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(Desmanthus virgatus and other species)

Desmanth - illustration  


  • woody-stemmed perennial
  • tall and prostrate forms
  • summer growing, for tropics and subtropics
  • for clay soils with neutral to high pH
  • very hard seed.


Desmanthus virgatus (L.) Willd. -
1 flowering branch;
2 leaflet;
3 flower;
4 infructescense


Desmanthus is a perennial summer-growing legume for clay soils receiving 550-750 mm rainfall. It has been selected to fill the need for persistent summer-growing legumes suited to neutral to high pH in extensive grazing areas.

It is productive, palatable and drought-tolerant. Desmanthus is suited to both tropics and subtropics, being reasonably cold-tolerant, and although defoliated by heavy frosts, it will regrow from crowns once there is enough moisture. Desmanthus does not cause bloat.

While there are more prostrate forms, the selected lines are erect, branched types with fairly woody stems growing 30 to 135 cm high and around 200 cm in diameter.

Desmanthus seed is small and should be treated to reduce the high proportion of hard seed. A specific rhizobium is needed.

Three cultivars have been released, of different species and flowering times.

D. virgatus cv. Marc is short (30-60 cm) and early flowering; D.leptophyllus cv.Bayamo is tall (95-135 cm) and flowers in the mid-season; D. pubescens cv. Uman is middle height (40-100 cm) and late-flowering. Seed merchants will mix seed of these cultivars to suit local conditions.

Desmanthus can be planted with tall grasses such as buffel and Bambatsi panic; it should be allowed to set seed in the first two years to build up good reserves in the soil. The seed is very hard, and needs time to weather before it can regenerate.

A native psyllid insect can attack desmanthus, causing distortion of the leaflets and some yellowing; it is more prevalent in coastal regions and late in the season.

Creator: Ian Partridge
Date created: 03 April 1998  Revised: 15 January 2003


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