Tropical Forages

Centrosema pubescens

Scientific name

Centrosema pubescens Benth.


Bradburya pubescens (Benth.) Kuntze; Centrosema galeottii Fantz; Centrosema schiedeanum (Schltdl.) R.J. Williams & R.J. Clem.; Clitoria schiedeana Schltdl.


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Phaseoleae subtribe: Clitoriinae.

Morphological description

Perennial, trailing-climbing herb with strong tendency to root at nodes of trailing stems.  Leaves trifoliolate, leaflets ovate to orbicular, ca. 3 cm long and 1.3‒2 cm broad, shortly acuminate and finely pubescent.  Young leaflets and terminal portions of stolons are typically reddish.  Stipules triangular-elongated, persistent.  Inflorescence an axillary raceme with 3‒5 lilac to bluish-violet flowers, each flower subtended by two striate bracteoles.  Calyx campanulate, 5-teethed; standard orbicular, approx. 2 cm in diameter; wings and keel much smaller than standard, directed upwards.  Pod linear, compressed, approx. 13 cm long and 5‒6 mm broad, straight to slightly bent and beaked, containing up to 15 seeds.  Seeds transversely oblong to very slightly reniform, approx. 5 mm long, yellowish-greenish with dark mottles.  36,000 seeds per kg. (This description refers to the C. pubescens form as represented by cv. Belalto.)

Note: There are three C. pubescens forms according to geographic origin: 

(a) Mexico and Honduras:  coarse, rather big leaves, from higher altitude, soil fertility demanding.

(b) Costa Rica and Panama:  smaller-leafed, stoloniferous form as represented by cv. Belalto, mainly from higher altitudes. 

(c) Llanos Orientales, Colombia:  low-altitude germplasm, less stoloniferous, good adaptation to acid, low-fertility soils, disease susceptible.

Similar species

C. pubescens: bracts 6–9 × 3–6 mm, sericeous; pedicels 3–6 mm at anthesis; brac­teoles 10–16 × 6–9 mm; seeds yellowish green.

C. molle: bracts 4–6 × 1–2 mm, puberulous; pedicels 6–9 mm at an­thesis; bracteoles 6–9 × 4–6 mm; seeds brownish black.  

Common names

Because of the confusion between Centrosema pubescens  Benth. and Centrosema molle Mart. ex Benth. in much of the literature, there are no specifically unique common names for either species, although most should be applied to the more common species, Centrosema molle.



Northern America:  Mexico (Campeche, Chiapas, Colima, Federal District, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Tabasco, Veracruz, Yucatán)

Central America:  Costa Rica; El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras; Nicaragua; Panama (w.)

South America:  Colombia (Llanos Orientales only)


Grazed pastures in mixture with a grass, legume-only protein bank, cut-and-carry. 


Potential also as soil cover.

Soil requirements

Non-Mexican germplasm is in general better adapted to acid, less fertile soils than common centro ( Centrosema molle);  requires well-drained soils.


Subhumid to humid tropics with rainfall >2,000 mm/year.


Good growth in cool season (Australia).


No information available.

Reproductive development

Like common centro, an indeterminate legume;  flowering is induced mainly by photoperiod (short days) but is also favoured by water stress.  In Colombia, accession CIAT 5161 (from Panama) is very late flowering.


Because of stoloniferous habit, shows good regrowth and persistence.


No information available.


Guidelines for establishment and management of sown forages.


Essentially the same as common centro ( Centrosema molle).


No reports, probably not too different from C. molle;  like C. molle, responds to inoculation with Bradyrhizobium strains CB 1923 and CB 2947.

Compatibility (with other species)

No information available.

Companion species

Reports restricted to Megathyrsus maximus;  otherwise probably not too different from C. molle.  'Belalto' centro persisted with proper fertilization and stocking management for at least 10 years in the humid tropics of Australia.

Pests and diseases

In Australia, 'Belalto' centro less affected by Cercospora leaf spot and spider mites than common centro. In Colombia, Colombian germplasm was severely affected by Pseudomonas bacterial blight.

Ability to spread


Weed potential

Unknown, but probably low.

Feeding value
Nutritive value

Similar to C. molle.  Accession CIAT 5161, means of 7 cuts, 3-month old leaf:  24% CP, 53% IVDMD, 0.19% P, 0.83% Ca;  accession CIAT 5920 (Mexico), young leaf tissue (= 6 months after planting):  26% CP, 71% IVDMD.


Considered to be similar to that of common centro (C. molle).


None reported.

Production potential
Dry matter

cv. Belalto 12.8 t DM/ha/year in North Queensland; accession CIAT 5161: 7.6 t DM/ha/year under cutting in Quilichao, Colombia.

Animal production

550‒650 kg LWG/ha/year gain possible in humid Queensland, Australia ('Belalto' in mixture with Megathyrsus maximus).


2n = 22.

Seed production

Up to 350 kg/ha under experimental and 107 kg/ha under commercial conditions.

Herbicide effects

No information available.


In comparison with common centro (C. molle):

  • Cool-season growth of ‘Belalto’ in Australia.
  • Stoloniferous growth habit (Panama and Costa Rica germplasm only).

In comparison with common centro (C. molle):

  • Low seed production.
  • Lack of competition with low-priced, imported seed of common centro.
Selected references

Fantz, P.R. (1996) Taxonomic notes on the Centrosema pubescens Bentham complex in Central America (Leguminosae: Phaseoleae: Clitoriinae). SIDA, Contributions to Botany 17:321–332.

Grof, B. and Harding, W.A.T. (1970) Yield attributes of some species and ecotypes of Centrosema in North Queensland. Queensland Journal of Agricultural and Animal Sciences 27:237–243.

Schultze-Kraft, R. and Clements, R.J. (eds). (1990) Centrosema: Biology, agronomy, and utilization. CIAT Publication No. 92. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia.

Teitzel, J.K., Wilson, R.J. and Mellor, W. (1991) Productive and stable pasture systems of cattle fattening in the humid tropics. I. Field testing on a naturally fertile site. Agricultural Systems 36:251–265.

'Belalto' (Q 8333) Released in Australia (1971). Origin Costa Rica; good cool-season tolerance.
Promising accessions
CIAT 5161 Selected in Colombia.  Origin Cañas Gordas, Panama (8°43' N, 1,060 m asl, rainfall 3,300 mm); particularly stoloniferous.