Tropical Forages

Zornia latifolia

Scientific name
Zornia latifolia Sm.
Zornia diphylla var. gracilis (DC.) Benth.; Zornia gracilis DC.; Zornia latifolia subsp. latifolia Sm.

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

Morphological description

A perennial, tap-rooted herb.  Stems 20‒50 cm long, glabrous or pubescent, with a prostrate to ascending growth habit and intensive branching.  Stipules lanceolate, striate, to 1 cm long.  Leaves bifoliolate, leaflets lanceolate-oblong to broadly-ovate, acute at the apex, glabrous or pubescent, 1‒4 cm long; leaflets at the base of the stem quite broad and become progressively narrower to lanceolate or linear-lanceolate along the branches, sometimes reduced to a simple leaf.  Inflorescence a terminal or axillary peduncled spike; flowers alternate, 1‒35 per inflorescence, inserted along elongated axis; stipuliform bracts up to 1.5 cm long, either side of and nearly enclosing the flower, conspicuously dotted with glands.  Calyx hyaline, 4 mm long, ciliate.  Petals yellow, approximately 1 cm long, the standard with red striations at the centre.  Pods 2‒8 articulate, shortly beaked, more or less spiny, pubescent, the inferior margin deeply crenate, the superior margin nearly straight, joints rounded, 2‒3 mm long and wide, articles dehiscent, each containing a single seed.  550,000‒900,000 seeds per kg.

Common names

Latin America: maconha brava, zórnia (Brazil); tencilla, barba de burro, caminadora (Spanish); koemataballi (Suriname)

West Africa: emu (Yoruba)

Note: Many Zornia spp. have bifoliolate leaves and have been classified as or confused with Z. diphylla.  While many of the common names shown under Z. glabra will have been applied to Z. latifolia because of its resemblance to Z. diphylla, the above are probably more specifically applied to it by virtue of its claimed hallucinogenic properties.



South America: Argentina (Cordoba, Chaco, Corrientes, Entre Rios, Santiago del Estero); Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Uruguay; Venezuela.


Africa: Western tropical Africa.


No evidence of use in sown perennial pastures but potential for improved pastures as well as in intercropping systems is suggested.


Used as an hallucinogenic substitute for cannabis by the Brazilian Indians - hence the name, maconha brava.

Soil requirements

Well adapted to the free-draining, acid and low-fertility, Al-toxic oxisols of the South American savannas.


Grows well in areas with 1,000‒2,000 mm rainfall/year; moderately drought tolerant but sheds leaf during dry season; survives dry season of 4‒6 months.


Warm-season plant, no growth at <13 °C.  In cooler climates, it usually dies back to the rootstock during winter, producing new stems and leaves in spring and summer, and flowers and fruit in autumn.


Little or no shade tolerance.

Reproductive development

Flowering can occur at the Equator but is mainly induced by short days; occurs sequentially from the basal to the terminal flowers of the inflorescence;  flowers open for 5‒10 hours at anthesis. Fertilization is mainly autogamous, with a very low proportion of insect-dependent crossing.  Free-seeding.


Tolerates defoliation.


Recovers from soil seed bank.


Guidelines for establishment and management of sown forages.


Seed sown at 2‒3 kg/ha; no rhizobium specificity; fresh seed requires scarification.


Recommendation in the Llanos Orientales of Colombia:  P, K, S at 20, 20, 10 kg/ha respectively for establishment; half the dosis for annual maintenance fertilization.

Compatibility (with other species)

Compatible with low-growing bunch grasses.

Companion species

Grasses:  Andropogon gayanus, Urochloa decumbens.

Legumes:  Not generally sown with other legumes.

Pests and diseases

Main limitation to the use of is susceptibility to diseases, namely scab (Sphaceloma zorniae) and a virus-blackmould (Meliola sp.) complex, causing leafrolling distortion and stunted growth.  Formerly promising accession CIAT 728 quite susceptible; accession CIAT 9199 tolerant. Also attacked in seed stands by the bud worm (Stegasta bosqueella), which, however, is easily controlled by insecticides.

Ability to spread

Good natural spread by self-sown seed.

Weed potential

Considered to be low.

Feeding value
Nutritive value

Mature, seeding plants:  CP 9‒17%, IVDMD 66%.




Oestrogenic activity has been recorded in scab-affected foliage.

Production potential
Dry matter

DM yields recorded in the humid tropics of South America:  2.4‒2.8 t/ha in 12 weeks;  in the subhumid Colombian Llanos Orientales, 0.6‒4.9 t/ha when grown in association with Urochloa decumbens and Andropogon gayanus.

Animal production

LWG of steers grazing a mixture of CIAT 728 with Andropogon gayanus in the Colombian Llanos Orientales was, in the third year, 135 g/day in the 3-month dry season and 420 g/day in the 9-month rainy season.


2n = 20.

Seed production

Annual yields of up to 700 kg/ha seed have been obtained over a 3-year period near Brasília, Brazil (latitude 15.5° S).  Optimum temperatures for seed setting range from 20 to 27 ºC.

Herbicide effects

No information available.

  • Depending on ecotype, susceptibility to diseases, mainly Sphaceloma zorniae.
  • Moderate DM production.
Selected references

Jutzi, S.C. and Nösberger, J. (1984) Seed production and growth of the tropical pasture legume Zornia latifolia accession CIAT 728. Tropical Grasslands 18:138–148.

Pott, A. (2016) Zornia latifolia (Zórnia). 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. 585‒589.

Thomas, D. and Grof, B. (1986) Some pasture species for the tropical savannas of South America. III. Andropogon gayanus, Brachiaria species and Panicum maximum. Herbage Abstracts 56:557–565.


None released.

Promising accessions

CIAT 9199 In Colombia.  This accession was found to be tolerant of fungal disease, Sphaceloma scab.