Senna sophera (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Senna sophera (L.) Roxb.

Protologue: Fl. ind., ed. 1832, 2: 347 (1832).
Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 28


  • Cassia sophera L. (1753).

Vernacular names

  • Pepper-leaved senna, senna, African senna (En).
  • Cassia coromandeliana (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Senna sophera originates from tropical America, but is now pantropical. It occurs throughout tropical Africa, being common in West Africa, but in East Africa and Madagascar it is probably rare.


In West Africa a leaf infusion is drunk to treat fever and malaria. In the Comoros a decoction of the leaves is used as an eye-bath to cure conjunctivitis. A decoction of the roots is drunk to relieve painful menstruation and is given to children to stimulate their nervous system. In Indonesia extracts of all plant parts are used to treat epilepsy. In the Philippines the seeds are used to treat fever. In India the juice of the leaves is applied against ringworm, while it is also employed as an expectorant, anthelminthic and as a remedy for rheumatic and inflammatory fevers. In addition to these applications, in Thailand the leaves are used for wound healing and as an antipyretic.

Powdered dry leaves are traditionally used in Ghana to control insect pests of stored grain and pulses. Planting Senna sophera in guard rows in vegetable crops has been shown to reduce the damage caused by the giant African land snail (Achatina fulica). The young leaves are eaten as a vegetable in Madagascar. The seeds and roasted leaves serve as a coffee substitute. Senna sophera is widely grown as an ornamental.


Senna sophera has been reported to contain anthraquinones, including chrysophanol and emodin.

Dried leaves have insect repellent and insecticidal properties and give some control of storage pests, especially of cowpea weevil (Callosobruchus maculatus) and the lesser grain weevil (Sitophilus oryzae). Senna sophera, Senna occidentalis (L.) Link, Senna tora (L.) Roxb. and Chamaecrista mimosoides (L.) Greene are used medicinally almost without distinction.


Erect shrub up to 2(–3) m tall, almost glabrous. Leaves arranged spirally, paripinnately compound with 4–10 pairs of leaflets; stipules broadly triangular, early caducous; petiole 3–5 cm long, with a gland 5–10 mm above the petiole joint, rachis up to 11 cm long, without glands; leaflets lanceolate, 2–7 cm × 1–2 cm, upper leaflets largest, base rounded, apex acute to acuminate. Inflorescence an axillary corymb up to 2.5 cm long, 1–4-flowered. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, 5-merous; sepals ovate, 5–8 mm long, thinly hairy outside; petals obovate, 10–14 mm × 6–8 mm, yellow; stamens 10, 2 longer stamens with filaments 5–7 mm long and anthers 5–6 mm long, 4 shorter stamens with filaments 2 mm long and anthers 5 mm long, 4 staminodes; ovary superior, hairy, style thin, glabrous. Fruit a compressed pod 6–10 cm × 0.5–1 cm, 30–40-seeded. Seeds compressed, ovoid to rounded, 3–4 mm long.

Other botanical information

Until the early 1980s, Cassia was considered a very large genus of about 550 species, but was then split into 3 genera: Cassia s.s. with about 30 species, Chamaecrista with about 250 species and Senna with about 270 species. Senna is very similar to Cassia, but is distinguished from it by the possession of 3 adaxial stamens, which are short and straight, and the pedicels, which have no bracteoles.

Senna sophera is closely related to Senna occidentalis (L.)Link. The two are often confused, but the pods of the latter are circular in cross-section, not compressed, and have 2 rows of seeds. Records of Senna sophera at higher altitudes, e.g. in Rwanda and Uganda, are doubtful and may refer to Senna occidentalis.

Senna sophera flowers throughout the year, most abundantly after rains.


Senna sophera occurs in secondary habitats such as roadsides and waste places at lower elevations.


Senna sophera is sometimes a weed and is a host of bean common mosaic necrosis virus (BCMNV), Javanese root knot nematode (Meloidogyne javanica) and bean flower thrips (Megalurothrips sjostedti) and some monitoring is indicated in fields where pulse crops are grown.

Genetic resources

Senna sophera is widely found in and outside Africa, and is neither endangered nor liable to genetic erosion.


Senna sophera is a truely multipurpose plant, with its various medicinal properties and ornamental value.

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.
  • ILDIS, 2005. World database of Legumes, Version 10,01. International Legume Database & Information Service. [Internet] September 2006.
  • Irwin, H.S. & Barneby, R.C., 1982. The American Cassinae: a synoptical revision of Leguminosae, tribe Cassieae, subtribe Cassinae in the New World. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden 35(1): 1–454.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Toruan-Purba, A.V., 1999. Senna Miller. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 442–447.

Other references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Ali Ahmed, Eymé, J., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., Keita, A. & Lebras, M. (Editors), 1982. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques aux Comores. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 217 pp.
  • Alemayehu, G., Abegaz, B. & Kraus, W., 1998. A 1,4-anthraquinone-dihydroanthracenone dimer from Senna sophera. Phytochemistry 48(4): 699–702.
  • Belmain, S.R., Neal, G.E., Ray, D.E. & Golob, P., 2001. Insecticidal and vertebrate toxicity associated with ethnobotanicals used as post-harvest protectants in Ghana. Food and Chemical Toxicology 39(3): 287–291.
  • Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille, 54e année, 6e série, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
  • Kestenholz, C., 2001. Repellent properties of Cassia sophera L. (Caesalpiniaceae) against the rice weevil Sitophilus oryzae L. (Coleoptera; Curculionidae) and the bruchid beetle Callosobruchus maculatus F. (Coleoptera; Bruchidae). Antenna 25(1): 53–56.
  • Luckow, M., 1996. The cultivated species of Cassia, Senna and Chamaecrista (Leguminosae). Baileya 23: 195–242.
  • Raut, S.K. & Barker, G.M., 2002. Achatina fulica Bowdich and other Achatinidae as pests in tropical agriculture. In Barker, G.M. (Editor). Molluscs as crop pests. CAB International, Wallingford, United Kingdom. pp. 55–114.
  • Sengooba, T.N., Spence, N.J., Walkey, D.G.A., Allen, D.J. & Femi Lana, A., 1997. The occurrence of bean common mosaic necrosis virus in wild and forage legumes in Uganda. Plant Pathology 46(1): 95–103.


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

Correct citation of this article

Bosch, C.H., 2007. Senna sophera (L.) Roxb. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 12 November 2020.