Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Beitr. Amarantac.: 77, no 2 (1825).
Digera arvensis Forssk. (1775), Digera alternifolia (L.) Asch. (1867), Digera angustifolia Suess. (1950).
Origin and geographic distribution
Digera muricata is widespread in eastern tropical Africa (from Sudan and Ethiopia south to Tanzania), Madagascar and tropical and subtropical Asia (from Yemen to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Indonesia).
Leaves and young shoots of Digera muricata are locally used as a vegetable, e.g. in Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya) and in India. In Kenya they are particularly popular as a cooked vegetable amongst coastal tribes. In India the leaves are made into curries or the entire plant is boiled in water and seasoned with salt and chilli. Sometimes Digera muricata is considered a famine food.
The flowers are rich in nectar which is sometimes sucked by children in Kenya. The whole plant is also commonly grazed as a forage, particularly by sheep and goats. In Senegal Digera muricata is used internally against digestive system disorders and in India seeds and flowers are used to treat urinary disorders.
Annual herb up to 70 cm tall; stem simple or branched, subglabrous, ridged. Leaves alternate, simple; petiole up to 5 cm long; blade linear to ovate, 1–9 cm × 0.2–5 cm, base narrowed, apex acuminate, margin entire, subglabrous. Inflorescence a long-pedunculate (up to 14 cm long), axillary, spike-like bracteate raceme up to 30 cm long, each bract subtending a subsessile partial inflorescence with a central fertile flower and 2 sterile lateral flowers. Fertile flower with 2 firm, boat-shaped outer perianth segments 3–5 mm long and 2–3 inner, slightly shorter, hyaline segments; stamens usually 5, free or slightly connate at base; ovary superior, 1 -celled, style filiform, up to 4 mm long, stigmas 2, divergent; lateral flowers consisting of accrescent antler-shaped scales. Fruit a subglobose, hard, indehiscent nutlet c. 2 mm in diameter, ridged, enclosed by the persistent perianth and falling together with the sterile flowers and bracteoles.
Digera comprises only 1 species. Based on the venation of the outer tepals 2 subspecies of Digera muricata have been distinguished: subsp. muricata with outer tepals 7–12-veined, mainly occurring in Asia, but also in eastern Africa and Madagascar, and subsp. trinervis C.C.Towns. with outer tepals 3–5-veined, mainly occurring in Africa. Based on hairiness of leaves and on form of scales in sterile flowers, several varieties have been distinguished in subsp. trinervis, of which var. patentipilosa C.C.Towns. seems most suitable as a leafy vegetable because it has large leaves.
Digera muricata is most common on disturbed and waste ground, but occurs in many kinds of habitat, from dry savanna and semi-desert to moist localities on deep clay and mud soils, from sea-level up to 1500 m altitude. It also occurs as a weed in fields, sometimes being troublesome.
Digera muricata is usually collected from the wild although in parts of Ethiopia (Konso region) and India it is also cultivated as a leaf vegetable and sold on local markets.
Genetic resources and breeding
Digera muricata is widespread and not in danger of genetic ersosion.
Digera muricata will most probably remain a leaf vegetable of only local importance.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Digera muricata (L.) Mart. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.