Tropical Forages

Stylosanthes capitata

Scientific name
Stylosanthes capitata Vogel

None listed in GRIN.


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Dalbergieae subtribe: Stylosanthinae.

Morphological description

Short-lived perennial, erect, ascendant to decumbent sub-shrub, to 1 m diameter and height, multi-branched, stems often woody at the base, with variable pilosity, sometimes with bristles.  Strong tap root.  Leaves trifoliolate; leaflets elliptical to oblong, sometimes obovate, very variable to 30 (rarely 40) mm long, 12‒15 mm wide, apex acute or mucronate, variable pilosity on both faces;  petiole densely pilose.  Inflorescence capitate, oblong to obovate, to 7 cm long and 1.5‒2 cm wide;  bracts oblong, 9‒13 mm long including teeth, variable pilosity, bristles sometimes present;  inflorescences multi-flowered, borne in dense terminal or axillary clusters.  Papilionaceous flowers bright yellow, unstriated, standard to 7 mm diameter.  Pod 2-segmented, both segments fertile; each 5‒7 mm long, 2.2‒2.5 mm wide, the upper segment with a 1 mm long, straight or recurved beak.  Seed of variable colour, almost black to yellow, sometimes spotted, 2 mm long.  350,000‒530,000 seeds per kg.

Common names

English: capitata

Latin America: estilosantes, meladinha (Brazil); capica, capitata (Spanish)



South America:  Bolivia, Brazil (Bahia, Ceará, Federal District, Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Para, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí); Venezuela (Anzotegui, Bolívar, Guárico, Monagas)


South America: Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela


Permanent pastures for intensive grazing in grass-legume associations.  S. capitata has also been used to recuperate degraded U. decumbens pastures (undersown into a rice crop). Not suited to cut-and-carry.


Occurs in treeless and open woodland savanna habitats often in association with fine-stemmed 'tardío' forms of S. guianensis var. guianensis.

Soil requirements

Occurs naturally on acid (pH <5), infertile, well-drained, sandy and sandy clay loam soils.  Only nodulates effectively at low soil pH;  dies on soils of pH >5.5.  Tolerant of low P and high levels of Al and Mn.  Requires well-drained, sandy soils.


Average annual rainfall in the native habitat is 1,500 mm, with a 3‒6 month dry season.  While best adapted to sub-humid to humid tropics (rainfall 1,000‒2,500 mm/yr), can also be grown successfully in the humid subtropics and semi-arid tropics with rainfall down to 500 mm/yr, provided that soil conditions are suitable.  Intolerant of flooding or a high water table.


Occurs from 21º S in Brazil to 10º N in Venezuela, from lowlands up to 1,000 m asl.  Best performance in the hot tropics.  Killed by frost.


Optimum production in full sunlight.

Reproductive development

Short-day flowering response.  Flowers April/May, with seed maturity late June/early July, in southern hemisphere.  In the northern hemisphere, there are marked differences in flowering time among accessions.


Tolerant of low and frequent defoliation.  Develops a prostrate growth habit under grazing.


Being a savanna species, S. capitata is able to tolerate light fires.  Furthermore, due to free-seeding habit and high levels of soil seed bank, it re-establishes readily.


Guidelines for establishment and management of sown forages.


High levels of hardseedednessScarification with concentrated sulphuric acid for 5 minutes reduces hardseededness and improves germination.  Good establishment may be obtained from 2 kg of acid scarified, dehulled seed per hectare.  The small seed should be sown no deeper than 1 cm, and the sown area compacted with a roller to increase speed of germination and emergence.  Can nodulate effectively with native rhizobia, but best to inoculate with effective Bradyrhizobium strains such as CIAT 170 (= CB 3055).


Tolerant of low fertility situations.  A standard fertilizer application on very infertile soils comprising P 20, K 20, Ca 100, Mg 14 and S 22 kg/ha at establishment, and maintenance dressings every two years of half this amount have given consistently good results.  Establishment fertilisation recommendation in Eastern Venezuela: 40‒50 kg P2O5/ha, 20‒30 kg K2O/ha, 10‒20 kg Mg/ha and 10‒20 kg S/ha. Lime can have a detrimental effect on nodulation.

Compatibility (with other species)

Compatible with tussock-forming grasses, if shading is reduced by regular defoliation of the grass.

Companion species

Grasses:  Andropogon gayanus, Urochloa decumbens, , U. humidicola cv. Llanero, Melinis minutiflora, Paspalum atratum.
Legumes:  Stylosanthes macrocephala, S. guianensis var. guianensis (tardío type), Cratylia argentea.

Pests and diseases

Forms of anthracnose disease caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides are a major threat to the use of Stylosanthes spp. worldwide, affecting both commercial pastures and seed production.  Severe outbreaks of the disease have been reported from all regions where the genus has been established.  Plant resistance is the only practical means of control.  Significant resistance to the disease can be found in geographically distinct groups of .  In general, Venezuelan provenances are lower yielding with high levels of anthracnose resistance, while the higher yielding Brazilian provenances are more susceptible to the disease.  Breeding programs have been undertaken to obtain the desired recombination of high dry matter and seed yields coupled with anthracnose resistance (see cv. Campo Grande).  Depending on genotype, seed yields can be drastically reduced by a stemborer, Caloptilia sp., and the budworm, Stegasta bosqueella

Ability to spread

A particularly important characteristic of is the excellent seedling regeneration in cut and grazed swards.  It spreads naturally through seed drop, as well as through ingestion of inflorescences by cattle over the dry season; the seed is protected in the gut due to the high level of hard seed.

Weed potential

Due to its free-seeding habit, high seed yields, hardseededness and a persistent soil seed bank, it can invade cultivated land.

Feeding value
Nutritive value

CP level:  about 17.2% in leaf;  9.2% in stem; and 16.5% in inflorescenceIVDMD:  about 60% in leaf;  50% in stem; and 64% in inflorescence.  P about 0.18%, Ca about 0.75%.


Well accepted by all classes of animals, including chickens, ducks and pigs.


In Brazil, the occurrence of phytobezoars (trapped mass in the gastrointestinal system that consists of components of indigestible plant material, such as fibres, skins and seeds)  in cattle consuming in excess forage of the S. capitata (80%)/S. macrocephala (20%) multi-line cv. Campo Grande and leading to mortality, has been reported.

Production potential
Dry matter

Up to 12‒13 t DM/ha/year under good conditions, but more often 3‒6 t DM/ha.  Little dry season growth.

Animal production

Reported annual liveweight gains for Andropogon gayanus - are 145‒350 kg/ha and 110‒200 kg/head in situations where the annual production of the native savanna is only 22 kg/ha.  In association with U. decumbens, stocked at 0.6‒1.4 AU/ha, 7‒20% improvement in LWG/ha was achieved, and 10‒23% improvement in LWG/hd, over grass alone.  With cv. Campo Grande (80% S. capitata, 20% S. macrocephala) in mixture with U. decumbens, 34% higher liveweight production (up to a total of 470 kg/ha/yr) has been obtained in comparison with the grass alone.


Tetraploid (2n = 4x = 40), self-compatible with about 20% out-crossing.  Evidence suggests it may be an allotetraploid derived from S. pilosa, S. bracteata, , or S. ingrata.  Both and have shown agronomic potential in Brazil, with the latter being found to be highly resistant to anthracnose.  Interspecific hybrids between these two species are unlikely as they differ in ploidy levels.  The main breeding strategy has entailed the production of synthetic populations by mixing resistant accessions with productive accessions.  It should be possible to transfer genes from to by crossing and S. pilosa to synthesise allotetraploids, and then hybridizing these artificial allotetraploids with those natural genotypes.

Seed production

The species is a prolific seed producer, different ecotypes producing seed yields ranging from 650 to >1,000 kg/ha under various environmental conditions. Commercial yields of combine-harvested seed in eastern Venezuela: 75‒300 kg seed-in- pod/ha.

Herbicide effects

Tolerant of acifluorfen, bentazone, 2,4-D, 2,4-DB, fluazifop-butyl, and sethoxydim.  Susceptible to metsulfuron-methyl and glufosinate.

  • Anthracnose resistance, depending on accession and region.
  • Tolerant of low soil fertility.
  • Tolerant of moderately heavy grazing .
  • Moderate to high quality.
  • Free seeding.
  • Combines well with competitive bunch grasses.
  • Limited to very acid and sandy soils.
  • Not suited to cut-and-carry.
  • May invade cultivated land.
  • Specific rhizobium requirement.
Selected references

Costa, N.M.S. and Coradin, L. (2016) Stylosanthes capitata (Estilosantes). In: Vieira, R.F., Camillo, J. and Coradin, L. (eds) Espécies Nativas da Flora Brasileira de Valor Econômico Atual ou Potencial: Plantas para o Futuro ‒ Região Centro-Oeste. Secretaria de Biodiversidade, Ministério do Meio Ambiente, Brasília, DF, Brazil. p. 553‒560.

Flores, A.J. and Rodríguez, I. (1998) La alfalfa criolla: alternativa forrajera para los ganaderos de la mesa de Guanipa. FONAIAP Divulga 60:29–32.

Grof, B., Fernandes, C.D. and Fernandes, A.T.F. (2001) A novel technique to produce polygenic resistance to anthracnose in Stylosanthes capitata. Proceedings of the XIX International Grassland Congress, São Pedro, SP, Brazil. p. 525–526.

Grof, B., Schultze-Kraft, R. and Müller, F. (1979) Stylosanthes capitata Vog., some agronomic attributes, and resistance to anthracnose (Colletotrichum gloeosporioides Penz.). Tropical Grasslands 13:28–37.

Schultze-Kraft, R. (1992) Stylosanthes capitata Vogel. In: Mannetje, L.’t and Jones, R.M. (eds) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 4. Forages. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands. p. 209–211.

Ubiali, D.G., Silva, R.G.F., Oliveira, L.P., Moraes, L.G. de, Caldeira, F.H.B., Pescador, C.A., Souza, M.A. and Colodel, E.M. (2013) Obstrução intestinal em bovinos associada ao consumo de Stylosanthes sp. (Fabaceae Papilionoideae). Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira 33:148–154.


'Campo Grande':  Released in Brazil (2000). A composite of S. capitata and S. macrocephala. A mass S. capitata hybridization scheme of 17 Brazilian (high DM and seed yields) × Venezuelan accessions (anthracnose resistant) led to a desirable recombination of forage traits.  Seed from the resultant hybrid is mixed 80:20 with seed of a mix of 6 genotypes of the highly anthracnose resistant S. macrocephala, to produce the multi-line cv. Campo Grande, which, with its diverse genetic make-up, has a wide application in acid-soil savannas.

'Capica' (CIAT 10280 – a mixture of CIAT 1315, 1318, 1342, 1693, 1728) Released in Colombia (1983).  All component accessions originated from Brazil and were productive and anthracnose resistant in Colombia and Venezuela.  The accession mix (a multi-line cultivar) was deemed preferable as it provides increased genetic variability basis for providing disease resistance.

'Alfalfa Criolla' (CIAT 10280) Released in Venezuela (1998) – see ‘Capica’.

Promising accessions

CIAT 1914, CIAT 2261, CIAT 2814, CIAT 2815 and CIAT 2819 Except for CIAT 2261 (origin: Minas Gerais, Brazil), all accessions originated from eastern Venezuela. In Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, these five accessions showed they were well adapted to soil and climate of the region, were highly resistant to anthracnose and gave DM yields of between 10 and 12 t/ha.