Tropical Forages

Desmodium velutinum

Scientific name
Desmodium velutinum (Willd.) DC.

Basionym: Hedysarum velutinum Willd.; Desmodium lasiocarpum (P. Beauv.) DC.; Desmodium latifolium (Roxb. ex Ker Gawl.) DC.; Desmodium virgatum Zoll.; Hedysarum lasiocarpum P. Beauv.; Hedysarum latifolium Roxb.; Meibomia lasiocarpa (P. Beauv.) Kuntze


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Desmodieae subtribe: Desmodiinae.

Morphological description

Weakly perennial, erect or semi-erect shrub or sub-shrub, up to 3 m high.  Branches often dark red, yellow-brown when young, velutinous and short hooked-hairy.  Leaves 1-foliolate, rarely 3-foliolate, ovate, ovate-lanceolate, triangular-ovate, or broadly ovate, 4‒20 cm long and 2.5‒13 cm wide, chartaceous to coriaceous, upper surface continuously appressed-pubescent, lower surface densely velutinous; in some populations leaves are almost glabrous and variegated.  Inflorescence often dense, terminal or axillary, racemose or paniculate , 4‒10 cm long (terminal ones often broadly paniculate, to 20 cm long), with 2‒5 flowers at each node;  flowers purple to pink, rarely white.  Pods narrowly oblong, 1‒2.5 cm long, 2‒3 mm wide, lower suture incised between seeds, upper suture nearly straight, with dense yellow straight hairs intermixed with short hooked hairs, (3-)5‒7-jointed.  Seeds ovate, flat, 1.3‒1.6 mm × 1.8‒2.5 mm, yellow when ripe.  Depending on genotype, there are 320,000‒830,000 seeds per kg.

Common names

Africa: naka-buray (The Gambia); a loko u lelef, hu diukuk, hu mbélo, nétéba, nakaburé, notoba (Senegal)

Asia: 绒毛山蚂蝗 rong mao shan ma huang (China);

India: goch-biyoni-haputa (Assamese), orila (Malayalam), orila, sirupulladi, angusapadi ("orila" may also apply to D. gangeticum)

English: velvet-leaf desmodium



Africa: Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad,  Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, DRC, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda,  Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa (Limpopo), Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia

Indian Ocean: Madagascar

Asia:  Bhutan, China (s.), India, Indochina, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan (s.), Thailand

Papuasia: Papua New Guinea


Incipient use as forage in cut-and-carry or grazed systems.

Soil requirements

Adapted to a wide range of soil pH, from very acid (pH 4.0) to alkaline.  Adapted to low-fertility soils. Does not tolerate poorly drained conditions.


Prefers more humid climates of 1,000 ‒ >3,000 mm rainfall/year.  However, tolerates up to 4‒5 months dry season.


Grows at altitudes from sea level to 1,500 m asl, with average temperature above 20 ºC.  Is killed by frost.


Has some shade tolerance as it has been found in forest verges.

Reproductive development

Indeterminate flowering.


Regrows well after infrequent severe defoliation in its native habitats.  Regrowth potential appears to be dependent on genotype and cutting/grazing height. Suggested cutting frequency 6‒8 weeks, cutting height 40‒50 cm.


No information available.


Guidelines for establishment and management of sown forages.


Can be established by cuttings or through seed.  For the latter, scarification is needed to break hardseededness.  Distance between rows 0.6‒1.5 m, in the row 0.5‒1 m, planted with 3‒5 seeds per planting site.


In the Patía valley, Colombia, 15‒20 kg P/ha is recommended for establishment.

Compatibility (with other species)

Since initial growth is low weed control during the establishment phase is required.

Companion species

Has been established successfully with erect grasses such as Megathyrsus maximus.  

Pests and diseases

Leaf eating insect larvae have been observed; no major information available.

Ability to spread

Being a prolific seeder, is easily spread by means of pod segments sticking to the skin of grazing animals.

Weed potential

Being a prolific seeder, could become a weed.

Feeding value
Nutritive value

High nutritive quality of edible material (leaf and thin twigs), CP 16‒27%, IVDMD 53‒80%, depending on accession; nil to very low amounts of tannins.


Moderately palatable to cattle; higher acceptability in the dry than in the wet season.


No information available; probably none.

Production potential
Dry matter

Annual yields are in the range 5.5‒16 t DM/ha, depending on dry season stress. DM yields of 1.5‒3 t/ha/cut are reported; up to 10 t DM/ha in 6 months under cutting on savanna soils in northern Nigeria.

Animal production

No information available.


2n = 22.

Seed production

A prolific seeder.

Herbicide effects

No information available.

  • Adapted to a wide range of soil pH.
  • Grows on low-fertility soils.
  • High nutritive quality, mainly IVDMD.
  • Moderately drought tolerant.
  • Still insufficiently researched.
  • Persistence under cutting and grazing not conclusive.
Selected references

Asare, E.O., Shehu, Y. and Agishi, E.A. (1984) Preliminary studies on indigenous species for dry season grazing in the northern Guinea savanna zone of Nigeria. Tropical Grasslands 18:148–152.

Kexian, Y., Lascano, C.E., Kerridge, P.C. and Ávila, P. (1998) The effect of three tropical shrub legumes on intake rate and acceptability by small ruminants. Pasturas Tropicales 20(3):31–35.

Larbi, A., Awojide, A.A., Adenkunle, I.O., Ladipo, D.O. and Akinlade, J.A. (2000) Fodder production responses to pruning height and fodder quality of some trees and shrubs in a forest-savanna transition zone in southwestern Nigeria. Agroforestry Systems 48:157–168.

Schultze-Kraft, R. (1996) Leguminous forage shrubs for acid soils in the tropics. In: Elgersma, A., Struik, P.C. and Maesen, L.J.G. van der (eds) Grassland science in perspective. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 96-4. Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, the Netherlands. p. 67–81.

Schultze-Kraft, R., Peters, M., Vivas, N., Parra, F. and Franco, L.H. (2005) Desmodium velutinum - a high quality legume shrub for acid soils in the tropics. Tropical Grasslands 39:231.


None released to date.  In terms of evaluation of its potential and on-farm experiences, D. velutinum is still a rather 'new' species.

Promising accessions

CIAT 33443, CIAT 33352, CIAT 13953 (all erect), CIAT 23981 (semi-erect).  Selected from a 137-accession collection evaluated at Santander de Quilichao, Colombia  (CIAT research station) for edible forage yield (≥190 g DM/plant/8 weeks), drought tolerance and nutritive value (IVDMD ≥68%; CP ≥20%).  CIAT 23981 particularly promising in the dry-subhumid Patía valley, Cauca, Colombia. CIAT 13953 also had the best yield across a range of acid to moderately acid soils in Costa Rica.