Tropical Forages

Vigna trilobata

Scientific name

Vigna trilobata (L.) Verdc.


Basionym: Dolichos trilobatus L.; Phaseolus trilobatus (L.) Schreb.; Phaseolus trilobus auct.


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Phaseoleae subtribe: Phaseolinae subgenus Ceratotropis.

Morphological description

Annual (sometimes perennial) prostrate, trailing (rarely weakly twining) herb, often with reddish, glabrous, rarely pubescent, stems 30‒60 cm long.  Leaves trifoliolate, petioles 1‒11 cm long, with leaflets ovate or rhomboid in outline, 1‒5 cm long, 0.6‒4 cm wide; glabrous to sub-glabrous, usually shiny; margins entire to deeply 3-lobed (upper lobe of terminal leaflet broadly spatulate, oblong obtuse or subacute); stipules peltate, sometimes spurred, ovate, 4‒15 (‒19) mm long.  Inflorescence 2‒6-flowered axillary raceme, with peduncle 2‒22.5 cm long; pedicels 1‒2.5 mm long; calyx 2.5 mm long, glabrous, teeth minute;  corolla yellow, 5‒7 mm long, standard cordate; wings obovate, auriculate; keel apex contorted.  Pods cylindrical, 1.5‒5 cm long, 2.5‒4 mm wide, glabrous to sparingly pubescent with short adpressed hairs, black when ripe; 6‒12 seeds/pod; seeds orange, mottled brown, black, blue or sometimes whitish, cylindric, 2.3 × 1.8 × 1.7 mm, truncate at both ends. 80,000‒130,000 seeds per kg.

Similar species

Vigna trilobata can be distinguished from the morphologically similar V. aconitifolia by virtue of large oval stipules, the latter having small, linear-lanceolate stipules, and from Vigna radiata var. sublobata in having smaller flowers, pods and seeds and a very long peduncle.

Common names

Asia: 三裂叶豇豆 san lie ye jiang dou (China); kacang kate (Indonesia)

English: African gram, three-lobe-leaf cowpea, jungle mat bean, jungli bean, math bean, wild gram

Indian subcontinent: arak (ark) moth, banmoong, jangli (jungli) moth, मुंगन mungan, मुगनी mugani, mugam, मुगवन mugvan, mungi, ranmoong, trianguli (Hindi); kaadesaru, kohesaru, mudgaparni, nari hesara, nari hesaru, pilli hesaru, pisaru kaayi, rakhalkalai (Kannada); cheruvidukol, kattupayar, kokkikai (Malayalam); arkamath, janglimath, ranmath, ranmuga (Marathi); bin-me, munwenna (Sinhala); kocilam, nari payaru, navippayaru, pachapayaru, pani-payir (Tamil); pilli pesalu, phillipesara, pillippersara (Telugu); jangli-math, mukni (Urdu); medicinal names: mudgaparni (Ayurvedic); mugwan (Unani)



Asia:   Bhutan; China (Yunnan); India; Indonesia (Java); Myanmar; Nepal; Pakistan (Punjab, Sind); Sri Lanka; Taiwan (s.) Vietnam


Africa:  Ghana; Senegal; Sudan

Australasia:  Australia (Queensland, Western Australia)

Indian Ocean:  Madagascar; Mauritius

South America:  Peru


V. trilobata is sown in as a short-term pasture in drier areas.


The plant's ability to thrive under drought conditions and to fix nitrogen make it an excellent green manure crop in semi-arid regions.  During the fallow season, it is allowed to grow for 45‒50 days before being incorporated into the soil.  Sometimes, the green manure is grazed, and allowed to regrow for about a month before being incorporated. 


Seeds and immature seedpods are cooked and consumed by people.  Various parts of the V. trilobata plant are prized in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine to treat a multitude of conditions.

Soil requirements

V. trilobata is largely found on well-drained, alkaline, dark, cracking clay soils, but also on red lateritic soil, and sandy and loamy soils of similar reaction (pH 6.5‒9).  However, well-drained sandy-loam soils, rich in humus, are considered most suitable for its growth.  It is moderately tolerant of salinity, producing 50% maximum growth in soil with electrical conductivity (saturated extract, ECe) of 9.7 dS/m.


Annual rainfall at collection sites ranges from (520‒) 700 to 900 (‒1,440) mm, with a 5‒7 month dry season.  It has a well-developed, deep tap root system and is extremely drought tolerant.  While V. trilobata is sometimes found on poorly drained soils, it is mostly found on well-drained soils, and can suffer from waterlogging.


The species is native to a largely tropical area extending from 2,000 m asl at about 27º N in the Himalayas to near sea level at lower latitudes in India and Indonesia, equating to an average annual temperature range of around 10‒27 ºC.


V trilobata grows in open or lightly shaded situations, often being found under thorn-shrubs where it is protected from grazing aniimals.

Reproductive development

Under well-watered conditions, flowering and seed set is continuous but sparse.  However, under moisture stress, plants respond with more dense flowering, far greater seed production and a reduction in vegetative growth.  In Australia, V. trilobata usually flowers within 30 days of sowing.  It is recorded as flowering September‒November in India, and February‒March in Sri Lanka.


Tolerant of regular or constant heavy grazing, but not of infrequent heavy grazing, when a bulk of foliage is rapidly removed.


Regenerates from seed.


Guidelines for establishment and management of sown forages.


Although V. trilobata is best sown into a well prepared seedbed, it and other green manures such as Vigna radiata and Tephrosia purpurea are often relay sown into standing rice crops 7‒10 days before harvest.


Responds to applications of phosphorus in low P soils.

Compatibility (with other species)

V. trilobata is found in grasslands, scrublands, savannah  and rocky areas in dry and moist deciduous forests.  It relies on disturbance and open soil for regeneration, so is rarely found in association with dense grass cover.

Companion species

Grasses:  Panicum coloratumSetaria incrassata.
Legumes:  Clitoria ternatea, Desmanthus spp., Bouffordia dichotoma, Stylosanthes seabrana.

Pests and diseases

Plants are damaged by red hairy caterpillar (Amsacta albistriga Lepidoptera: Erebidae), legume pod borer (Maruca testulalis Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), pea blue butterfly (Lampides boeticus Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae), galerucid beetle (Madurasia obscurella Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), the adzuki bean weevil (Callosobruchus chinensis Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) and aphids.  Cercospora leaf spot and seed and seedling rot are serious diseases under moist conditions.  Yellow mosaic disease (YMD) caused by Mungbean yellow mosaic India virus (MYMIV), a begomovirus, has been isolated from diseased plants of V. trilobata.  However, resistant varieties have been identified.  It is also a host for the pigeon-pea cyst nematode (Heterodera cajani).

Ability to spread

It has become weakly naturalized in areas with similar climate and soils to those found in its native distribution.  Populations and yields generally decline following the year of sowing, due largely to competition from weeds and perennial grasses.  Soil seed levels under sown stands have been measured at 200 kg/ha in the first year, declining to about 25 kg/ha in subsequent years.

Weed potential

Not an aggressive species.

Feeding value
Nutritive value

Mean CP level across three sites of about 13% and P level of 0.22%.


A very palatable species, with palatability >Clitoria ternatea, Lablab purpureus, Macroptilium bracteatum, Macrotyloma daltonii and Stylosanthes seabrana.


No suspicion of toxicity.

Production potential
Dry matter

Dry matter yields of the order of about 3 t/ha/yr are achievable, but may be considerably less, depending on rainfall and competition from other species.

Animal production

In the sub-humid subtropics, with a stocking rate of 1.25 ha/steer, V. trilobata provided 104‒194 animal grazing days/ha/yr, producing average liveweight gains of 0.55‒0.79 kg/steer/day.


Vigna is most closely related to Phaseolus, with Asian Vigna (subgenus Ceratotropis) being treated as Phaseolus until 1970.  When used as the pollen parent, V. trilobata can cross with three other Asian Vigna spp., V. aconitifolia, V. radiata and V. mungo, all with the same chromosome complement, 2n = 22, and all thought to be derived from V. trilobata as progenitor.  The F1 plants from a cross between V. radiata and V. trilobata were sterile, but fertile amphidiploids were obtained through doubling of the chromosomes.

Seed production

A seed yield of 8.79 quintals/ha (= 830 kg/ha) is cited from work in Gujarat, India.

Herbicide effects

No specific information found but likely to be similar to tolerances and susceptibilities of closely related, commercial species, moth bean (V. aconitifolia), mung bean (V. radiata) and black gram (V. mungo).

  • Very palatable .
  • Drought-hardy.
  • Grows on cracking clay soils.
  • Tolerant of grazing.
  • Human food alternative.
  • Low yields.
  • Best in fertile soils.
  • Limited value for cut-and-carry.
  • Intolerant of waterlogging.
Selected references

Armstrong, R.D., Walsh, K., McCosker, K.J., Millar, G.R., Probert, M.E. and Johnson, S. (1997) Improved nitrogen supply to cereals in Central Queensland following short legume leys. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 37:359–368.

Clem, R.L. (2004) Animal production from legume-based ley pastures in southeastern Queensland. In: Whitbread, A.M. and Pengelly, B.C. (eds) Tropical legumes for sustainable farming systems in southern Africa and Australia. ACIAR Proceedings No. 115. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Canberra, Australia. p. 136–144.

Clem, R.L. and Hall, T.J. (1994) Persistence and productivity of tropical pasture legumes on three cracking soils (Vertisols) in north-eastern Queensland. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 34:161–171.

Gowda, C.L.L., Ramakrishna, A., Rupela, O.P. and Wani, S.P. (eds). (2001) Legumes in Rice-based Cropping Systems in Tropical Asia - Constraints and Opportunities. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Hacker, J.B., Williams, R.J. and Pengelly, B.C. (1996) A characterisation study of the genus Vigna with regards to potential as forage. Genetic Resources Communication No. 22. CSIRO Tropical Agriculture, St Lucia, Australia.

Jain, H.K. and Mehra, K.L. (1980) Evaluation, adaptation, relationship and cases of the species of Vigna cultivation in Asia. In: Summerfield, R.J. and Bunting, A.H. (eds) Advances in Legume Science. Royal Botanical Garden, Kew, London. p. 459–468.

Keating, B.A., Strickland, R.W. and Fisher, M.J. (1986). Salt tolerance of some tropical pasture legumes with potential adaptation to cracking clay soils. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 26:181–186.

Leach, G.J., Rees, M.C. and Charles-Edwards, D.A. (1986) Relations between summer crops and ground cover legumes in a subtropical environment. I. Effects of Vigna trilobata ground cover on growth and yield of sorghum and sunflower. Field Crops Research 15:17–37.

Maréchal, R., Mascherpa, J.M. and Stainier, F. (1978) Étude taxonomique d'un groupe complexe d'espèces des genres Phaseolus et Vigna (Papilionaceae) sur la base de données morphologiques et polliniques, traitées par l'analyse informatique. Boissiera 28:1–273.

Pengelly, B.C., Blamey, F.P.C. and Muchow, R.C. (1999) Radiation interception and the accumulation of biomass and nitrogen by soybean and three tropical annual forage legumes. Field Crops Research 63:99–112.

Tateishi, Y. (1996) Systematics of the species of Vigna subgenus Ceratotropis. In: Srinives, P., Kitbamroong, C. and Miyazaki, S. (eds) Mungbean germplasm: Collection, evaluation and utilization for breeding program. JIRCAS Working Report No. 2. Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Science (JIRCAS), Tokyo, Japan. p. 9–24.

Whitbread, A.M. and Clem, B. (2004) Grain sorghum production and soil nitrogen dynamics following ley pastures on a vertosol soil in Queensland, Australia. In: Whitbread, A.M. and Pengelly, B.C. (eds) Tropical legumes for sustainable farming systems in southern Africa and Australia. ACIAR Proceedings No. 115. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Canberra, Australia. p. 115–125.


None released.

Promising accessions

CPI 13671 Selected in Queensland, Australia.  Introduced as Phaseolus trilobus.  Institutional collection from Agricultural Research Institute, Coimbatore, India.  Most vigorous of a limited set of accessions, producing higher vegetative and seed yields than others tested.