Horgoja or Sea Holly, Acanthus ilicifolius

Horgoja or Sea Holly (Acanthus ilicifolius, family: Acanthaceae) is an evergreen spinous mangrove shrub with semi-woody base and shallow tap-roots, attaining a height of 3 m. Its green stems and branches have dark brown spots. Stems, as well as leaves, have long strong spines. In the urge of life it is sometimes seen to produce stilt roots. They live together like colonies in the brackish mud of the sea. The salt-tolerant plant can be found throughout the mangrove-habitated Southern coasts of Bangladesh. The armed plant is also found in South and Southeast Asian countries, like Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, China, Philippines, Malaysia and in Northern Australia and Polynesia.

Other names: Hargoja, Horkuch kata (Bangla), Holly-leaved Acanthus, Holly Mangrove (Eng), Harikush (Sans).

Having unusual pattern and vigorous, acute spines the leaves may remind us of the leaves of Creeping thistle (Cricus arvensis). These are strange, crooked, shiny green and unevenly multi-lobed; 6-12 cm long and 3-6 cm wide, short-petioled, opposite. The tip of each lobe bears a sharp spine. There are also two spines on either side of the leaf-base. Although its young leaves have no spines at all.    

Bisexual flowers are blue or lilac, 3-4 cm long with 3 bracts. The surprising fact is, it flower has only one petal that curved backward and slightly bifid at the tip.  Inflorescence Multi-branched, terminal or axillary; 8-10 cm long. Each Inflorescence bears almost 20 pairs of flowers. 

Fruits are capsule, oval-shaped, 1.5-3 cm long. These are green in color when raw, and shiny brown when ripe. These are dehiscent, 4-seeded. During bursting, seeds can be dispersed up to 2 meters away. Propagation of the plant is caused by seeds and cuttings. 

Leaves, stem, and roots are used as a treatment for paralysis, neuralgia, coughs, asthma, leucorrhoea, chronic fevers etc. Somewhere in Southern Bangladesh, it is used as medicine of mouth sore and asthma. The people of the Sundarbans region of West Bengal use its roots mixed with boiled mustard oil in paralysis. The decoction of the plant is consumed to increase breast milk and to remove cough. The plant can be used in bites of insects, animals as well as snakebites. Stem-ashes of the plant is used as soap. It is known to have many mundane uses in the ancient medicinal scriptures of China and India.

Sometimes the base of the mature plants' stem can be quite swollen and that can strike some fear into the minds of somebody. Root sap is salty. Excess salt taken up through the roots is excreted through the leaves, which is then carried away by wind or water. However, sometimes, this salt is seen on leaf blades. By the by, Its original Sanskrit name 'Harikush' evolved into Bangla 'Horgoja' or 'Hargoja'.

Synonyms: Acanthus doloarius, Acanthus neoguineensis, Dilivaria ilicifolia.


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