Alysicarpus ovalifolius (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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distribution in Africa (wild)
1, lower part of plant; 2, upper part of plant; 3, part of inflorescence with 2 flower buds; 4, standard; 5, wing; 6, keel; 7, stamens; 8, fruit Redrawn and adapted by M.M. Spitteler

Alysicarpus ovalifolius (Schumach.) J.Léonard

Protologue: Bull. Jard. Bot. Etat 24(1): 88, t. 11 (1954).
Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 16


  • Hedysarum ovalifolium Schumach. (1827),
  • Alysicarpus vaginalis auct. non (L.) DC.

Origin and geographic distribution

Alysicarpus ovalifolius is widespread in West and East tropical Africa, from Cape Verde and Mauritania east to Ethiopia and Kenya and south to Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar. It is more common in West Africa than in East Africa, and is particularly common in wooded Sahelian and Sudanese savanna regions. It is also a weed of cropland. Elsewhere, it occurs in tropical Asia, from Afghanistan and India to Vietnam and Indonesia. It has been introduced in the United States.


Alysicarpus ovalifolius provides a protein-rich fodder and a palatable feed for livestock grazing in rangelands. In Niger, it is a valuable component of vegetation collected and traded as fodder. In Nigeria, it is reported as a wound medicine.


Properties N and P concentrations are 2.9–4.1% and 0.18%, respectively. In vitro digestibility of the dry matter is 69% during the wet season. The leaves disintegrate during the dry season, which makes haymaking difficult.


Erect or spreading annual herb, sometimes woody at the base, 20–60 cm tall; stems puberulous or pubescent, becoming almost glabrous with age. Leaves alternate, unifoliolate; stipules lanceolate, 0.5–2 cm long; petiole 2–8 mm long, channelled; stipels 0.5–1.5 mm long; petiolule 0.7–1.5 mm long; leaflet elliptical or oblong to narrowly lanceolate, 1–10 cm × 0.5–3 cm, subcordate at base, acute to emarginate and mucronulate at apex, margins entire, finely puberulous and with some hairs on the veins below. Inflorescence a terminal or leaf-opposed pseudoraceme, sometimes paniculate, very lax, the internodes between the 3–7 pairs of flowers long; peduncle 3–4 cm long, rachis 3–11 cm long; bracts ovate-lanceolate, up to 5 mm long, scarious, deciduous. Flowers bisexual; pedicel 1–2 mm long; calyx with 1.5–2 mm long tube and 5 narrowly triangular lobes 3–4 mm long, upper 2 connate except at apex, puberulous or pubescent; corolla with obovate, clawed, orange-buff to pink or reddish-violet, rarely whitish standard 4–6 mm × 3–4 mm, 2 obliquely oblong, purplish-mauve wings 5–5.5 mm × 1–1.5 mm, and pale greenish keel 5–6.5 mm long; stamens 10, alternately long and short, 9 connate into a tube 5–6 mm long, 1 free; ovary superior, linear, ca. 3 mm long, 1-celled, style filiform, ca. 3 mm long, stigma capitate. Fruit a linear-oblong pod 18–25 mm × 2–2.5 mm, indehiscent, 2–8-jointed; joints subcylindrical, 2.5–4 mm × 2–2.5 mm, with raised reticulate ridges, puberulous. Seeds oblong-ellipsoid, slightly compressed, ca. 2.5 mm × 1.5 mm × 1.2 mm.

Other botanical information

Alysicarpus comprises about 25 species of the Old World tropics, with a few species introduced and naturalized in tropical and subtropical America and Australia. Alysicarpus vaginalis (L.) DC. (alyce clover), closely related to Alysicarpus ovalifolius, is an important forage in various parts of the world. It is perennial and has a more dense inflorescence. In East Africa, particularly on the coast of Kenya and in Zanzibar, the differentiation between the 2 species is not always clear, and they are also probably confused elsewhere. It has been suggested that the two species hybridize and that they should have infraspecific ranks.

Growth and development

Alysicarpus ovalifolius has root nodules which fix nitrogen effectively. It flowers during the rainy season and sets fruit about one month later. It stays green into the early part of the dry season.


Alysicarpus ovalifolius usually grows in savanna, and is also frequently found on cultivated and fallow land, prefering sandy soils, from sea-level to 900 m altitude. It has medium drought tolerance and can grow in areas receiving 200–600 mm annual rainfall.

Propagation and planting

Alysicarpus ovalifolius is easily propagated by seed. However, hardseededness is present. The 1000-seed weight is 3.5 g.


Alysicarpus ovalifolius is not used in sown pastures and is not cultivated, but is eaten by herbivores in its natural habitat or as a harvested weed. It responds to P fertilizer on sandy soils.

Genetic resources

Germplasm collections of Alysicarpus, including Alysicarpus ovalifolius, are held at ILRI in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (about 70 accessions), and some smaller ones in Kenya. Outside Africa, Alysicarpus germplasm collections are present at CSIRO, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia (about 100 accessions) and at CIAT, Cali, Colombia (about 300 accessions).


Alysicarpus ovalifolius is an important rangeland legume and also occurs on disturbed land. It provides high quality livestock feed during the rainy season and early part of the dry season. There is no commercial seed production and it is not used for grassland improvement, although this aspect deserves more attention given its easy propagation and nitrogen-fixing ability.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1995. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, Families J–L. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 857 pp.
  • Gillett, J.B., Polhill, R.M., Verdcourt, B., Schubert, B.G., Milne-Redhead, E., & Brummitt, R.K., 1971. Leguminosae (Parts 3–4), subfamily Papilionoideae (1–2). In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 1108 pp.
  • Hepper, F.N., 1958. Papilionaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 2. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 505–587.
  • Lamers, J., Buerkert, A., Makkar, H.P.S., von Oppen, M. & Becker, K., 1996. Biomass production, and feed and economic value of fodder weeds as by-products of millet cropping in a Sahelian farming system. Experimental Agriculture 32: 317–326.
  • Naegele, A.F.G., 1977. Plantes fourragères spontanées d’Afrique tropicale seche: données techniques. Aménagement écologique des pâturages arides et semi arides d’Afrique, du Proche et du Moyen Orient (EMASAR phase 2). Volume 3. FAO, Rome, Italy. 510 pp.
  • Penning de Vries, F.W.T. & Djiteye, M.A. (Editors), 1982. La productivité des pâturages sahéliens. Une étude des sols, des végétations et de l’exploitation de cette ressource naturelle. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. 525 pp.
  • Thulin, M., 1989. Fabaceae (Leguminosae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia. Volume 3. Pittosporaceae to Araliaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 49–251.

Other references

  • Buldgen, A., Hellemans, P. & Compère, R., 1988. Le comportement de quelques espèces de graminées et légumineuses caractéristiques des pâturages naturels sahélo-soudanien sénégalais. Bulletin des Recherches Agronomiques de Gembloux 23: 51–65.

Sources of illustration

  • Hauman, L., Cronquist, A., Léonard, J., Schubert, B., Duvigneaud, P. & Dewit, J., 1954. Papilionaceae (deuxième partie). In: Robyns, W., Staner, P., Demaret, F., Germain, R., Gilbert, G., Hauman, L., Homès, M., Jurion, F., Lebrun, J., Vanden Abeele, M. & Boutique, R. (Editors). Flore du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Spermatophytes. Volume 5. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. 377 pp.


  • L. ’t Mannetje, Eekhoornlaan 14, 6705 CH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

't Mannetje, L., 2002. Alysicarpus ovalifolius (Schumach.) J.Léonard. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Oyen, L.P.A. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 1 October 2022.