Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Legum. Trop. Africa 2: 304 (1929).
Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Origin and geographic distribution
Smithia elliotii is recorded from Nigeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Madagascar.
In Malawi the leaves of Smithia elliotii are cooked and eaten as a side dish. The leaflets are separated from the rachis and cooked with the addition of potash. The cooked product is so slippery that most of it runs back into the dish when a lump of porridge is dipped in; hence it goes a long way. The dish is frequently eaten by women and children and is prepared especially for babies and invalids. Vegetable use has been recorded from DR Congo as well, but no details have been published.
Decumbent herb up to 180 cm long. Leaves alternate, paripinnate with 10–28 leaflets; stipules with a basal extension, up to 3.5 cm long; petiole 2–5 mm long, rachis 1.5–5.5 cm long; leaflets linear-oblong, 3–15 mm × 1–5 mm, base obliquely rounded, apex rounded to acute, apiculate. Inflorescence umbellate, 1–1.5 cm long, dense, up to 12-flowered; bracts early caducous. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous; calyx c. 1 cm long, covered with yellow bristles; corolla purplish, standard c. 1 cm long. Fruit a pod with 4–7 segments, each segment 2–3 mm long and wide.
Smithia comprises about 30 species, most of them from Asia and Madagascar. Smithia erubescens (E.Mey.) Baker f. is restricted to South Africa and Swaziland and records for this species from tropical Africa refer to either Smithia elliotii or to Smithia abyssinica (A.Rich.) Verdc., an Ethiopian endemic.
Smithia elliotii is found in coarse grassland in glades, along streams and in swamps, sometimes even growing in standing water, at 1150–2700 m altitude.
Smithia elliotii leaves are collected from the wild, and they are commonly sold in local markets in Malawi. There are no recent records on cultivation.
Genetic resources and breeding
The risk of genetic erosion is limited because Smithia elliotii is widely distributed and not uncommon.
Smithia elliotii will remain of interest as a vegetable only locally.
• Verdcourt, B., 2000. Leguminosae (Papilionoideae: Desmodieae, Psoraleeae & Aeschynomeneae). In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 3, part 6. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 175 pp.
• Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp. (Reprint: Williamson, J., 1975. Useful plants of Malawi. University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi).
• Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
• Gillett, J.B., Polhill, R.M., Verdcourt, B., Schubert, B.G., Milne-Redhead, E., & Brummitt, R.K., 1971. Leguminosae (Parts 3–4), subfamily Papilionoideae (1–2). In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 1108 pp.
• Thulin, M., 1989. Fabaceae (Leguminosae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3. Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 49–251.
Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Smithia elliotii Baker f. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.