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Cleome gynandra L.

Protologue
Sp. pl. 2: 671 (1753).
Family
Capparaceae (APG: Brassicaceae)
Chromosome number
2n = 30, 32, 34, 36
Synonyms
Cleome pentaphylla L. (1763), Gynandropsis pentaphylla (L.) DC. (1824), Gynandropsis gynandra (L.) Briq. (1914).
Vernacular names
Spiderplant, cat’s whiskers, spider flower, bastard mustard (En). Caya blanc, br่de caya, mouzamb้ (Fr). Musambe (Po). Mgagani, mkabili, mkabilishemsi, mwangani mgange (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
The origin of Cleome gynandra is not known. There are claims that it has a southern Asian origin, but others suggest that it originates from Africa or Central America. Cleome gynandra occurs throughout the tropics and subtropics. In Africa, it is mainly found near human settlements, possibly escapes from earlier introductions. It occurs probably in all countries of tropical Africa.
Uses
The tender leaves, young shoots and occasionally flowers are eaten boiled as potherb, relish, stew or side dish. The leaves are utilized in fresh form or dried as powder. Sometimes the leaves are bitter and then cooked with milk and/or with other leafy vegetables such as cowpea leaves, amaranth, nightshades (Solanum spp.) and Cleome monophylla L. In other areas the leaves are boiled and the cooking water is discarded. In several countries, pounded groundnut paste (peanut butter) is added to improve the flavour. The leaves may be blanched, made into small balls and sun- or air-dried. This is a popular product in southern Africa, which finds a ready market when available during the rainy season. These balls or leaf powder can be stored up to a year and are soaked in water before being used in cooking. The seeds may be used as a substitute for mustard.
In several communities, boiled spiderplant leaves are traditionally given to mothers before and after delivery of a child, and in other situations where blood has been lost, e.g. to warriors. Similarly, an infusion of the leaves is used to treat anaemia. The leaves and seeds are used medicinally as rubefacient and vesicant, and to treat rheumatism, externally as well as internally. An infusion of the roots is used as a medicine for chest pain, the leaves to treat diarrhoea. Spiderplant seeds thrown in water can kill fish, which then float to the surface. The glands on the stems and leaves have insect repellent properties; cabbage and related crops intercropped with spiderplant suffer less from diamond back moth larvae. Similarly, in French bean intercropped with spiderplant, the beans are less affected by flower thrips and are therefore of better quality for export.
The seeds are used to feed birds. The seed contains an edible polyunsaturated oil, which is extracted by simple pressing and does not need refining. The seed cake can be used as animal food.
Production and international trade
Especially in East and southern Africa, spiderplant is sold in rural and in urban markets during the rainy season. So far only limited quantities are produced under irrigation but there are signs in a number of countries that this is about to change, now that seed of improved cultivars is commercially available. In urban centres, it is becoming increasingly popular with demand frequently surpassing supply. Some limited cross-border trade takes place of the dried produce, e.g. from Zimbabwe to Botswana. No statistical data are available.
Properties
The composition of Cleome gynandra per 100 g edible portion is: water 86.6 g (83.3–89.6), energy 142 kJ (34 kcal), protein 4.8 g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrate 5.2 g, fibre 1.2 g, Ca 288 mg, P 111 mg, Fe 6.0 mg, ascorbic acid 13 mg (Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968).
The seeds contain the glucosinolates cleomin and glucocapparin, and an acrid volatile oil comparable with mustard oil. The essential oil is also present in the leaves, and is responsible for the odour and flavour of the vegetable. In Kenya Cleome gynandra was shown to exhibit repellent and acaricidal properties to larvae, nymphs and adults of the ticks Rhipicephalus appendiculatus and Amblyomma variegatum, indicating a potential for tick control. Carvacrol was one of the most repellent compounds of the essential oil.
There are also reports of anti-HIV and antibacterial activities of spiderplant, and of inhibition of the growth of the mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus. The presence of glucosinolates, which have irritant properties in contact with the skin, explains the use of spiderplant as an antirheumatic and counter-irritant in traditional medicine.
Description
Erect annual herb up to 150 cm tall, strongly branched, with long taproot and few secondary roots; stem densely glandular. Leaves alternate, palmately compound with (3–)5(–7) leaflets; stipules absent; petiole 2–10 cm long, glandular; leaflets almost sessile, obovate to elliptical or lanceolate, 2–10 cm ื 1–4 cm, cuneate at base, rounded to obtuse, acute or acuminate at apex, margins finely toothed, sparsely to distinctly hairy. Inflorescence a terminal raceme up to 30 cm long, bracteate. Flowers bisexual, white or tinged with purple; pedicel 1.5–2.5 cm long; sepals 4, free, ovate to lanceolate, up to 8 mm long; petals 4, elliptical to obovate, up to 1.5 cm long, clawed; androgynophore 1–1.5 cm long; stamens 6, purple; ovary superior, stalked, 2-celled. Fruit a long, narrow, cylindrical capsule up to 12 cm ื 1 cm, stalked and beaked, usually green or yellow, dehiscing from below with 2 valves, many-seeded. Seeds subglobose, 1–1.5 mm in diameter, grey to black, irregularly ribbed. Seedling with oblong cotyledons; first leaves 3-foliolate.
Other botanical information
Cleome comprises 150–200 species, about 50 of them occurring in Africa. It is classified in the subfamily Cleomoideae, sometimes considered as a separate family Cleomaceae. Gynandropsis has been merged with Cleome, as the distinguishing character, i.e. the connection of the staminal base with the gynophore to form an androgynophore, is merely a quantitative character. The spiderplant has a distinct androgynophore with stamens and ovary well beyond the corolla, whereas the other African Cleome species used as vegetable do not have such an androgynophore.
Growth and development
After sowing the first seedlings emerge after 6–8 days. However, germination is erratic, occurring over an extended period. Dormancy is much reduced some 6 months after the seeds have dried, and after 12 months most seeds germinate readily. Initial seedling growth is slow, especially when night temperatures are low. A deep root system is apparently formed first, later followed by foliage development. The highest growth rate occurs 5–6 weeks after germination. The leaves display strong circadian movements, which follow the direction of the sun. These movements are stronger at high light intensity and temperature. Like amaranths, spiderplant has a C4 cycle showing highly efficient photosynthesis under favourable conditions of temperature, soil moisture and light. Apical dominance is usually weak, as auxiliary buds start breaking between the second and third week of plant growth but there is considerable variation in this character with some plants having few branches only. Plants tend to start flowering 4–6 weeks after germination, usually when 60–90 cm tall; stress can trigger flowering even at the seedling stages. Regular picking and deflowering encourages lateral growth thus extending the harvesting period, which will be helped further by top dressing with a nitrogenous fertilizer and adequate moisture supply. After repeated harvesting the remaining plant will flower for an extended period until the rains stop. During the reproductive stage, which may take up to three months under favourable conditions, vegetative growth declines and leaves become senescent quickly. The fruits dry after a few weeks and dehisce to release dry seeds.
Cleome gynandra is both self- and cross-pollinated. In Venezuela plant populations with either male or female flowers were found. Such populations have not been recorded in Africa. In studies carried out in Zimbabwe in 2001 it was observed that some flowers first develop stamens, others first the pistil. A population has been found with a few plants that show male sterility, producing short anthers that do not shed pollen.
Ecology
Cleome gynandra occurs from sea level up to 2400 m altitude and requires warm conditions; growth is hampered below 15ฐC. It is less common in areas with a very humid climate. It tolerates some drought, but water stress hastens maturity and senescence. It is insensitive to daylength. Spiderplant is found on a wide range of soils, mostly on sandy to clayey loam, provided they are deep and well drained with pH 5.5–7.0. It prefers soils with high organic matter and adequate mineral reserves. Spiderplant is a weed in crops on fertile well-manured soils.
Management
Spiderplants do not form a dense leaf cover, so that weeding is needed especially during the first 6 weeks. Experiments in Tanzania and Zambia have shown that the optimum nitrogen rate as sulphate of ammonia or calcium ammonium nitrate is 120–130 kg/ha, but higher recommendations are also given. After thinning at 3–4 weeks, a top dressing of up to 100 kg/ha of ammonium nitrate is recommended. Nitrogen applications delay the onset of flowering and will thus ensure a longer harvesting period. The crop should be sown with the onset of the rains to ensure adequate moisture during the growing season. In areas with limited rainfall like in Botswana and Namibia, farmers may sow in dry land before the first rains. The usually irregular germination ensures that there is enough seed left for later rains when a long interval between the first and successive rains may kill the first seedlings. Water stress reduces the yield and quality and enhances early senescence. Spiderplant can well be produced in the dry season under irrigation. It requires less water than most other conventional vegetables. Flooding is not tolerated.
Propagation and planting
There are approximately 1250 seeds per g. Traditionally new crops of spiderplant are established spontaneously from natural seed dispersal. This system is gradually being replaced by actual farming, whereby the seeds are sown directly in a well-prepared seedbed either on flat land or on ridges or beds. The seeds are very small and therefore mixed with dry sand at a ratio of 1:10. This mixture is either broadcast or drilled in rows spaced at 30–60 cm. Deep sowing should be avoided because it hampers germination. Seedlings emerge after 4–8 days. Thinning is done 3 weeks later to leave 10–20 cm between the plants when sown in lines or 25–30 cm in each direction when broadcast. The thinned plants are usually consumed. Transplanting is only possible at the very early stage because young seedlings have a taproot with few lateral roots. Transplanting at 30 cm is reported from C๔te d’Ivoire. In Zimbabwe, raising seedlings in plastic trays has been investigated with encouraging results.
Some farmers, e.g. in Uganda, sow a mixture of spiderplant with amaranth and one of the nightshade (Solanum) species by broadcasting the seeds, and harvest the fastest growing crop first, leaving more space for the others, which will be harvested during the following weeks.
Diseases and pests
The main fungal diseases are powdery mildew (Sphaerotheca fuliginea, Oidiopsis taurica) and leaf spot (Cercospora uramensis). Cabbage aphid (Brevicoryne brassicae) is a serious pest causing stunted growth and wrinkling of the leaves and growing tips; it possibly spreads virus diseases. This aphid has recently caused total crop failure in Tanzania. The hurricane bug (Bagrada spp.) may similarly affect spiderplant; the attacks are more prevalent during dry periods, but can be effectively controlled with insecticides. Spiderplant can be attacked by many other insects, e.g. pentatomids (Acrosternum gramineum and Agonoselis nubilis) and flea beetles. It is susceptible to root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.).
Young seeds are eaten by weaver birds. Fruits can also harbour insects that consume the young seeds. American bollworms are frequently found inside the fruits. When a crop is grown for leaves and seed, application of insecticides should be considered from the moment that harvesting of leaves has come to an end.
Harvesting
Spiderplant is traditionally picked at the beginning of the rainy season when vegetables are scarce. In cultivation, seedlings are thinned when the plants reach a height of 15 cm, which constitutes the first harvest. When adequate space has been created, the top shoot from the remaining plants will be picked, allowing new side shoots to develop. Some farmers just pick the tender leaves and young shoots whilst others wait for the shoots to grow out and harvest these when they are about 25 cm long. This process of ratoon cropping can be repeated several times. For seed harvesting, the easiest way is to collect fruits before they are fully ripe and to dry them under controlled conditions.
Yield
Cumulative leaf yields of 30 t/ha per season may be attained. Weekly leaf yields increase until about the 7th week of growth and then start to decline. By the 10th week of growth, yields have declined by about 90% and the harvest is stopped. The leaf bitterness increases with age as well. A healthy crop in which two or three pickings of shoots have taken place may subsequently yield up to 500 kg of seed per ha.
Handling after harvest
Spiderplant leaves are delicate and wilt readily when exposed to the sun. It is important to keep them cool and to sprinkle them with fresh water. People in rural areas preserve part of the crop by sun drying. For this purpose, leaves are allowed to wilt a bit before being blanched and spread to dry. In Botswana and Namibia, fresh leaves are cooked for 2 hours with some salt added to remove the bitter flavour. The boiled leaves are kneaded into small balls, which are then dried in the sun. These balls can be stored until the next rainy season. Soaking the balls in water will reconstitute the leaves, after which they can be prepared for a meal in the same way as fresh produce. In Namibia, the processed leaves are marketed as ‘omuvanda’ cakes.
Genetic resources
Studies in Kenya and Zimbabwe indicate that there is significant variation among plant populations for many characteristics. Further studies are needed to determine to what extent these differences are due to climatic, soil fertility or stress conditions. Clearly different populations can be found in the coastal regions of Kenya and Tanzania, with relatively small plants that are much branched and have distinctly dark, almost black, straight and stiff fruits. They appear to be very different from plants encountered elsewhere in Africa, where the fruits are far from stiff and often green or yellow to pale brown. Germplasm collections are maintained in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Breeding
Most farmers use their own local selections. Several seed producers and institutes have made selections from these landraces. The offspring from these selections were found to be rather variable even when self-pollination was applied. AVRDC in Arusha, Tanzania has both a green-stemmed and a purple-stemmed selection and seeds are made available. Similarly, Zambia Seed Company has produced seed for distribution to farmers. In Kenya a cultivar called ‘Saget’ is sold in seed shops and local selections are sold at rural markets. There is clearly scope for further research here. The focus of genetic improvement is on higher leaf yield, plant uniformity, longer vegetative phase and drought tolerance. The leaf yield is highly influenced by the environment and therefore shows low heritability.
Prospects
Spiderplant is a highly appreciated vegetable in many communities in tropical Africa with a good potential for further development. Knowledge of plant breeding and agronomy is still scarce. Also its medicinal properties and use as insect and tick repellent should be investigated further. The seed oil also seems to have potential.
Major references
• Chayamarit, K., 1993. Cleome gynandra L. In: Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 148–150.
• Chweya, J.A. & Mnzava, N.A., 1997. Cat’s whiskers. Cleome gynandra L. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. 11. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben/International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy. 54 pp.
• Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
• Schippers, R.R., 2002. African indigenous vegetables, an overview of the cultivated species 2002. Revised edition on CD-ROM. National Resources International Limited, Aylesford, United Kingdom.
• Windadri, F.I., 2001. Cleome L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 167–171.
Other references
• Abbiw, D.K., 1997. Traditional vegetables in Ghana. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 29–38.
• Chigumira Ngwerume, F., 2000. Survey of literature on mandate vegetable species of the SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre, Lusaka Zambia, occurring in Zimbabwe. Regional Vegetable Crop Working Group Report, May 2000. pp. 98–99.
• Chigumira Ngwerume, F., Mvere, B. & Mhazo, M., 1998. Traditional vegetable improvement project agronomic trials. National Workshop on traditional vegetables and underutilized crops/plants of Zimbabwe. Proceedings of a workshop held at Harare, Zimbabwe, September 17–18, 1998. 66 pp.
• Chweya, J.A., 1997. Genetic enhancement of indigenous vegetables in Kenya. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 86–95.
• Grubben, G.J.H., 1967. Rapport sur les cultures l้gumi่res de la C๔te d’Ivoire. Mission FAO, Abidjan, C๔te d’Ivoire. 81 pp.
• Kemei, J.K., Wataaru, R.K. & Seme, E.N., 1997. The role of the National Genebank of Kenya in the collecting, characterization and conservation of traditional vegetables. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 78–85.
• Kwapata, M.B. & Maliro, M.F., 1997. Indigenous vegetables in Malawi: Germplasm collecting and improvement of production practices. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 132–135.
• Madisa, M.E. & Tshamekang, M.E., 1997. Conservation and utilization of indigenous vegetables in Botswana. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 149–153.
• Malonza, M M., Dipeolu, O.O., Amoo, A.O. & Hassan, S.M., 1992. Laboratory and field observations on anti-tick properties of the plant Gynandropsis gynandra (L.) Briq. Veterinary Parasitology 42(1–2): 123–136.
• Mathenge, L., 1997. Nutritional value and utilization of indigenous vegetables in Kenya. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 76–77.
• Matlhare, T., Tsamekang, E., Taylor, F.W., Oagile, O. & Modise, D.M., 1999. The status of traditional leafy vegetables in Botswana. In: Chweya, J.A. & Eyzaguirre, P.B. (Editors): The biodiversity of traditional vegetables. IPGRI, Rome, Italy. pp. 7–22.
• Mingochi, D.S. & Luchen, S.W.S., 1997. Traditional vegetables in Zambia: genetic resources, cultivation and uses. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 136–141.
• Mirghani, K.A. & El Tahir, I.M., 1997. Indigenous vegetables of Sudan: production, utilization and conservation. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 117–121.
• Mnzava, N.A., 1997. Comparing nutritional values of exotic and indigenous vegetables. In: Schippers, R.R. & Budd, L. (Editors). Proceedings of a Workshop on African Indigenous Vegetables, Limbe, Cameroon, 13–18 January 1997. Natural Resources Institute/IPGRI, Chatham, United Kingdom. pp. 70–75.
• Nkhoma, C.N., Mkamanga, G.Y. & Ruredzo, T.J., 1997. Conservation of traditional vegetable germplasm in the SADC region. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 122–127.
• Rubaihayo, E.B., 1997. Conservation and use of traditional vegetables in Uganda. In: Guarino, L. (Editor). Traditional African vegetables. Proceedings of the IPGRI international workshop on genetic resources of traditional vegetables in Africa: conservation and use, 29–31 August 1995, ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 16. pp. 104–116.
Sources of illustration
• Chayamarit, K., 1993. Cleome gynandra L. In: Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 148–150.
Author(s)
• N.A. Mnzava
OLERIS Consultancy, P.O. Box 1371, Arusha, Tanzania
• F. Chigumira Ngwerume
Horticultural Research Centre, P O Box 810, Marondera, Zimbabwe


Editors
• G.J.H. Grubben
Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
• O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate Editors
• C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, R้sidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
• R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
• R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
• L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Illustrator
• PROSEA
PROSEA Network Office, Herbarium Bogoriense, P.O. Box 234, Bogor 16122, Indonesia
Photo Editor
• E. Boer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Mnzava, N.A. & Chigumira Ngwerume, F., 2004. Cleome gynandra L. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/L้gumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild and planted


flowering and fruiting shoot.
Source: PROSEA



flowering branch


habit (top view)


seed production


fruiting branch


product on the market in Uganda