Macrotyloma uniflorum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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1, part of branch with inflorescence and young fruit; 2, fruits; 3, seeds. Source: PROSEA

Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc.


Protologue: Kew Bull. 24: 322 (1970).
Family: Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 20, 22, 24

Synonyms

  • Dolichos uniflorus Lam. (1786),
  • Dolichos biflorus auct. non L.

Vernacular names

  • Horse gram, horse grain, Madras gram (En).
  • Kulthi, grain de cheval (Fr).
  • Feijoeiro de lagartixa, favalinha, culita (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Horse gram is native to the Old World Tropics. It was probably domesticated in India, where its cultivation is known since prehistoric times. Nowadays horse gram is cultivated as a low-grade pulse crop in southern Asia, mainly from India to Myanmar. It is also grown as a forage and green manure in many tropical countries, especially in Australia and South-East Asia. In tropical Africa horse gram is recorded to occur wild or naturalized in Central, East and Southern Africa. It has also been cultivated as a food crop and green manure in various tropical African countries, but it is unclear to what extent it is currently grown.

Uses

Mature whole or ground seeds of horse gram are eaten poached, boiled or fried. Sprouted seeds are widely consumed in India. In Myanmar the seeds are boiled, pounded with salt and fermented into a product similar to soya bean sauce.

Horse gram seeds are also fed to horses and cattle, usually after boiling. The stems, leaves and pod walls are used as fodder. Horse gram is sown as a green manure or cover crop. In Indian traditional medicine horse gram seeds are used as a diuretic, astringent and tonic.

Properties

The composition of whole horse gram seeds per 100 g edible portion is: water 9.7 g, energy 1394 kJ (333 kcal), protein 22.5 g, fat 1.0 g, carbohydrate 60.5 g and fibre 4.7 g (Leung, Busson & Jardin, 1968). The seeds contain antinutritional compounds such as lectins, trypsin inhibitors, phytates, tannins and oxalic acid.

Horse gram seeds have shown in-vivo antihepatotoxic activity in rats. Lipid from the seeds has shown in-vivo protective and healing activity against peptic ulcers in experiments with rats. Extracts from the seeds have shown in-vitro antilithic activity.

Description

  • Climbing herb with stems up to 60 cm tall, with a perennial fibrous rhizome; stem annual, sparsely to densely covered with spreading or appressed whitish hairs.
  • Leaves alternate, 3-foliolate; stipules lanceolate, 4–10 mm long, striate; petiole 1–7 cm long, rachis 2.5–10 mm long; petiolules 1–2 mm long; leaflets ovate-rhombic, obovate or elliptical, 1–7(–8) cm × 1–4(–8) cm, apex rounded to acute, base rounded, lateral leaflets asymmetric, hairy to glabrescent on both surfaces.
  • Inflorescence an axillary (1–)2–3(–5)-flowered fascicle; bracts up to 3 mm long.
  • Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous; pedicel 1–7 mm long; calyx pubescent, tube 2 mm long, lobes triangular-lanceolate, 3–8 mm long, long-acuminate, upper pair entirely fused; corolla with cream, yellow or greenish yellow standard, often with a small purple blotch inside, obovate-oblong, 6–12 mm × 4–7 mm, wings and keel greenish yellow, 5–10 mm long; stamens 10, 9 fused and 1 free; ovary superior, stiped, 1-celled.
  • Fruit a linear-oblong pod 3–8 cm × 4–8 mm, upcurved towards apex, acuminate, densely hairy when young, later more sparsely so, margins glabrous, smooth or warty, dehiscent, 5–10-seeded.
  • Seeds trapezoidal, oblong or rounded-reniform, 3–8 mm × 3–5 mm, pale to dark reddish brown, speckled or mottled with black and orange-brown or all black.

Other botanical information

Macrotyloma comprises about 25 species, most of which are restricted to Africa.

Within Macrotyloma uniflorum 4 varieties have been distinguished:

  • var. uniflorum: pods 6–8 mm wide; wild in southern Asia and Namibia, widely cultivated in the tropics as a cover and forage crop;
  • var. stenocarpum (Brenan) Verdc.: pods 4–5.5 mm wide, shortly stiped and with more or less smooth margins, leaflets pubescent; occurring in Central, East and southern Africa and in India, up to 1700 m altitude in grassland, bushland and thicket, often on sandy soils and in disturbed locations; cultivated in Australia and California (United States);
  • var. verrucosum Verdc.: pods 4–5.5 mm wide, distinctly stiped and with obscurely to markedly warted margins, leaflets pubescent; occurring in East and southern Africa up to 550 m altitude in grassland and thicket;
  • var. benadirianum (Chiov.) Verdc.: pods 4–5.5 mm wide, shortly stiped and with slightly warted margins, leaflets densely velvety; occurring in East Africa (Somalia, Kenya) at sea-level on sand dunes and thin soils on coral rag.

Horse gram is self-pollinating. Total crop duration is usually 4–6 months. It effectively nodulates with nitrogen-fixing bacteria of the Bradyrhizobium group.

Ecology

Horse gram requires an average temperature of 20–30°C and does not tolerate frost. It is drought-resistant and can be grown with rainfall as low as 380 mm. It is mostly grown in areas with less than 900 mm annual rainfall. In higher rainfall areas it is grown on residual moisture in the dry season, e.g. after a rice crop. Most horse gram cultivars are short-day plants.

Horse gram grows on a wide range of soils with pH 5–7.5, including poor soils. It does not tolerate waterlogging.

Management

Horse gram is propagated by seed. The 1000-seed weight is 15–50 g. The crop is sown broadcast or in rows 20–90 cm apart, at a seed rate of 20–45 kg/ha. The sowing depth is 1–2.5 cm. In India horse gram is usually sown as a sole crop, but sometimes it is intercropped, e.g. with finger millet, maize, chickpea, groundnut or castor. The main diseases on horse gram in India are horse gram yellow mosaic virus (HgYMV), anthracnose (Colletotrichum lindemuthianum), leaf spot (Cercospora dolichi, synonym: Mycosphaerella cruenta), rust (Uromyces appendiculatum), root rot (Pellicularia filamentosa, synonym: Thanatephorus cucumeris) and dry root rot (Macrophomina phaseolina). Recorded pests include the gram caterpillar (Azazia rubricans, synonym: Anticarsia irrorata) and the green pod-boring caterpillar (Etiella zinckenella). Horse gram grown for the seeds is harvested when the pods begin to shrivel and the leaves begin to dry and fall off. The plants are cut or uprooted, stacked, and dried in the sun for a week, after which they are threshed using sticks, stone rollers or oxen. Seed yields are usually low (150–350 kg/ha in India) but much higher yields have been obtained with improved cultivars (900 kg/ha in India, 1100–2200 kg/ha in Australia). In experiments in Nigeria in the 1990s seed yields of 700–1000 kg/ha were obtained. When grown for fodder, horse gram can be harvested about 6 weeks after sowing. Forage yields are 4–15 t dry matter per ha.

Genetic resources

Germplasm collections of horse gram are held in Australia (Australian Tropical Crops & Forages Genetic Resources Centre, Biloela, Queensland, 38 accessions) and Kenya (National Genebank of Kenya, Crop Plant Genetic Resources Centre, KARI, Kikuyu, 21 accessions). Cultivated horse gram is usually a mixture of several landraces with different seed colours and periods of maturity.

Breeding activities are focused on yield potential, resistance to diseases and insensitivity to daylength. Improved cultivars have been developed and released in India; a popular forage and fodder-grain cultivar with indehiscent pods in Australia is ‘Leichhardt’. In-vitro regeneration has been achieved by direct organogenesis using shoot tip and cotyledonary node explants, and by somatic embryogenesis through cell suspension culture of callus induced on leaf explants.

Prospects

It is unclear to what extent horse gram is presently grown in tropical Africa, and how frequently it is consumed as a pulse or used for other purposes. It seems an interesting crop for dry areas in tropical Africa, but more information is needed on the nutritional characteristics of the seed and on the acceptability of its taste for the African consumer.

Major references

  • 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.
  • Jansen, P.C.M., 1989. Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc. In: van der Maesen, L.J.G. & Somaatmadja, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 1. Pulses. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 53–54.
  • Kay, D.E., 1979. Food legumes. Crops and Product Digest No 3. Tropical Products Institute, London, United Kingdom. 435 pp.
  • Varisai Mohamed, S., Wang, C.S., Thiruvengadam, M. & Jayabalan, N., 2004. In vitro plant regeneration via somatic embryogenesis through cell suspension cultures of horsegram (Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc.). In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology - Plant 40(3): 284–289.
  • Verdcourt, B., 1982. A revision of Macrotyloma (Leguminosae). Hooker’s Icones Plantarum 38(4): 1–138.

Other references

  • Garimella, T.S., Jolly, C.I. & Narayanan, S., 2001. In vitro studies on antilithiatic activity of seeds of Dolichos biflorus Linn. and rhizomes of Bergenia ligulata Wall. Phytotherapy Research 15(4): 351–355.
  • Hanelt, P. & Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Editors), 2001. Mansfeld’s encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops (except ornamentals). 1st English edition. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 3645 pp.
  • Jayaraj, A.P., Tovey, F.I., Lewin, M.R. & Clark, C.G., 2000. Duodenal ulcer prevalence: experimental evidence for the possible role of dietary lipids. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 15(6): 610–616.
  • Laskar, S., Bhattacharyya, U.K., Sinhababu, A. & Basak, B.K., 1998. Antihepatotoxic activity of kulthi (Dolichos biflorus) seed in rats. Fitoterapia 69(5): 401–402.
  • Leung, W.-T.W., Busson, F. & Jardin, C., 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. FAO, Rome, Italy. 306 pp.
  • Mackinder, B., Pasquet, R., Polhill, R. & Verdcourt, B., 2001. Leguminosae (Papilionoideae: Phaseoleae). In: Pope, G.V. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 3, part 5. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 261 pp.
  • Omokanye, A.T., 1996. Performance of horsegram (Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc.) in the sub-humid zone of Nigeria. Legume Research 19(1): 52–54.
  • Purseglove, J.W., 1968. Tropical Crops. Dicotyledons. Longman, London, United Kingdom. 719 pp.
  • Sudha, N., Mushtari Begum, J., Shambulingappa, K.G. & Babu, C.K., 1995. Nutrients and some anti-nutrients in horsegram (Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc.). Food and Nutrition Bulletin 16(1): 81–83.

Sources of illustration

  • Jansen, P.C.M., 1989. Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc. In: van der Maesen, L.J.G. & Somaatmadja, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 1. Pulses. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 53–54.

Author(s)

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

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2006. Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 10 April 2019.