999. Rare and threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring regions. KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service, Pietermaritzburg.

Smith, R.M. 1998. FSA contributions 11: Zingiberaceae. Bothalia 28(1):35-39.

Williams, V.L., Balkwill, K. and Witkowski, E.T.F. 2000. Unravelling the commercial market for medicinal plants and plant parts on the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Economic Botany 54(3):310-327.

Lötter, M., Burrows, J.E. & von Staden, L. 2022. Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Schweinf.) B.L.Burtt. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version . Accessed on 2024/06/21

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Distribution map

© F. Du Randt

© Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency (M.T.P.A.)

© C. Paterson-Jones

© C. Paterson-Jones

© J.E. Burrows

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