Alysicarpus vaginalis (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Alysicarpus vaginalis (L.) DC.

Protologue: Prodr. 2: 353 (1825).
Family: Leguminosae
Chromosome number: 2n= 16, 20


Hedysarum vaginale L. (1753), Alysicarpus nummularifolius (Willd.) DC. (1825).

Vernacular names

  • Alyce clover, buffalo clover, one-leaf clover (En, Am)
  • Indonesia: brobos, gudé oyod, tebalan (Java)
  • Malaysia: akar seleguri
  • Philippines: banig-usa, mani-manian (Tagalog)
  • Thailand: thua lisongna
  • Vietnam: cây me dât, cây the the.

Origin and geographic distribution

A. vaginalis is native to and widespread throughout East Africa including Madagascar, the Indian sub-continent, South-East Asia and the Pacific, and is naturalized in northern Australia (especially in the Northern Territory), in South America and the United States.


A. vaginalis is a useful component of native pastures in Fiji and northern Australia, especially where fertilizer has been applied, and is a useful fodder legume in the Philippines, Indonesia and southern China. It has been used as a cover crop in Papua New Guinea and in rubber plantations in Java, and also as a hay crop in the United States. In Indonesia and Malaysia a decoction of roots is applied against coughs. In Vietnam an infusion of powdered seeds is used against dysentery and colics.


The few recorded analyses of nutrient concentration and nutritional value of A. vaginalis are within the usual ranges reported for tropical legumes. There are about 650 seeds/g.


Annual or short-lived perennial, erect to prostrate herb with many stems 10-100 cm long emanating from the rootstock. Stem glabrous to pubescent, rooting at the nodes under sustained moist conditions. Leaf unifoliolate; leaflet lanceolate to ovate, 5-65 mm × 3-25 mm, glabrous to puberulous; petiole 4-15 mm long; stipules lanceolate. Flowers about 6 mm long in terminal and leaf-opposed inflorescences up to 13 cm long; corolla orange to purple and very variable. Fruit 12-25 mm long, well exserted from the calyx, puberulent, reticulate, not or slightly constricted between the 4-7 articles which are subcylindrical, 2.5-3 mm long with raised ridges. Seeds dark red, 1-1.5 mm long, copiously produced.

The species is extremely variable in habit, leaf shape and flower colour. Annual specimens with lax inflorescences have been distinguished as A. ovalifolius (Schum.) Leonard in West Africa. Distinction below the species level seems more appropriate.


A. vaginalis grows on a wide range of soil types, from coraline sands to clays, but prefers lighter soils. It has been collected from very acid (pH(H2O) 4.5) to neutral soils. The species usually occurs in seasonally dry climates with total annual rainfall of between 700 and 1700 mm. It does not tolerate waterlogging and good drainage is essential. The species is a common weed of lawns throughout the Asian region and so appears adapted to frequent defoliation and grazing. It is in these situations that the species perennates, whereas in the seasonally dry climates it usually behaves as an annual. Stands in northern Australia are variable between seasons and this can be attributed in part to the species behaving as an annual in this environment and to the high proportion of hard seed.


Propagation is by seed, which usually has a high percentage of hard seed. Scarification is then required for immediate germination. Sowing rates of 2-4 kg/ha should be adequate, although in the United States, where it is used as hay crop, rates of up to 16 kg/ha are recommended. Rhizobia requirements are non-specific so inoculation prior to sowing is unnecessary.

It is susceptible to root-knot nematodes ( Meloidogyne spp.) so may sometimes be restricted to heavier soils where nematodes are less of a problem. On soils with high populations of nematodes, yields decline after the first year. Germplasm has not been evaluated for resistance to nematodes.

A. vaginalis is palatable to livestock and is usually grazed directly, but it can be made into hay. Although it will persist on soils of low fertility, productivity in northern Australia has been markedly improved by the addition of P. When grown in pure swards, DM yields are typically 4-6 t/ha.

Genetic resources and breeding

Germplasm collections are maintained by ATFGRC (CSIRO, Australia) and CIAT (Colombia).

No breeding programmes are in progress or have been attempted. The extreme variation in plant morphology and in climatic and edaphic origin has enabled the selection of accessions for advanced evaluation from wild collections.


A. vaginalis is a useful forage legume in parts of the tropics and subtropics both for hay and as a component in permanent pastures. The wide range of genetic material available should enable further development of the species within South-East Asia.


  • Duke, J.A., 1981. Handbook of legumes of world economic importance. Plenum Press, New York & London. pp. 15-17.
  • Gillett, J.B., Polhill, R.M. & Verdcourt, B., 1971. Alysicarpus. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors): Flora of tropical East Africa. Leguminosae 4 - Papilionoideae 2. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London. pp. 491-501.
  • Gramshaw, D., Pengelly, B.C., Muller, F.W., Harding, W.A.T. & Williams, R.J., 1987. Classification of a collection of the legume Alysicarpus using morphological and preliminary agronomic attributes. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 38: 355-372.
  • Martin, T.J. & Torssell, B.W.R., 1974. Buffalo clover (Alysicarpus vaginalis (L.) DC): a pasture legume in Northern Australia. Journal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science 40: 232-234.
  • Nguyên van Thuân, Dy Phon, P., Niyomdham, C. & Vidal, Y., 1987. Alysicarpus Desv. In: Morat, Ph. (Director): Flore du Cambodge, du Laos et du Vietnam. Vol. 23. Légumineuses-Papilionoïdées. Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle, Laboratoire de Phanérogamie, Paris. pp. 128-133.
  • Skerman, P.J., Cameron, D.G. & Riveros, F., 1988. Tropical forage legumes. FAO, Rome. pp. 246-247.
  • van Meeuwen, M.S., van Steenis, C.G.G.J. & Stemmerik, J., 1961. Preliminary revisions of some genera of Malaysian Papilionaceae 2. Alysicarpus Desv. Reinwardtia 6: 86-89.
  • Verdcourt, B., 1979. A manual of New Guinea legumes. Botany Bulletin No 11. Office of Forests, Division of Botany, Lae, Papua New Guinea. pp. 420-422.


R.A. Halim & B.C. Pengelly