Basella alba (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Basella alba L.

Protologue: Sp. pl.: 272 (1753).
Family: Basellaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 44, 48


  • Basella rubra L. (1753),
  • B. lucida L. (1759),
  • B. cordifolia Lamk (1783).

Vernacular names

  • Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach, Malabar nightshade (En)
  • Baselle, brède de Malabar (Fr)
  • Indonesia: gandola, genjerot
  • Malaysia: gendola, remayong, tembayung
  • Philippines: alugbati, dundula, libato
  • Cambodia: chrâlong
  • Laos: pang
  • Thailand: phakpang (northern), phakplang, phakplang-yai (central)
  • Vietnam: mồng tơi, mùng tơi.

Origin and geographic distribution

Ceylon spinach is usually considered native of southern Asia (India), but its exact origin is not known. In South-East Asia and China it has been grown since ancient times. It is now widely cultivated in tropical Asia, Africa and America, and is even grown in temperate zones as an annual. In South-East Asia it is particularly popular in Malaysia and the Philippines.


Ceylon spinach is commonly grown for its young shoots which make an excellent succulent, slightly mucilaginous vegetable, used as a pot herb in stews or soups, consumed boiled, fried in oil, or sometimes as a green salad. An early use of its fruits in China seems to have been for dyeing purposes. The red fruit juice can be used as ink and cosmetic, and for colouring foods. A number of medicinal applications have been reported: young leaves as a laxative, pulped leaves to poultice sores, red fruit juice as eye-drops to treat conjunctivitis, and in the Philippines the roots are employed as a rubefacient. The red forms are commonly planted as ornamentals, even becoming popular in Europe as a pot plant.

Production and international trade

Ceylon spinach is a small-scale vegetable and since it is generally grouped together with other greens, no individual production data are available.


Shoots of Ceylon spinach contain per 100 g edible portion: water 91 g, protein 2.1 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrates 3.9 g, fibre 1.3 g. The energy value is approximately 112 kJ/100 g. The protein content is relatively low compared to other greens. The vitamin and mineral contents vary widely: vitamin A 1686-6390 IU, vitamin C 29-166 mg, Ca 16-117 mg, Fe 1.2-3.1 mg per 100 g edible portion. 1000-seed weight is 30-40 g.


  • Short-lived perennial herb, 2-6 m long, succulent; stem twining, slender, smooth, green or purplish.
  • Leaves alternate, ovate to heart-shaped with short fleshy petiole, 5-15 cm × 4-10 cm, fleshy, dark green or purplish.
  • Inflorescence a spike, hanging, axillary, 3-21 cm long; flowers inconspicuous, bisexual, sessile, 3-4 mm long, white, pink or purple; ovary rounded, styles 3, united at the base, stamens 5.
  • Fruit a depressed-globose pseudo-berry, 4-7 mm × 5-10 mm, purplish-black, with fleshy perianth which encloses the ovary after flowering, and containing a violet juice.
  • Seed single.

Three main types, which are sometimes considered distinct species, can be distinguished, The most common one has dark green, ovate or nearly round leaves. A less popular type, often planted as ornamental, has red ovate or nearly round leaves and red stems (synonym B. rubra). The third has heart-shaped, dark green leaves (synonym B. cordifolia).

B. alba is a perennial; it sends out runners over the soil and develops new roots at the nodes, thus growing on indefinitely. If grown as a climber on trellises it usually tends to die back after 2 or more years when not well cared for. With proper fertilizer application, hedges of Ceylon spinach may be maintained for long periods. In subtropical and temperate regions, new plantings must be made each year.


Ceylon spinach does well in tropical lowlands at elevations up to 500 m, but it survives even at 3000 m altitude and in temperate regions. It is a short-day plant, flowering being precluded at a daylength of more than 13 hours. It has a C4-cycle photosynthetic pathway similar to that of amaranth. Water stress promotes early flowering. B. alba is tolerant of many soils, but sandy loam appears to be most suitable.


Ceylon spinach is an easy-growing plant propagated by seed or by cuttings. Fresh healthy tip cuttings of about 20-25 cm length are the best planting material. In home gardens it is usually grown on slanting or horizontal trellises, but in market gardens often without support. For commercial production, densities of about 50 000 plants/ha are recommended.

B. alba can thrive under conditions of moderate fertility, but is quite responsive to nitrogen. The first harvest of young shoots is about 6-8 weeks after planting, subsequently at regular intervals for 4-6 months until flowering interferes too much with quality. Shoots 15-25 cm long are cut, bunched and sold at nearby markets. If undamaged, leaves can be kept for about one week in the refrigerator. Commercially grown crops may yield approximately 50 t/ha per year. Approximately 1000 kg seed per ha can be obtained annually.

B. alba is very susceptible to root knot nematodes, but is distinctly free of disease and pest problems due to its very thick leaf cuticle. Leaf-spots caused by Cercospora and Acrothecium sometimes occur.

Genetic resources and breeding

No germplasm collections are known and there are no breeding programmes. There seems to be no immediate danger of genetic erosion, but collection and screening of local types is advisable. Catalogues of Indian seed companies offer seeds of B. alba for sale.


Ceylon spinach is a very productive leaf vegetable, suitable for both home and market gardens in the lowland tropics. An important advantage of this leafy vegetable is its remarkable resistance to diseases and pests.


  • Evensen, S.K. & Standal, B.R., 1984. Use of tropical vegetables to improve diets in the Pacific region. Research series 028, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii. 32 pp.
  • Grubben, G.J.H., 1977. Tropical vegetables and their genetic resources. Tindall, H.D. & Williams, J.T. (Editors). International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR), Rome, Italy. pp. 97-101.
  • Martin, F.W. & Ruberté, R.M., 1975. Edible leaves of the tropics. Antillian College Press, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, United States. pp. 23-24.
  • van Steenis, C.G.G.J., 1957. Basella. In: van Steenis, C.G.G.J. et al. (Editors), 1950- . Flora Malesiana. Series 1. Vol. 5. Noordhoff-Kolff, Djakarta, Indonesia. Vol. 5. pp. 300-302.
  • Winters, H.F., 1963. Ceylon spinach (Basella rubra). Economic Botany 17(3): 195-199.


  • M. Rahmansyah