Cleome monophylla (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Cleome monophylla L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 672 (1753).
Family: Capparaceae (APG: Brassicaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 22

Vernacular names

  • Spiderplant, spindle pot, bastard mustard (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Cleome monophylla is widespread in tropical and subtropical Africa, including Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands, and is also found in India and Sri Lanka.


Although the fresh Cleome monophylla plant has an unpleasant smell and acrid taste, it is locally used as a vegetable in Africa. It is most popular in southern Africa but mainly when better vegetables are not available. Particularly the young leaves and shoots, but sometimes all aboveground parts are used as a cooked vegetable or as a flavouring, alone or mixed with other vegetables and added to a staple food. In Tanzania the seed has been used to prepare a mustard-like vegetable oil.

In Nigeria crushed leaves are rubbed on the head against headache and finely ground leaf is put in the eye to remove irritating particles. In Tanzania dried ground leaves are put on sores, and roots are chewed to treat cough. The whole plant is used externally to treat swellings. In India the leaves and seeds, alone or in a mixture, are applied to ulcers, boils and wounds to prevent the formation of pus. Plant juice, with some water added, is a common remedy against ear inflammations and is a sudorific in cases of fever. The seeds have anthelmintic, rubefacient and vesicant properties.


The nutrient content of Cleome monophylla per 100 g (cooked) is: energy 73 kJ (17 kcal), protein 3.0 g, fibre 2.7 g, Ca 1.9 mg, Fe 9.24 mg, Zn 0.43 mg, β-carotene 3.98 mg, folate 50.5 μg, ascorbic acid 13.2 mg (Nesamvuni, C., Steyn, N.P. & Potgieter, 2001). Some people prefer Cleome monophylla to Cleome gynandra because it is said to be less bitter. In Uganda it is recommended that it be cooked one day before eating to allow slightly toxic enzymes to break down. It is probably because of its smell and taste that cattle will not easily graze it.

An essential oil extracted from Cleome monophylla exhibited repellency against the tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus and the maize weevil (Sitophilus zeamais), comparable to that of the commercial arthropod repellent diethyltoluamide (Deet). Of the 14 constituents of the oil the major ones are: terpenolene (14%), 1-α-terpeneol (10%), pentacosane (9%), (α and β)-humulene (8%), phytol (5%) and 2-dodecanone (4%). The most repellent components were 1-α-terpeneol and 2-dodecanone.


  • Erect or spreading annual herb up to 1 m tall; stem densely covered with short glandular and longer non-glandular hairs.
  • Leaves alternate, simple; petiole up to 2.5 cm long; blade usually lanceolate or oblong, sometimes ovate or linear-lanceolate, 1.5–7 cm × 0.7–3 cm, margin entire, pubescent on both surfaces with hairs like those on the stem.
  • Inflorescence a few-flowered, terminal raceme, in fruit up to 35 cm long.
  • Flowers bisexual, small, 4-merous; pedicel up to 1 cm long; sepals narrowly lanceolate, 3–5 mm long; petals free, obovate to oblanceolate, 3–9 mm × 1.5–2 mm, at base tapering into a thin claw about as long as the sepals, pink to purple; stamens 5–6, two inner ones slightly longer than outer ones, filaments 5–6 mm long; ovary superior, 1-celled, pubescent, style short, stigma capitate.
  • Fruit a spindle-shaped capsule, 3–9 cm × 2–3 mm, with stalk up to 4 mm long, densely covered with glandular and non-glandular hairs, completely dehiscing with 2 valves.
  • Seeds flattened to subglobose, 1.5–2 mm in diameter, dark brown with fine longitudinal striations and low transverse ridges.

Cleome comprises 150–200 species, with the majority in tropical America, whereas about 50 are known from tropical Africa. It is classified in the subfamily Cleomoideae, sometimes considered as a separate family Cleomaceae. Cleome monophylla is easily recognized because of its simple entire leaves.


Cleome monophylla is found in dry savanna grassland, deciduous woodland and bushland, lakeshores, disturbed land and as a weed of cultivation, from sea-level up to 2100 m altitude. In Uganda it grows in areas with an annual rainfall of 700–1200 mm. In dry areas it often grows on humid sandy soil in the rainy season, but it tolerates a wide range of soils.


Cleome monophylla is collected from the wild and is not cultivated. However, propagation is possible by seed and cultivation methods are similar to those of Cleome gynandra, but commercial cultivation does not seem promising because of the small leaves. In Malawi Cleome monophylla is a host for the tobacco aphid.

Genetic resources

Cleome monophylla is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.


Cleome monophylla will remain a minor vegetable of local importance. Its nutritional, medicinal and insecticidal properties deserve more investigation.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
  • Katende, A.B., Ssegawa, P. & Birnie, A., 1999. Wild food plants and mushrooms of Uganda. Technical Handbook No 19. Regional Land Management Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 490 pp.
  • Kers, L.E., 1986. Capparidaceae. Flore du Cameroun. Volume 29. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 141 pp.
  • Nesamvuni, C., Steyn, N.P. & Potgieter, M.J., 2001. Nutritional value of wild, leafy plants consumed by the Vhavenda. South African Journal of Science 97: 51–54.
  • Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
  • Schippers, R.R., 2000. African indigenous vegetables. An overview of the cultivated species. Natural Resources Institute/ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Chatham, United Kingdom. 214 pp.

Other references

  • Elffers, J., Graham, R.A. & Dewolf, G.P., 1964. Capparidaceae. In: Hubbard, C.E. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 88 pp.
  • Hauman, L. & Wilczek, R., 1951. Capparidaceae. 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 2. Institut National pour l’Étude Agronomique du Congo belge, Brussels, Belgium. pp. 454–521.
  • Kers, L.E., 2000. Capparidaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 74–120.
  • Maundu, P.M., Ngugi, G.W. & Kabuye, C.H.S., 1999. Traditional food plants of Kenya. Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), Nairobi, Kenya. 270 pp.
  • Ndungu, M., Lwande, W., Hassanali, A., Moreka, L. & Chhabra, S.C., 1995. Cleome monophylla essential oil and its constituents as tick (Rhipicephalus appendiculatus) and maize weevil (Sitophilus zeamais) repellents. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 76(3): 217–222.
  • Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
  • Wild, H., 1960. Capparidaceae. In: Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 1, part 1. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 195–245.
  • Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp.


  • P.C.M. Jansen, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Cleome monophylla L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands.

Accessed 25 March 2023.