Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Fl. trop. Afr. 1: 81 (1868).
Capparaceae (APG: Brassicaceae)
Spiderplant (En). Musambe (Po). Mgagani (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Cleome hirta occurs from Ethiopia and Somalia through eastern and central Africa to southern Africa and has occasionally been introduced in western tropical Africa and Madagascar.
In DR Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and perhaps elsewhere in its distribution area, Cleome hirta is consumed as a vegetable. The young shoots and leaves are collected, wilted, chopped, boiled, mixed with other vegetables (e.g. peas or amaranth) or used alone when more preferred vegetables are not available, and eaten with a staple food. Sometimes clarified butter (‘ghee’) is added to improve the palatability. The leaves are taken to reduce hypertension and boiled roots and leaves are used to cure measles.
There is no information on the nutritive composition of Cleome hirta, but it is probably comparable to the better known and more widely used Cleome gynandra L.
Erect annual or short-lived perennial, sticky herb with a bad smell, up to 180 cm tall; stem striate, sparingly to strongly branched, densely covered with glands. Leaves alternate, digitately 5–9-foliolate; petiole up to 9 cm long; leaflets linear-elliptical, 1–9 cm × 1–5 mm, glandular hairy, decreasing in size upwards. Inflorescence a terminal raceme 10–30(–40) cm long; bracts similar to small leaves but sessile, usually 3–5-foliolate. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4-merous; pedicel up to 1.8 cm long; sepals narrowly lanceolate, 4–12 mm long, glandular pubescent; petals oblong-oblanceolate, up to 2 cm × 4 mm, distinctly clawed at the base for about one third of length, pink to purplish with yellow zone across the middle; stamens usually 10–12, filaments slender, up to 2.5 cm long, subequal, glandular pubescent at base; ovary superior, 1 -celled, linear-cylindrical, stalked, glandular pubescent, style 2 mm long, stigma subcapitate. Fruit a cylindrical capsule 6–16 cm × 3–4 mm, stalked up to 2 cm, glandular pubescent, dehiscing with 2 valves. Seeds discoid, 2–2.5 mm in diameter, dark brown, with fine longitudinal striations and pronounced transverse ridges.
Cleome comprises 150–200 species, with the majority in tropical America, whereas about 50 are known from tropical Africa. It is classified in the subfamily Cleomoideae, sometimes considered as a separate family Cleomaceae. Cleome allamanii Chiov. is found in Ethiopia and Kenya, restricted to the surroundings of Lake Turkana on sandy and rocky localities. It resembles Cleome hirta, but is a smaller herb. Its leaves are similarly used as a vegetable. In southern Africa, Cleome maculata (Sond.) Szyszyl., known from Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, is also eaten as a cooked vegetable. It is also a small herb, up to 30 cm tall, often growing as a weed on disturbed sandy soil.
Cleome hirta occurs in deciduous woodland, dry savanna grassland and on sandy plains. It is also a weed of roadsides, disturbed soils and farmland, from sea-level up to 1800 m altitude. The annual rainfall in the distribution area is usually lower than 700 mm but may be up to 1700 mm.
Cleome hirta is only collected from the wild, mainly in the early rainy season, and not cultivated. Propagation is possible by seed and cultivation is probably easy, similar to Cleome gynandra.
Genetic resources and breeding
Cleome hirta is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.
Cleome hirta will remain a minor vegetable collected from the wild, mostly of importance when other vegetables are scarce. Its nutritional and medicinal properties need investigation.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Cleome hirta (Klotzsch) Oliv. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.