Desmanthus pernambucanus

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Bipinnate leaves.

Pods and seeds.

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Scientific name

Desmanthus pernambucanus (L.) Thellung

Many references to Desmanthus virgatus , even in recent literature, actually refer to D. pernambucanus .
Turner (1950) regarded Desmanthus virgatus as an all-encompassing species, comprising D. virgatus , D. pubescens , D. pernambucanus , D. glandulosus and D. leptophyllus .  Despite taxonomic revision by Luckow (1993) that resolved the complex to distinct species, many authors continued to refer to all species as D. virgatus in the literature until the late 1990s.  Correct nomenclature is now generally used.


Acuan bahamense Britton & Rose
Desmanthus diffusus Willd.
Desmanthus strictus Bertol.
Desmanthus virgatus (L.) Willd. var. strictus (Bertol.) Griseb.
Mimosa pernambucana L.


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Mimosoideae tribe: Mimoseae. Also placed in: Mimosaceae.

Common names

anil, jureminha (Brazil);  slender mimosa, dwarf koa, (USA - Hawai’i);  desmanthus, donkey bean, hedge lucerne, wild-tantan, bundleflower, desmanto, acacia courant, acacia savane, pompon blanc, carboncillo, timbe, timbre.

Morphological description

Erect to decumbent perennial shrubs, mostly 0.5–1.5 (–2.5) m tall, little branched from the base.  Plants short-lived, mostly dying after 2–5 years.  Young stems angled, red or green with golden corky ridges, sparsely pubescent, pithy centre.  Leaves bipinnate, 4–11 cm long, long, sparsely pubescent;  pinnae 2–4 (–6) pairs, 15–54 mm long;  elliptical nectary (gland), 1–3 mm wide on the rachis between the lowest pair of pinnae;  9–21 pairs of oblong to linear pinnules, 5–11 mm long and 1.5–3.5 mm wide, exhibiting nyctinastic leaf movement.  Axillary, whitish, mimosoid flower heads, about 10 mm long, comprising 8–13 florets.  Pods narrow, linear, straight, 4.5–8.5 cm long, 3.2–3.9 mm wide, borne singly or in clusters of up to 7;  dark brown at maturity, tip mostly acute (rarely beaked);  dehiscent along both sutures.  Seeds dark brown, 2.4–3.2 mm long, 1.9–2.4 mm wide, 13–22 per pod .  210,000–260,000 seeds/kg.


Native to:
Caribbean:  Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Cuba, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Hispaniola, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St Kitts, Tobago, Trinidad, the Virgin Islands.
South America:  Guyana, Surinam, north-east Brazil.
Found in moist roadsides, ditches and abandoned pastures;  also common in costal thickets, and along edges of marshes at altitudes from sea level to 1,500 m (most commonly at <500 m asl ).

Naturalised in:
Pacific and Indian Ocean Islands, eastern Australia, southern Africa, south-east Asia, USA (Florida).
Most widely naturalised species of what was formally known as  D. virgatus .


Protein banks, hedgerows, green manure, soil cover crop.  Not well suited to mixed pasture.  Also not good for hay due to leaf drop.  Can be used for leaf meal.  Has been shown to be an efficient nursery-stage host for sandalwood (Santalum album L.).


Soil requirements

Occurs naturally on sandy, rocky, limestone and saline soils.  In cultivation, has grown well on a wide range of soils, from clays and hard setting clay loams, including duplex podzolics, to sandy soils, with pH values ranging from 5–8, with best performance on near neutral to alkaline soils with a relatively high Ca++ saturation.  Salt tolerant, growing into tidal zone in some Pacific islands.  In these situations, it does not spread from the coralline strand to the adjacent very acid soils of the centre of the island.


Rainfall in native coastal habitats ranges from 1,000–2,000 mm/yr.  Some inland collections have been made where rainfall is as low as 420 mm/yr, with pronounced dry season.  Grows in moist roadside situations, ditches, and abandoned pastures;  also common in coastal thickets and along the edges of marshes.  Successful in cultivation in areas with rainfall from 700 to >3,000 mm/yr.  Moderately tolerant of poor drainage.  Generally, not as drought -hardy as D. leptophyllus .


Found between the Tropics, from sea level to 1,500 m asl .  Green tissue killed by frost, but regrows from old wood and to some extent from the base.


Not very shade tolerant.

Reproductive development

Flowers throughout the year, with peaks from October to March in the northern hemisphere and August to January in the southern hemisphere.  Flowers 45–50 days after cutting.


Not usually thought of as being suitable for heavy grazing  because of brittle, pithy stems.  For cut-and-carry, should be trimmed initially some 90–120 days after establishment, to encourage branching.  Once the framework is developed, it can be cut every 35–45 days at 30–60 cm.  Higher yields but more lignin by cutting at less frequent intervals.


No information available.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


There are usually high levels of hard seed.  For experimental purposes, treatment with concentrated sulphuric acid for 8 minutes followed by thorough washing is sufficient to scarify the seed.  For larger samples, mechanical scarification is necessary.  A sowing rate of 2–5 kg/ha is adequate, 1–1.5 cm deep.  D. pernambucanus may be more promiscuous than other Desmanthus spp., but seed should be inoculated with an appropriate strain of Bradyrhizobium such as CB 3126.


No information available.

Compatibility (with other species)

Successful in hedgerows because not as tall as other hedgerow species such as Desmodium cinereum .  Normally not planted in mixture with grass, but could establish grass between rows of D. pernambucanus .  Too intolerant of shade to plant under trees.

Companion species

Grasses:  Panicum maximum x P. infestum, Brachiaria decumbens , B. brizantha .
Legumes:  Stylosanthes hamata , Clitoria ternatea .

Pests and diseases

Attacked in Australia by a psyllid , Acizzia sp., which strongly resembles the leucaena psyllid (Heteropsylla cubana).  This causes distortion and chlorosis of the young growth, and although weakening, does not kill the plant.  There are no other serious pests or diseases recorded.

Ability to spread

D. pernambucanus is extensively naturalised beyond its native distribution including Mauritius, Fiji, Hawaii, New Caledonia and India, suggesting a sound capacity for spread, favoured by copious seed production.

Weed potential

Considered weedy in Timor and some Pacific Islands.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

CP content of edible dry matter from 11–16%.  Leaves >20% CP , 0.8% Ca, and 0.2% P.  There is some question as to its value for feeding pigs.


Eaten by all classes of livestock, but not as palatable as Leucaena leucocephala .  Grazing cattle will generally select companion grasses in preference to Desmanthus spp. over the growing season , but Desmanthus spp. are generally well accepted.  However, D. pernambucanus is most suited to cut-and-carry feeding systems and is well accepted by stall-fed ruminants.


No toxicities to ruminant livestock were reported in the literature. Desmanthus spp. do not cause bloat in ruminants because they contain 2–3% (of total DM as tannic acid equivalent) condensed tannins.

Production potential

Dry matter

Yields of up to 38 t/ha DM recorded, but more commonly in the range of 10–20 t/ha DM.

Animal production

When fed as a supplement to cattle, can raise average daily liveweight gain by >65%.


2n = 28.  An analysis of 284 accessions representing 11 species of Desmanthus using RAPD markers indicated that the non-American D. pernambucanus germplasm probably originated from Brazil.

Seed production

No information available.

Herbicide effects

No information available.



Selected references

Burt, R.L. (1993) Desmanthus: a tropical and subtropical forage legume . Part 1. General Review. Herbage Abstracts, 63, 401–413.
Jones, R.M. and Brandon, N.J. (1998) Persistence and productivity of eight accessions of Desmanthus virgatus under a range of grazing pressures in tropical Queensland. Tropical Grasslands, 32, 145–152.
Luckow, M. (1993) Monograph of Desmanthus (Leguminosae-Mimosoideae). Systematic Botany Monographs. Vol. 38. The American Society of Plant Taxonomists.
Pengelly, B.C. and Liu, C.J. (2001) Genetic relationships and variations in the tropical mimosoid legume Desmanthus assessed by random amplified polymorphic DNA. Genetic Resources and Crop Evaluation, 48, 91–99.
Turner, B.L. (1950) Texas species of Desmanthus (Leguminosae). Field and Laboratory, 18, 54–65.

Internet links



Country/date released


‘Chaland’, ‘Maiyara’
(CPI 52401)
Thailand From southern Mauritius (20ºS, rainfall 1,750 mm).  Grows best in the wet tropics in areas with short dry season but can survive long dry season.  Also performed well in Australia.

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



CPI 30205 Australia (Queensland) Institutional collection from Coimbatore, India, where used as a green manure and soil cover crop .  High yielding, widely adapted.
CPI 33201 Australia (Queensland) From Guadeloupe (16ºN, rainfall 1,800 mm).  High yielding, widely adapted.
CPI 40071 Australia (Queensland) and Vanuatu From Pernambuco, Brazil.  High yielding, widely adapted.  Produced 5–7 t/ha/yr DM in small plot trials in Vanuatu.
CPI 49728 Australia (Queensland) Institutional collection from Cruz das Almas, Brazil.  High yielding, widely adapted.
CPI 55718 Australia (Queensland) From Bahia, Brazil (11ºS, 390 m asl, rainfall 590 mm).  High yielding, widely adapted.