Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Desmodium incanum
(creeping beggerweed)

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Datasheet

Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 20 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Desmodium incanum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • creeping beggerweed
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Originally from New World tropics and subtropics, D. incanum is a perennial shrub that was promoted as a forage crop around the world, with further accidental spread. Although it has some value as forage, it...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.
TitleFlowers
CaptionDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.
FlowersDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowering habit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.
TitleFlowering habit
CaptionDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowering habit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowering habit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.
Flowering habitDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowering habit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2008.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); close-up of leaves. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.
TitleLeaves
CaptionDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); close-up of leaves. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); close-up of leaves. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.
LeavesDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); close-up of leaves. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers and developing seedpods. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.
TitleFlowers and developing seedpods
CaptionDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers and developing seedpods. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers and developing seedpods. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.
Flowers and developing seedpodsDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); flowers and developing seedpods. Kipahulu LZ Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2009.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); burs stuck to trouser legs and boot laces. Piiholo, Maui, Hawaii, USA. August, 2013.
TitleBurs stuck to trousers and boots
CaptionDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); burs stuck to trouser legs and boot laces. Piiholo, Maui, Hawaii, USA. August, 2013.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Desmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); burs stuck to trouser legs and boot laces. Piiholo, Maui, Hawaii, USA. August, 2013.
Burs stuck to trousers and bootsDesmodium incanum (creeping beggerweed, Spanish clover); burs stuck to trouser legs and boot laces. Piiholo, Maui, Hawaii, USA. August, 2013.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Desmodium incanum DC.

Preferred Common Name

  • creeping beggerweed

Other Scientific Names

  • Aeschynomene incana (SW.) G. Mey.
  • Aeschynomene spicata Poir.
  • Desmodium canum (J.F. Gmel.) Schinz & Thell.
  • Desmodium frutescens Schindl.
  • Desmodium frutescens var. amblyophyllum (Urb.) Schindl.
  • Desmodium incanum var. supinum (DC.) Hooker & Arnott
  • Desmodium portoricense (Spreng.) G.Don
  • Desmodium supinum (Sw.) DC.
  • Desmodium supinum var. amblyophyllum Urb.
  • Hedysarum canescens Mill.
  • Hedysarum canum J.F. Gmel.
  • Hedysarum incanum Sw.
  • Hedysarum racemiferum J.F. Gmel.
  • Hedysarum racemosum Aubl.
  • Hedysarum supinum Sw.
  • Meibomia adscendens var. incana (Sw.) Kuntze
  • Meibomia cana S. F. Blake
  • Meibomia incana (Sw.) Vail
  • Meibomia supina (Sw.) Britton

International Common Names

  • English: beggar's lice; creeping beggarweed; kaimi-clover; Spanish clover; tick trefoil; wild peanut; zarzabacoa comun
  • Spanish: pega-pega; zarzabacoa comun
  • French: colle-colle; gros treff; gros trefle; herb gallon; pois madame
  • Portuguese: amor-de-campo; carrapicho-beico-de-boi; pega-pega

Local Common Names

  • Cook Islands: piripiri
  • Dominican Republic: amor seco
  • Lesser Antilles: sweethearts
  • Madagascar: famalakantsy; pelatsifotra; savisaha; tialamba
  • Marshall Islands: lattil pako
  • USA/Hawaii: ka'imi

Summary of Invasiveness

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Originally from New World tropics and subtropics, D. incanum is a perennial shrub that was promoted as a forage crop around the world, with further accidental spread. Although it has some value as forage, it is no longer highly regarded. Its main value lies in its nitrogen-fixing ability (for intercropping). D. incanum is regarded as weedy both within and outside of its native range. It occupies roadsides, rough places, pastures, unplanted grasslands, volcanic soils and in dry to wet areas with low stature vegetation. It is an occasional problem in coffee, banana and rice crops. D. incanum is able to withstand and thrive with frequent herbicidal treatments, grazing, cultivation and fire. Its dispersal is mediated by sticky seeds, which can adhere to people, animals and machinery, making it a nuisance. It is able to compete and persist well with other dominant grasses, including invasive ones. Its spreading (scrambly) low stature habit helps it to both dominate other low vegetation and to persist within it. It could also carry pests and diseases of legume crops such as peanut. 

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Fabales
  •                         Family: Fabaceae
  •                             Subfamily: Faboideae
  •                                 Genus: Desmodium
  •                                     Species: Desmodium incanum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The most commonly used synonym in the literature is Desmodiumcanum but this was the result of the incorrect use of an illegitimate basionym (Nicolson, 1978). Sometimes the authority for D. incanum is given as (Sw.) DC, but this is also incorrect. That name refers to a different taxon which is either Desmodium mauritianum (ILDIS, 2013) or Desmodium ramosissimum; these being synonyms of each other.

Desmodium comes from the Greek word desmos which means a bond or chain. Kaimi (correctly Ka’imi) clover, the Hawaiian name for the plant, means 'seeker'. The other English names, which refer to lice and ticks, relate to the sticky seeds that stick to clothes and pets like those pests. The number of common names for the plant in Madagascar implies that it is a common, well-known plant there (ILDIS, 2013).

Description

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The following description is from Wagner et al. (1999):

Prostrate, ascending, or erect subshrubs or shrubs up to 1 m tall; stems pubescent with spreading hooked and longer straight hairs, glabrate. Leaves trifoliolate, leaflets subcoriaceous, usually elliptic or narrowly elliptic, terminal one 4-9 cm long, 1.5-4.5 cm wide, lateral nerves conspicuous, upper surface with minute hooked and straight hairs, lower surface densely appressed pubescent, apex obtuse or often acute, petioles 1-4 cm long. Flowers numerous in racemose inflorescences 5-12 cm long, rachis densely pubescent with minute hooked hairs, pedicels 3-10 mm long, persistent after articles fall, pubescent with minute hooked hairs; corolla pink to purplish, 5-6 mm long. Pods stipitate, (3) 4-5 (-8)-jointed, (2-) 2.5-3 (-4) cm long, densely pubescent with hooked hairs, articles nearly semicircular, 4-5 mm long, ca. 3 mm wide.

The following description is from Acevedo-Rodríguez (2005):

Decumbent or scandent herb, much branched from the woody base, attaining 1-1.5 m in length. Stems more or less cylindrical, appressed pubescent or pilose, glabrescent with age. Leaves alternate, trifoliolate; leaflets 3-9 × 0.8-3.8 cm, elliptical, oblong, ovate, lanceolate, or exceptionally rounded, chartaceous, involute, the apex obtuse or acute, mucronate, the base obtuse or rounded, the margins entire; upper surface dark green, puberulent; lower surface grayish green, strigulose, with prominent venation; petiolules 1.5-3 mm long, pilose; petioles 0.7-3 cm long, pilose, canaliculate; rachis 3-10 mm long, pilose, canaliculate; stipules ovate to lanceolate, 6-10 mm long, persistent; stipels minute, subulate. Inflorescences of terminal pseudoracemes, 10-18 cm long, pubescent; bracts minute, persistent. Calyx green, campanulate, 2.5-3 mm long, strigulose; corolla pink or pink-violet, the standard ovate, 5-6 mm long, retuse, unguiculate at the base, the wings and the keel as long as the standard. Legume uncinate-pubescent, 2-4 cm long, crenate on the ventral suture, with 5-8 fertile segments. Seeds 2.5-3.5 mm long, oblong elliptical, light brown. 

Plant Type

Top of page Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated
Shrub
Vegetatively propagated

Distribution

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D. incanum is native to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Some accounts report that the species is native in Florida and Texas (Green et al., 2008; ILDIS, 2013), although important databases with expert input for the flora regard it as introduced (Wunderlin and Hansen, 2012; USDA-NRCS, 2013). It is not clear whether the plant is native in Galapagos (Simbaña and Tye, 2009).  

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

IndiaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-JavaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
JapanPresentIntroduced Invasive Mito and Uesugi, 2004Wild in Japan
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013

Africa

AldabraPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
CameroonPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
ComorosPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
Equatorial GuineaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
GabonPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
GuineaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
LiberiaPresentIntroducedSmith, 1995; ILDIS, 2013
MadagascarRandriamalala et al., 2012
MaliPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
RéunionPresentIntroduced Invasive Macdonald et al., 1991
Sao Tome and PrincipePresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
SeychellesPresentIntroducedRobertson and Todd, 1983; ILDIS, 2013
Sierra LeonePresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
South AfricaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
TanzaniaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013
UgandaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2013

North America

MexicoDalle and Blois, 2006; ILDIS, 2013
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Wunderlin and Hansen, 2012Throughout
-GeorgiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013Southern coast, two counties
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Imada, 2012All main islands except Kahoolawe
-LouisianaPresentIntroducedPitman et al., 1997Showed potential as fodder plant
-TexasWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013Limited distribution

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
BarbadosPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
BelizePresentNativeDwyer and Spellman, 1981
British Virgin IslandsPresentNativeD'Arcy, 1967
Cayman IslandsPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
Costa RicaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
CubaPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
CuraçaoPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
DominicaPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
El SalvadorPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
GrenadaPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
GuadeloupePresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
GuatemalaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
HondurasPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
JamaicaPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
MartiniquePresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
MontserratPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
NicaraguaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
PanamaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
Puerto RicoPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
Saint LuciaPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesIsaac et al., 2007; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
Trinidad and TobagoPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
United States Virgin IslandsPresentNativeAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012

South America

ArgentinaParodi, 1943; Garbulsky and Deregibus, 2006
BoliviaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-MaranhaoWidespreadNative Invasive Mesquita et al., 2013Weed of rice fields
-Mato GrossoWidespreadNative Invasive Dutra et al., 2009
-Mato Grosso do SulWidespreadNative Invasive Guglieri-Caporal et al., 2010; Assuncao et al., 2011kno
-ParaLocalisedNative Invasive Mitja and Miranda, 2010Weed
-ParanaAndrade et al., 2009
-Rio Grande do SulHollas et al., 2008; Jacobi et al., 2013
ColombiaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
EcuadorPresentNativeILDIS, 2013Mainland and Galapagos
French GuianaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
GuyanaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
ParaguayPresentNativeHacker et al., 1996Common in sown pasture
PeruPresentNativeILDIS, 2013
SurinamePresentNativeILDIS, 2013
UruguayWidespreadNative Invasive Reinert et al., 2004Increased in abundance after herbicide applied
VenezuelaPresentNativeILDIS, 2013

Oceania

American SamoaWhistler, 1998; Ragone and Lorence, 2003
AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-QueenslandLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Jones and Bunch, 2003Spreading from small plantings
Cook IslandsWidespreadIntroduced Invasive McCormack, 2013A very widespread, strong-stemmed creeping weed. A very persistent and difficult to control weed of gardens and horticultural plots
FijiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Smith, 1979Cultivated and invasive
French PolynesiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Wagner and Lorence, 2013
GuamPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
KiribatiLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Space and Imada, 2004Limited, on Tarawa
Marshall IslandsLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Fosberg, 1955; Shine et al., 2003
Micronesia, Federated states ofWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Josekutty et al., 2002; PIER, 2013
NauruPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2004
Norfolk IslandWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Orchard, 1994Widespread weed of pastures and rough land
Northern Mariana IslandsLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Fosberg et al., 1975
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2003Low risk or only of agricultural concern
SamoaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2013
TongaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2013
VanuatuPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Meyer, 2007Adventive

History of Introduction and Spread

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The timing of the spread of the plant in the tropics including most oceanic islands is unclear. For a short period during the twentieth century it was promoted as a forage plant and may have been intentionally planted, but its use and promotion has diminished since (Jones and Bunch, 2003; ILDIS, 2013). With its seeds being such able hitchhikers on clothes, socks, legs, shoes, shoe-laces, animals, pets and livestock, in most case it is likely to have spread accidentally.

D. incanum was first noted on Round Island, Mauritius, in 1987, and was probably introduced during invasive animal and plant management efforts (C. Griffiths, University of Bristol, UK, personal communication, 2013; Griffiths et al., 2013). Today it is prolific and widespread on Round Island. Both the Aldabran giant and Radiata tortoises consume large quantities of this legume, and as a result it has changed its growth form, becoming more prostrate (and possibly occupying more space). Seed productivity, however, has fallen where tortoises continually graze this species (C. Griffiths, University of Bristol, UK, personal communication, 2013).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Mauritius Mauritius 1987 Hitchhiker (pathway cause) Yes No Griffiths et al. (2013) Introduced by conservation management activities (Mauritius to Round island, Mauritius).

Risk of Introduction

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D. incanum is mostly spread via its sticky seeds and could easily be transported anywhere on people, camping equipment, pets, vehicles etc. It is known to be transported to new sites by conservation workers, for example on helicopter landing zones in relatively intact forest sites in Hawaii (Forest Starr, Starr Environmental, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013) and during invasive mammal eradication efforts on Round Island, Mauritius in 1987 (Griffiths et al., 2013). Spread via wool fleeces, hides or other animal products, is also possible.

Habitat

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D. incanum is known to occur in disturbed places on both inhabited and uninhabited islands of the Pacific (Whistler, 1998; Starr and Starr, 2006; Starr et al., 2006; US Forest Service, 2014). It tends to grow alongside trails and fence lines, but does not do well under the forest canopy (J. Beachy and S. Kaye, Big Island Invasive Species Committee, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013).

The plant occurs in important habitats in Florida, including pine rockland (Green et al., 2008), dry prairies (Orzell and Bridges, 2006), Cedar Key State Reserve (Amoroso and Judd, 1995) and in various protected areas (e.g. Hubbard and Judd, 2013) including the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Zomlefer and Giannasi, 2005). It is a significant weed along roads, trails and disturbed areas in Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (E. Montgomery, Hawaii Invasive Species Council, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013). 

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
 
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Natural
Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Principal habitat Natural
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Natural
Buildings Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Buildings Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Natural
Rocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Natural
Arid regions Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Principal habitat Natural
Littoral
Coastal areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Principal habitat Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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Banana, rice and pastures are the main crops for which D. incanum is a recognized weed. However, this species is usually one of a suite of problematic species rather than a principal problem (Bergin, 2003; Jones and Bunch, 2003; Isaac et al., 2007; Guglieri-Caporal et al., 2010; Mesquita et al., 2013). 

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Coffea arabica (arabica coffee)RubiaceaeMain
Musa (banana)MusaceaeMain
Oryza (rice (generic level))PoaceaeMain
Poaceae (grasses)PoaceaeMain

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The chromosome number is 2n = 22 (Young, 1940; Schifino-Wittmann, 2000). Hybrids with Desmodium uncinatum are possible (Chow and Crowder, 1973), but it is unclear whether they occur in the wild.

Reproductive biology

The plant is commonly pollinated by bees (or other generalist pollinators) and via self-fertilisation (Etcheverry et al., 2010). Flowers are diurnal and triggered explosively by tension created in the keel and wings of the flower. After the initial visit most of the pollen is released and few visits from bees are likely again (Alemán et al., 2014). Anthers of D. incanum dehisce in the mid-afternoon, with 14-15.2 hours of light in the glasshouse, and flowers can be tripped by insect pollinators. Even in the absence of pollinators, seed set can exceed 50% (Chow and Crowder, 1974). Reproduction is often via seeds, and dispersal via the stick tight adherence provided by its hairy Velcro-like seed pods (Mori and Brown, 1998). The plant can root from stems, and fragments of the tap root can resprout (University of Florida Nassau County Extension, 2013).

Chemical and mechanical scarification and heating of seeds improves germination rates which were about 25% in one study (Franke and Baseggio, 1998).

Physiology and phenology

In warm tropical areas, D. incanum flowers and fruits all year round. Elsewhere in subtropical to temperate sites it may flower and fruit only in the warm season. Under high levels of herbivory it can adopt a more spreading prostate habit (C. Griffiths, University of Bristol, UK, personal communication, 2013).

Associations

D. incanum has symbiotic associations with root-nodulating nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria Bradyrhizobium elkanii (Kuykendall et al., 1992; Menna et al., 2006; 2009).

Environmental requirements

D. incanum does not tolerate long periods of wet conditions, preferring well-drained soils, and can withstand fairly arid conditions. It is often regarded as a poor competitor, except under disturbed conditions with high light levels. 

Natural Food Sources

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Food SourceLife StageContribution to Total Food Intake (%)Details
Tilapia busumana Adult

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Tolerated > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
30 30

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Acanthoscelides puelliopsis Herbivore Seeds not specific
Aecidium Pathogen Leaves not specific
Cercospora canescens Pathogen Leaves not specific
Cladosporium oxysporum Pathogen Leaves not specific
Desmodium mosaic virus Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Meibomeus apicicornis Herbivore Seeds not specific
Meibomeus mitchellii Herbivore Seeds not specific
Meibomeus panamensis Herbivore Seeds not specific
Meliola bicornis Pathogen Leaves not specific
Meliola denticulata Pathogen Whole plant not specific
mycoplasma-like organisms Pathogen Leaves not specific
Oidium Pathogen Leaves not specific
Peanut mottle virus Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Peanut stunt virus Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Phomopsis Pathogen Leaves not specific
Pseudocercospora meibomiae Pathogen Leaves not specific
Urbanus proteus Herbivore Leaves not specific
Uromyces hedysari-paniculati Pathogen Leaves not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Several genera of fungi and other plant pathogens have been shown to attack D. incanum, and other diseases are known to infest Desmodium spp., but no information is given about these species (Lenné and Stanton, 1990). Viruses include peanut mottle virus (Demski et al., 1981) and peanut stunt cucumovirus (Gillaspie Jr and Ghabrial, 1998). As such, the plant could harbour a number of diseases and pests that attack peanut crops. It is resistant to root-knotting nematodes and is a suggested source of resistance genes (Quesenberry et al., 2008). A few species of pea or bean weevils (genus Meibomeus) are known to feed on D. incanum (Romero and Johnson, 2002). Any predators, diseases or pests of peas and beans could potentially impact this species. Some generalist insect predators of beans, such as Urbanus proteus, are known to attack D. incanum, and there are probably many more of these than are documented here (Capinera, 2011). The seed beetle Acanthoscelides puelliopsis is a seed predator of D. incanum, and is from a group that is specialized on plants in the subfamily Papilionoideae (Johnson and Siemens, 1995).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal productionStick-tight mechanism permits adherence to animals Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998
ForageOften promoted as forage Yes Yes Demski et al., 1981; Schifino-Wittmann, 2000; Smith, 1995
HitchhikerStick-tight seeds provide adherence Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998
Hunting, angling, sport or racingIntroduced to Round Island, Mauritius, during mammal eradication Yes Yes Griffiths et al., 2013
Landscape improvementLikely to be transported on clothing of workers Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998
Nursery tradeIf promoted for forage and erosion control, it could be a weedy contaminant of other plants and soil Yes Yes
People foragingSticky seeds provide the means to spread on clothes and equipment Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998
Seed tradeForage of hydro-mulch seeds sold for planting could contain this species either as the main forage o Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Hides, trophies and feathersSticky seeds could attach to furs, pelts etc. Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998
Land vehiclesSticky seeds could attach to vehicles Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998
LivestockSticky seeds could attach to furs, pelts etc. Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998
Pets and aquarium speciesSticky seeds could attach to furs, pelts etc. Yes Yes Mori and Brown, 1998

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants Yes Yes Pest or symptoms usually invisible

Economic Impact

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D. incanum is frequently a significant component of productive grasslands, and is variously viewed as a secondary and valued forage or a weed both within and outside of its native range (Hacker et al., 1996; Jones and Bunch, 2003; Garbulsky and Deregibus, 2006; Guglieri-Caporal et al., 2010). Due to its nitrogen-fixing abilities it is possible that it has an impact on soil nutrient cycles (these could be viewed as positive or negative), but no studies quantify this, or any possible consequences to co-occurring species – not even in the studies of it as a forage. It is a common weed of slash and burn agriculture, and disturbed secondary vegetation (Dalle and de Blois, 2006; Mitja and Miranda, 2010; Randriamalala et al., 2012). It is widespread in many regions where it occurs, but rarely the most significant weed (e.g. Lárez Rivas, 2007). Some costs may be offset at the most minor scales by the benefits derived from its use as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory (Vargas et al., 1991).

On the Big Island of Hawaii (USA), ranchers on (windward) Big Island welcome D. incanum in the pasture. It disappears after about two years of continuous cattle grazing, but comes back vigorously when the field is rested. It does well in a mix with California grass (Urochloa mutica), which also gives way to Paspalum conjugatum after a year or two without steady rotation. D. incanum is also controlled by mowing on coffee farms in the South Kona area of Big Island. 

Some extension offices in universities and state government, as well as lawn management companies in North America, describe its identification, control and management as a lawn weed (e.g. University of Florida Extension Office, 2013).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

D. incanum is known to occur in disturbed places on both inhabited and uninhabited islands of the Pacific, and while it is often widespread, it is rarely more than locally abundant (Whistler, 1998; Starr and Starr, 2006; Starr et al., 2006; US Forest Service, 2014). The offshore islands and islets of Hawaii are mainly protected areas and provide a habitat for seabirds. It occurs in protected areas in Hawaii on Molokai at Kalaupapa National Historic Park (Medeiros et al., 1996) and on Maui in Haleakala National Park (Welton and Haus, 2008), but is simply listed with a suite of other invasive species and no negative impacts are attributed to it alone. This weed is occasionally controlled in Hawaii in conservation areas, where it is never a major component. It tends to grow alongside trails and fence lines, but does not do well under the forest canopy (J. Beachy and S. Kaye, Big Island Invasive Species Committee, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013). Its control is usually for its nuisance value and because conservation workers do not want to see it even as a trailside weed in more pristine areas. A congener Desmodium tortuosum is viewed as a more significant (and already widespread) problem in Hawaii (J. Beachy and S. Kaye, Big Island Invasive Species Committee, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013).

The plant occurs in important habitats in Florida, including pine rockland (Green et al., 2008), dry prairies (Orzell and Bridges, 2006), Cedar Key State Reserve (Amoroso and Judd, 1995)and in various protected areas (e.g. Hubbard and Judd, 2013)including the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Zomlefer and Giannasi, 2005). It is a significant weed along roads, trails and disturbed areas in Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve but doesn’t overly compete with important species, or in relatively intact native plant communities (E. Montgomery, Hawaii Invasive Species Council, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013). It is widespread in the lower two-thirds of the state of Florida and is also documented in several of the northern counties (Wunderlin and Hansen, 2012), and so its occurrence in protected areas is unsurprising.

Impact on Biodiversity

D. incanum has been listed as co-occurring with important species of conservation concern in the Galapagos (Linum cratericola), where it may or may not be native (Simbaña and Tye, 2009). However, it is not described as a threat to these species. Similarly, it is listed as an invasive species in cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) habitat on land used by the military for training, but is likely to pose little or no threat to the woodpecker or the vegetation upon which the woodpecker depends (Guertin and Tess, 2006). It is listed as one of many non-native species co-occurring with the threatened endemic species in Florida including Harrisia aboriginum, Argythamnia blodgettii and Indigoferatrita subsp. scabra (Bradley et al., 2004; Hodges and Bradley, 2006). The presumed mechanism for an impact is via competition, but no clear indication of it being a significant threat is given. In Hawaii, there is one instance where D. incanum threatens conservation values, where it (along with other non-native species) has invaded the West Maui population of Tetramolopium sylvae (Hank Oppenheimer, Maui Nui Plant Extinction Prevention Program, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Argythamnia blodgettiiNT (IUCN red list: Near threatened) NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)FloridaCompetitionBradley et al., 2004
Harrisia aboriginum (Aboriginal prickly-apple)NatureServe NatureServe; USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesFloridaCompetitionBradley et al., 2004
Indigofera trita subsp. scabra (Asian Indigo)No DetailsFloridaCompetitionBradley et al., 2004
Picoides borealisNT (IUCN red list: Near threatened) NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)Guertin and Tess, 2006
Tetramolopium sylvaeNatureServe NatureServe; NatureServe NatureServe; NatureServe NatureServeHawaiiCompetition
Schiedea spergulina var. leiopodaNational list(s) National list(s); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resourcesUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2010

Social Impact

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Mainly a scourge for parents who have to pick it out of their children’s socks (and their own), and it frequently attaches to shoe laces, and trouser bottoms. It is best described as a major nuisance.

Conservation managers with awareness of the issue try not to spread weeds of any kind to pristine areas, and the diligence required can be time-consuming and stressful.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Increases vulnerability to invasions
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Herbivory/grazing/browsing
  • Rapid growth
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult/costly to control

Uses

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Economic Value

In pastures it has been promoted as a useful nitrogen-fixer and a source of fodder with extra protein. It may be useful because it survives herbivory, some herbicide applications, and dry conditions (Smith, 1995; Schifino-Wittmann, 2000; Garbulsky and Deregibus, 2006; ILDIS, 2013; Tropical Forages, 2013). It is secondarily preferred by livestock, however, and therefore ranchers must invest effort in maintaining the preferred grasses (Bergin, 2003; Jones and Bunch, 2003).

Social Benefit

D. incanum is used as a diuretic, stomachic, febrifuge and hemostatic in Central America (Setyowati-Indarto and Brink, 1999).

Environmental Services

Despite its status as an invasive species in the Pacific (US Forest Service, 2014), the USDA continues to promote the planting of this species to establish ground cover, in the context of agricultural and biodiversity values and for soil conservation measures (USDA-NRCS, 2012).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed

Environmental

  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Land reclamation
  • Revegetation

Diagnosis

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No methods are available for testing and screening this species, apart from the usual use of plant identification tools such as keys. DNA barcoding would be possible, since several DNA barcoding regions have been sampled and are available on GenBank (NCBI, 2014).

Detection and Inspection

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Inspection of sticky D. incanum seeds and seed pods on equipment and clothing, and removing or cleaning of these, could slow or prevent the spread of this species.

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Desmodium is a large genus (around 450 species). Congeners in its native range are described with keys (Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2005; Lárez Rivas, 2007; Dutra et al., 2009) and from flora descriptions outside its native range (e.g. Wagner et al., 1999).

Prevention and Control

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Cultural control and sanitary measures

Reducing grazing frequency can favour co-occurring pasture grasses, and the competitive interaction can reduce D. incanum dominance (Bergin, 2003). Partially contradicting, one observer suggested continuous grazing may effectively control D. incancum to low levels, but that after release from grazing pressure it 'comes back with a vengeance' (S. Kaye, Big Island Invasive Species Committee, Hawaii USA, personal communication, 2013). Tortoises were found to significantly reduce the cover of introduced plants compared to native species on Round Island in Mauritius (Griffiths et al., 2013), and D. incanum formed a significant part of their diet. It is not clear whether the cover of D. incanum was reduced by tortoise herbivory. In most cases it is regarded as tolerant of herbivory, disturbance and tillage (Dalle and de Blois, 2006; Guglieri-Caporal et al., 2010; Randriamalala et al., 2012).

Physical/mechanical control

D. incanum reproduces by seed, stolons and broken taproots. Complete removal of the roots is required for effective control. It withstands or benefits from fire, intense grazing and tillage (Dalle and de Blois, 2006; Guglieri-Caporal et al., 2010; Randriamalala et al., 2012).

Movement control

Conservation workers in Hawaii and elsewhere are in the practice of wearing clean, D. incanum seed-free clothes when going to field sites that may be relatively weed-free. For example, this would be important when flying into conservation areas by helicopter.

Chemical control

Often D. incanum is a lawn weed and is considered hard to control because the tap root can persist after herbicide treatments (University of Florida Nassau County Extension, 2013). A pre-emergent herbicide can be used in spring to help control D. incanum in lawns (University of Florida Extension Office, 2013). One control method requires that you locate the main stem, cut it close to the ground and immediately “paint” the cut stem with a glyphosate-type product (University of Florida Extension Office, 2013). Control with triclopyr can be as high as 90% and does not kill associated grasses such as Paspalum notatum (Freitas et al., 2003). Use of herbicides generally to control it, or other weeds will not necessarily cause its decline, and can promote its dominance (Reinert et al., 2004). 

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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This weed may be under-reported where it is common and is probably in more sites than reported. Its pattern and history of spread could perhaps be ascertained via population genetic studies.

References

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Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Contributors

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13/1/14 Original text by:

Christopher E. Buddenhagen, Florida State University, USA

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