Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Sp. pl. 2: 831 (1753).
2n = 24, 36, 48, 72
Bidens pilosa L. var. bipinnata (L.) Hook.f. (1881).
Spanish needles, hemlock beggar’s ticks (En). Bident bipenné, herbe aiguille, herbe à aiguilles (Fr). Carrapicho agulha, beijo de moça (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Bidens bipinnata is a widely distributed weedy species in North and South America, Europe and Asia. It is introduced in Africa and known from Cape Verde, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and South Africa.
The young leaves of Bidens bipinnata are occasionally eaten as a vegetable. In southern Africa the young shoots are said to have a piquant flavour and are eaten fresh or dried and stored. It is likely that Bidens bipinnata is often confused with the more widely spread black jack (Bidens pilosa L.) and used instead of the latter and in mixtures. In Sierra Leone the leaves are squeezed over boils and are also eaten to cure them. Bidens bipinnata is widely used in South-East Asia as an emmenagogue, expectorant, stimulant, antidiarrhetic and antispasmodic. It is also used in the treatment of conjunctivitis, asthma, insect stings, wounds, earache and snakebites.
Cattle relish the young plant. However, the abundant volatile oil present in the plant has an unpleasant smell and may taint the milk. In Thailand and Brazil Bidens bipinnata is grown as an ornamental.
Young leaves of Bidens bipinnata have an ascorbic acid content of 40 mg/100 g (Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962). No other nutritional data are available. The composition of the leaves is likely to be very similar to that of the leaves of Bidens pilosa (black jack), for which consumption as a raw vegetable is not recommended because of a high saponin content.
Extracts of Bidens bipinnata show antimalarial activity in vivo. The crude ethanol extract (50 μg/ml) causes up to 70% inhibition of Plasmodium falciparum growth. Phenylacetylenes and flavonoids have been found in the ethanol extract from the leaves and the roots, and the antimalarial activity may be attributed to the presence of the acetylene compounds. Polyacetylenes also have microbial activity. The flowers and stem have shown antibiotic activity against Staphylococcus aureus but not against Escherichia coli.
Annual, erect herb up to 1.5(–2.5) m tall, with 4-angled stems, sometimes densely branched. Leaves opposite, rarely alternate towards the upper part of the plant, bipinnatisect with lower segment often 2–3-cleft or pinnatifid, 11–20 cm long; leaflets with short petiolules, ovate to deltoid or the terminal one lanceolate, margins crenate-serrate. Inflorescence a head 4–7 mm in diameter, arranged in lax cymes; outer involucral bracts 7–10, 3–5 mm long, shorter than the inner ones. Ray flowers 3–5, sterile, corolla 5–6 mm long, yellowish white; disk flowers tubular, bisexual, with 4–5 mm long, yellow corolla. Fruit a linear achene 4–13 mm long, 4 -ribbed, with 2(–4) retrorsely barbed bristles of 2–4 mm long.
The genus Bidens in Africa comprises 63 species. The African species, formerly considered to belong to the genus Coreopsis, are now all placed in Bidens. Bidens bipinnata can be distinguished by its bipinnatisect leaves from the closely related Bidens pilosa and Bidens biternata L., with 3–5-partite leaves and pinnately 5–9-lobed leaves respectively.
The achenes adhere by means of the bristles to the fur of passing animals or clothes of humans, and are widely dispersed in this way.
Bidens bipinnata is found along roadsides and at margins of fields at 450–1400 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Bidens bipinnata, although widespread, is nowhere in Africa very common. As an introduced weedy species, genetic variation is likely to be more important in its native range.
The use as a vegetable will continue to be locally of some importance. The medicinal, especially the antimalarial, properties deserve research attention.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Bidens bipinnata L. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.