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Cleome hirta (Klotzsch) Oliv.

Fl. trop. Afr. 1: 81 (1868).
Capparaceae (APG: Brassicaceae)
Vernacular names
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.
Major references
• Codd, L.E., Kers, L.E., Killick, D.J.B., Tölken, H.R. & Marsh, J.A., 1970. Capparaceae. In: Codd, L.E., de Winter, B., Killick, D.J.B. & Rycroft, H.B. (Editors). Flora of southern Africa. Volume 13. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agricultural Technical Services, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa. pp. 118–177.
• Elffers, J., Graham, R.A. & Dewolf, G.P., 1964. Capparidaceae. In: Hubbard, C.E. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 88 pp.
• Katende, A.B., Ssegawa, P. & Birnie, A., 1999. Wild food plants and mushrooms of Uganda. Technical Handbook No 19. Regional Land Management Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 490 pp.
• Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
Other references
• Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
• Fici, S., Thulin, M. & Kers, L.E., 1993. Capparaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 1. Pteridophyta; Gymnospermae; Angiospermae (Annonaceae-Fabaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. pp. 37–60.
• Hauman, L. & Wilczek, R., 1951. Capparidaceae. In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 2. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 454–521.
• Kers, L.E., 2000. Capparidaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 74–120.
• Maundu, P.M., Ngugi, G.W. & Kabuye, C.H.S., 1999. Traditional food plants of Kenya. Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), Nairobi, Kenya. 270 pp.
• Oliver, D., 1868. Capparidaceae. In: Oliver, D. (Editor). Flora of tropical Africa. Volume 1. L. Reeve & Co, Ashford, United Kingdom. pp. 73–101.
• Schippers, R.R., 2000. African indigenous vegetables. An overview of the cultivated species. Natural Resources Institute/ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Chatham, United Kingdom. 214 pp.
• Wild, H. & Conçalves, M.L., 1973. Capparaceae. In: Fernandes, A. (Editor). Flora de Moçambique. No 12. Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, Lisbon, Portugal. 64 pp.
• Wild, H., 1960. Capparidaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 195–245.
P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

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, Résidence 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

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.