Cleome gynandra (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Cleome gynandra L.

Protologue: Sp. pl.: 671 (1753).
Family: Capparaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 36


  • Cleome pentaphylla L. (1763),
  • Gynandropsis pentaphylla (L.) DC. (1824),
  • G. gynandra (L.) Briq. (1914).

Vernacular names

  • Bastard mustard, cat's whiskers, spider flower (En)
  • Indonesia: maman(g), enceng-enceng (Javanese), bhubhuwan (Madurese), bobowan
  • Malaysia: mamang
  • Philippines: apoy-apoyan (Tagalog), manabo, tantandok (Ilocano), balaya (Bisaya)
  • Cambodia: momiënh
  • Laos: siènz
  • Thailand: phak sian, phak sian khao (central), phak som sian (northern)
  • Vietnam: màn màn trắng, mần ri trắng

Origin and geographic distribution

Cleome gynandra is considered native to Asia, but is widely distributed as a weed in the Old World tropics and has also been introduced into tropical America. It has been brought into cultivation in Asia and Africa, but is only of local importance.


The very bitter leaves are eaten as a vegetable, in particular in Java and Thailand. Cooking and fermentation both reduce the bitterness. Often the leaves are salted and used as a pickle. In East and West Africa it is used as a pot herb and as a flavouring for sauces. Both leaves and seeds are used medicinally as rubefacient, vesicant, and for many other ailments, externally as well as internally. In Vietnam, a decoction of the roots is taken as a febrifuge, and in Thailand against tuberculosis. In Papua New Guinea, the Goilala women believe that chewing the leaves, together with betel (Piper betle L.) for a week will increase their fertility.

The seeds are used as a substitute for mustard, hence the English name, and they yield a good oil.

Extracts of the seeds have proven to be reasonably effective as a natural insecticide in India. In temperate climates, C. gynandra is grown as a summer ornamental.

Production and international trade

C. gynandra is a common market vegetable in Malaysia and Thailand, where it is sold fresh or in brine.


Information on the nutritive composition is scarce. The leaves (West African sample) contain per 100 g edible portion: water 90 g, protein 3.9 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrates 3.6 g, fibre 0.8 g, ash 1.4 g. East African leaf samples have been reported to contain per 100 g edible portion: Ca 250 mg, Fe 10 mg, carotene > 7 mg, vitamin C 131 mg. The energy value is 137 kJ/100 g.

The constituents of the seeds are cleomin, an unsaturated lactone, tannins, reducing sugars and an acrid volatile oil, comparable with mustard oil. The volatile oil is also present in the leaves, and is responsible for the odour and flavour of the vegetable. The main constituents of the volatile oil seem to be ß-sitosterol (87%), campesterol (9%) and cholesterol (3%).


  • An erect annual herb, up to 1 m tall. Stem usually widely branched, densely covered with glandular hairs.
  • Leaves alternate, normally palmately compound, with 5 leaflets, lowest and upper leaves with 3 leaflets, smaller towards and in the inflorescence; petiole 2-10 cm long; petiolules 1-3 mm; leaflets obovate to lanceolate, 2-7.5 cm × 1-3.5 cm; narrowly cuneate at base, obtuse to short-acuminate at apex, ciliate to denticulate, thinly herbaceous.
  • Inflorescence an elongated terminal leafy few- to many-flowered raceme.
  • Flowers white or tinged with purple; pedicel 1.5-2.5 cm long; sepals 4, free, ovate to lanceolate, 2.5-6 mm × 0.5-2 mm; petals 4, elliptical to obovate, 7-15 mm × 1.5-4 mm, including a 1.5-5 mm long slender claw; androgynophore 9-16 mm; stamens 6, anthers purple; ovary on a slender stalk (gynophore), which is 1-2 mm long in flower, accrescent to 10 mm in fruit.
  • Fruit a long, narrow, cylindrical capsule, 2-11 cm × 3-6 mm, on a 1-3 cm long pedicel, with a 1-4 mm long beak, splitting from below into 2 valves.
  • Seeds numerous, depressed-globular, about 1 mm in diameter, dark brown, with a shallow and narrow cleft, irregularly ribbed.

For the distinction between C. gynandra and other Cleome L. species occurring in South-East Asia, the most important diagnostic features of C. gynandra are the long androgynophore, the short gynophore, and the basic white colour of the petals. C. gynandra is a night-flowering plant.


C. gynandra is a common weed along roadsides, on dikes of rice fields, and sandy borders of rivers. It occurs from the lowlands up to 500 m and flowers and fruits year-round. It grows best in full sunlight and rich soils where there is plenty of room to spread. C. gynandra has a C4-cycle photosynthetic pathway, which means a high photosynthesis at high temperature and radiation. It is rather drought resistant and sensitive to waterlogging.


C. gynandra is propagated by seed. Seeds are sown by broadcasting on a nursery bed followed by transplanting, or are direct-seeded in rows followed by thinning. The planting distance should be 20-30 cm × 20-30 cm. Leaves can be harvested from the second month onwards. It flowers and fruits abundantly and the yield of green vegetable is generally small. The leaves can be preserved by drying, a very common practice in Africa.


C. gynandra is more popular in Africa than in Asia probably owing to the general preference of Africans for bitter foodstuffs. At present, the main attention seems to be given to its chemical constituents, in view of medicinal or pesticidal applications. As a vegetable, however, it may have the best potential for somewhat drier climates, although more productive types need to be selected.


  • Busson, F., 1965. Plantes alimentaires de l'Ouest africain [Food plants of West Africa]. Ministère de la Coopération, Paris, France. pp. 200-203.
  • Imbamba, S.K. & Tieszen, L.L., 1977. Influence of light and temperature on photosynthesis and transpiration in some 3 carbon and 4 carbon vegetable plants from Kenya. Physiologia Plantarum 39(4): 311-316.
  • Jacobs, M., 1960. Cleome. In: van Steenis, C.G.G.J. et al. (Editors), 1950- . Flora Malesiana. Series 1. Vol. 6. Wolters-Noordhoff Publishing, Groningen, the Netherlands. pp. 99-105.
  • Perry, L.M., 1980. Medicinal plants of East and Southeast Asia. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

74, 134,

  • Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Revised reprint. 2 volumes. Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Vol. 1 (A-H) pp. 1-1240, Vol. 2 (I-Z) pp. 1241-2444.

407, 557, 644, 739, 786, 788, 914, 948, 1069. medicinals


  • F.I. Windadri
  • K. Chayamarit