Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cuphea carthagenensis
(Colombian waxweed)



Cuphea carthagenensis (Colombian waxweed)


  • Last modified
  • 19 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cuphea carthagenensis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Colombian waxweed
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Cuphea carthagenensis is an annual herb of moist habitats. Although its native range is uncertain, it is likely to cover parts of Central America and the Caribbean, and South America. It has become naturalized...

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Cuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
TitleFlowering habit
CaptionCuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
Copyright©Keith A. Bradley-2011
Cuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
Flowering habitCuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.©Keith A. Bradley-2011
Cuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
TitleFlowering habit
CaptionCuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
Copyright©Keith A. Bradley-2011
Cuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
Flowering habitCuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); flowering habit. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.©Keith A. Bradley-2011
Cuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); close view of flower. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
CaptionCuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); close view of flower. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
Copyright©Keith A. Bradley-2011
Cuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); close view of flower. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.
FlowerCuphea carthagenensis (tarweed cuphea); close view of flower. Congaree National Park, Richland County, South Carolina, USA. September, 2012.©Keith A. Bradley-2011


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cuphea carthagenensis (Jacq.) J.F.Macbr.

Preferred Common Name

  • Colombian waxweed

Other Scientific Names

  • Balsamona pinto Vand.
  • Cuphea balsamona Cham. & Schltdl.
  • Cuphea divaricata Pohl ex Koehne
  • Cuphea elliptica Koehne
  • Cuphea peplidioides Martel ex Koehne
  • Cuphea pinto Koehne
  • Lythrum carthagenense Jacq.
  • Parsonsia balsamona (Cham. & Schltdl.) Standl.
  • Parsonsia pinto (Vand.) Heller

International Common Names

  • English: Colombian cuphea; tarweed
  • Spanish: escobilla

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: sete-sangrias
  • Fiji: kerisi; lasahia
  • Mexico: caxanil
  • Nicaragua: pica mano
  • Philippines: katarataraq
  • Samoa: laau fau moti
  • USA/Hawaii: puakamoli

Summary of Invasiveness

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Cuphea carthagenensis is an annual herb of moist habitats. Although its native range is uncertain, it is likely to cover parts of Central America and the Caribbean, and South America. It has become naturalized widely outside of its native range, in Central America, North America, the Caribbean, Oceania, and Asia. In its native and introduced range it is a weed of cultivated lands and disturbed sites, and sometimes invades intact natural areas in low densities. In Indonesia, where it dominates maize (Zea Mays), it is considered one of the top ten weeds (Solfiyeni et al., 2013). Several other species of Cuphea are also recorded as invasive (e.g. PIER, 2015).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Myrtales
  •                         Family: Lythraceae
  •                             Genus: Cuphea
  •                                 Species: Cuphea carthagenensis

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Cuphea is a genus of approximately 260 species in the family Lythraceae (Graham, 1989). Members of the genus are native to tropical and subtropical portions of the New World, from southeastern USA to Argentina. Merrill (1933) and Graham (1968) discuss the priority of the genus name Cuphea over Parsonsia. While Browne described both in 1756 and Parsonsia had priority, both generic names were described as monomials, and thus neither of Browne’s names was validly published. The earliest valid publication was of Cuphea by Jacquin in 1772, giving it priority over Parsonsia.

Cuphea carthagenensis was first named by Jacquin (1760) from Colombia as Lythrum carthagenense. The combination in Cuphea was made by Macbride (1931), recognising that it belonged in this genus. The species was also named as Cuphea balsamona in 1827 from Brazil by Chamisso and Schelchtendal (1828), but this was determined to be the same species by Macbride (1931). Other names have been misapplied to C. carthagenensis, including Cuphea patula A.St.-Hil. and Cuphea hyssopifolia Kunth (Bacigalupi, 1931).

The large genus was divided into sections by Koehne (1903), and this classification has been modified by Graham et al. (2006). C. carthagenensis is placed in section Brachyandra, subsection Balsamonella, which also contains Cuphea Parsonsia (L.) R.Br. ex Steud. and Cuphea Pseudosilene Griseb. (Graham et al., 2006).

The correct spelling of the specific epithet has been a matter of debate, but has been clarified by Graham (1979). The original spelling by Jacquin (1760) was Lythrum carthagenensis, based on a type specimen from Cartagena, Colombia. Radford et al. (1968) re-interpreted the correct Latinization of Cartagena to be carthagensis, and this spelling gained use among some authors in the USA, along with the alternative carthaginensis. However, as Graham (1979) indicates, the correct orthography follows Jacquin’s original spelling, carthagenensis.

Cladistic studies by Barber et al. (2010) have shown that C. carthagenensis is in a clade with the widespread Cuphea strigosa [Cuphea ciliata], and these two species are sister to a clade containing Cuphea hyssopoides A.St.-Hil. and Cuphea spermacoce A.St.-Hil., both species of the Brazilian cerrados.


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Annual herb to subshrub, many branched, erect to sprawling, 10-60 cm tall. Stem viscid-pilose, with intermixed glandular and non-glandular hairs. Leaves opposite, subsessile to short petiolate, elliptic, oval ovate, rarely obovate, with acute apex, 1.5-6 cm long. Flowers arising from leaf axils, solitary, 4.5-7 mm long, floral tube sparsely pubescent with glandular hairs, green, calyx lobes unequal, deltoid, short bristle-tipped, 6 petals, 2-3 mm long, linear-elliptic, pale purple, stamens longer than the floral tube. 3 seeds, 2 mm long, lenticular, olive to brown with pale edges (Graham, 1975).


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C.carthagenensis is probably native to South America where it occurs in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela (Graham, 1975; 1989; Brazilian Flora, 2015; Missouri Botanical Garden 2015). It is sometimes considered to be native to portions of the Caribbean (the Lesser Antilles) (Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2015), including Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, and Trinidad & Tobago, but it is considered to have established outside of its native range in the Greater Antilles in Puerto Rico by Liogier (1980). The occurrence in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador has often been considered an introduction but studies of fossil pollen have established that it was present for several thousand years before humans first visited the islands (van Leeuwen et al., 2008).

Outside of its natural range it has become established in subtropical and tropical parts of Central America, North America, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and Asia. In Central America is has been found in all seven of the region’s countries (Tropicos, 2015). In North America it is in Mexico and in 12 states in the USA (including Hawaii), from Texas to Virginia (USDA, 2015). A specimen from Tennessee, USA, apparently represents a waif population; it is not known to be established in Tennessee at this time (Eugene B Wofford, The University of Tennessee, personal communication, 2015; Tiana Rehman, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, personal communication, 2015).

In Asia C. carthagenensis has been found in China, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Taiwan. In Oceania C. carthagenensis has been found in American Samoa, Australia (New South Wales and Queensland), Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Papua New Guinea, Western Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu (AVH, 2015; PIER, 2015).

The status of the species in Africa needs further confirmation. There are specimens cited for Cameroon (Kew, 2015), and Guinea (Tropicos, 2015). These specimens should be verified.

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


ChinaPresentIntroduced Invasive Hui, 2012; XiaoLing et al., 2014
-GuangdongPresentIntroduced1965 Invasive Hui, 2012; Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2015Weak invader
-YunnanPresentIntroducedChinese Academy of Sciences, 2015
East TimorPresent2014Introduced2002Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2015
IndiaPresentIntroduced1959 Invasive Naithani and Bennet, 1990; Randhawa et al., 2006; Kosaka et al., 2010; Deka and Sarma, 2014Wetlands
-Arunachal PradeshPresentIntroduced1959Naithani and Bennet, 1990; Kosaka et al., 2010Tirap and Kameng
-AssamPresentIntroduced1959Naithani and Bennet, 1990; Randhawa et al., 2006
-NagalandPresentIntroduced1979Naithani and Bennet, 1990
IndonesiaPresentIntroduced1999 Not invasive Solfiyeni et al., 2013; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2015
-Irian JayaPresentIntroduced1999Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2015
JapanPresentIntroducedMito and Uesugi, 2004No locality listed
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoPresentIntroducedGraham, 2003Okinawa
MalaysiaPresentIntroducedby 1973Kiew, 2008; Forest Research Institute Malaysia, 2015; GBIF, 2015Scattered
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresentIntroducedby 1973Kiew, 2008
MyanmarPresentIntroduced2001Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2015Putao District, Kachin State
PhilippinesPresentIntroducedMcKaughan and Macaraya, 1965; Graham, 1975
SingaporePresentIntroducedChong et al., 2009Naturalized
TaiwanPresentIntroduced1960Wu et al., 2004; Wu et al., 2010; Xu et al., 2012; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015


CameroonPresentIntroduced1996Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, 20151996 and 1998 herbarium specimens. Needs verification
GuineaPresent2012Introduced2007Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015Herbarium specimen. Needs verification

North America

MexicoPresentIntroducedMatuda, 1950; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaPresentIntroducedGraham, 1975; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-ArkansasPresentIntroduced1985Sundell et al., 1999; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-FloridaPresentIntroduced1925 Invasive Graham, 1975; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-GeorgiaPresentIntroduced1946 Invasive Thorne, 1951; Graham, 1975; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced1851-1855Mann, 1865; Degener and Degener, 1973; Wagner et al., 1999; Oppenheimer and Bartlett, 2002; Bishop Museum, 2015; USDA-NRCS, 2015Hawaii, Kauai Lanai, Maui, Molokai, and Oahu.
-LouisianaPresentIntroduced1938Correll and Correll, 1941; Graham, 1975; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-MississippiPresentIntroducedGraham, 1975; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-North CarolinaPresentIntroduced1923Ahles et al., 1958; Graham, 1975; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-South CarolinaPresentIntroducedpre 1958Ahles et al., 1958; Graham, 1975; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-TennesseeAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced1974EDDMapS, 2015; University of Tennessee Herbarium, 2015; USDA-NRCS, 2015A single specimen
-TexasPresentIntroduced1960sCorrell, 1966; Graham, 1975; Aplaca, 2010; USDA-NRCS, 2015
-VirginiaPresentIntroduced2004 Not invasive DeBerry and Perry, 2007; EDDMapS, 2015Suffolk

Central America and Caribbean

BarbadosPresentGraham, 2003; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2015
BelizePresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
Costa RicaPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
DominicaPresentGraham, 2003
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced1925Blake, 1925; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
GuatemalaPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
HondurasPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
Lesser AntillesPresentGraham, 2003
MartiniquePresentGraham, 2003; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2015
NicaraguaPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
PanamaPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
Puerto RicoPresentLiogier, 1980; Liogier and Martorell, 1982; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2015
Saint LuciaPresentGraham, 2003; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2015
Trinidad and TobagoPresentGraham, 2003

South America

ArgentinaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
BoliviaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
BrazilPresentBarroso, 1954; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
-AcrePresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-AlagoasPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-BahiaPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-CearaPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-Espirito SantoPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-GoiasPresentBarroso, 1954; Brazilian Flora, 2015
-Mato GrossoPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-Minas GeraisPresentBarroso, 1954; Brazilian Flora, 2015
-ParanaPresentBiondi and Pedrosa-Macedo, 2008; Brazilian Flora, 2015
-PernambucoPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-Rio de JaneiroPresentBarroso, 1954; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
-Rio Grande do SulPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-RondoniaPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-Santa CatarinaPresentBarroso, 1954; Brazilian Flora, 2015
-Sao PauloPresentBarroso, 1954; Brazilian Flora, 2015
-SergipePresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
-TocantinsPresentBrazilian Flora, 2015
ColombiaPresentBarroso, 1954; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
EcuadorPresentBarroso, 1954; van Leeuwen et al., 2008; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
French GuianaPresentBarroso, 1954; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
GuyanaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
ParaguayPresentBarroso, 1954; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
PeruPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
SurinamePresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2015
VenezuelaPresentBarroso, 1954; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015


American SamoaPresentIntroducedWhistler, 1998; Bishop Museum, 2015
AustraliaPresentIntroducedDowney et al., 2010
-New South WalesPresentIntroduced1973Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2015
-QueenslandPresentIntroduced1980sCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2015
FijiPresentIntroduced1920sSmith, 1985; Franklin et al., 2008; Bishop Museum, 2015; PIER, 2015
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedBishop Museum, 2015; PIER, 2015
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentBishop Museum, 2015; PIER, 2015
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedHequet et al., 2009; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2015
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2015
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroduced2000Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2015Kiunga township environs, Western Province
SamoaPresentIntroducedBishop Museum, 2015; PIER, 2015
TongaPresentIntroducedSpace and Flynn, 2001; Bishop Museum, 2015
VanuatuPresentIntroducedPIER, 2015

History of Introduction and Spread

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C. carthagenensis has spread widely from its original range to Central and North America, Australia, Australasia, Asia, and possibly Africa. Within the Americas it has spread northward into Central America (Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico). 

Its occurrence in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador has often been considered an introduction but studies of fossil pollen have established that it was present for several thousand years before humans first visited the islands (van Leeuwen et al., 2008).

In Oceania, C. carthagenensis has been found in Australia, Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, and New Caledonia. It was found in Hawaii between 1851 and 1855 on the island of Hawaii (Mann, 1865; Degener and Degener, 1973), the first known place where it was found outside of its natural range. By 1888 it had spread in the Hawaiian Islands to Kauai, Oahu, and Maui (Degener and Degener, 1973), and was found on Lana’i in 1999. The species was found on Fiji in the 1920s (Smith, 1985; Franklin et al., 2008). It was found in Australia in 1973 in New South Wales, and in Queensland in the 1980s. It has also been found on Tonga (Space, and Flynn, 2001) and New Caledonia (Hequet et al., 2009), but the dates of introduction are unknown.

In the southeastern US, C. carthagenensis was first detected in 1923 in North Carolina (Graham, 1975). It was then found in Florida in 1925 (Graham, 1975), Louisiana in 1938 (Correll and Correll, 1941), Georgia in 1946 (Thorne, 1951), Alabama in 1950 (APA, 2015), Texas in 1962 (Aplaca, 2010.), Tennessee in 1974 where apparently a waif (USDA, 2015), Arkansas in 1985 (Sundell et al., 1999), and most recently Virginia in 2004 (DeBerry and Perry, 2007). It is uncertain when it was first found in Mississippi and South Carolina.

The species has been found in scattered locations in Asia. The earliest reported introduction was to India by 1959 (Naithani and Bennet, 1990) where it was found in Assam and Arunchal Pradesh. It was also found in India in Nagaland in 1976 (Naithani and Bennet, 1990). In 1960 it was found in Taiwan (Wu et al., 2010), in 1965 in China IBCAS, 2015), in 1973 in Malaysia (Kiew, 2008), by 1998 in American Samoa (Whistler, 1998), by 2001 in Myanmar (IBCAS, 2015), in 2004 in Japan (Mito, and Uesugi, 2004), and in 2009 in Singapore (Chong et al., 2009).

In the Caribbean, the species was found to be naturalized in Puerto Rico by 1980 (Liogier, 1980). To date this is the only known occurrence for the species in the Greater Antilles.

There are reports of the species in Africa in Cameroon and Guinea, based on herbarium specimens cited in online databases. These reports have not been discussed in any literature sources, and need confirmation. 


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
American Samoa 1998 Yes No Whistler (1998)
Cameroon 1996 No No Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (2015) Unverified record
China 1965 Yes No Chinese Academy of Sciences (2015)
Fiji 1920s Yes No Smith (1985)
Guinea 2007 No No Missouri Botanical Garden (2015); Missouri Botanical Garden (2015a) Unverified record
Hawaii 1851-1855 Yes No Degener and Degener (1973)
India 1959 Yes No Naithani and Bennet (1990)
Japan 2004 Yes No Mito and Uesugi (2004)
Malaysia 1973 Yes No Kiew (2008)
Myanmar by 2001 Yes No Chinese Academy of Sciences (2015)
New South Wales 1973 No No
Puerto Rico by 1980 Yes No Liogier (1980)
Queensland 1980s No No
Singapore 2009 Yes No Chong et al. (2009)
Taiwan 1960 Yes No Wu et al. (2004)
USA 1923 Yes No Graham (1975) First detected in North Carolina


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Throughout its native and introduced range, C. carthagenensis is generally a species of moist soils and open sun, although it can sometimes be found in other conditions. It is also typically a weedy species, even in its native range. It most commonly occupies recently or frequently disturbed sites.

In its native range it has been found in swampy areas, rocky lands with running water, and sandy coasts in Brazil (Lourteig, 1969), forest openings in Ecuador (Svenson, 1946), second growth forests in Nicaragua (Coe, 2008a), and disturbed areas in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean (Graham, 2003). It is also known from roadsides and as a ruderal in Brazil (Ando et al., 1995; Pastore et al., 2012).    

In its naturalized range in the USA it occupies marshes, floodplain forests, wet hammocks, flatwoods, ditches, swales, marshy shores, wet clearings, and other wet places (Thorne, 1951; Graham, 1975; Godfrey and Wooten, 1981; Weakley, 2012). It does recruit in undisturbed natural areas, such as flatwoods, but these infestations are generally very sparse and not disruptive (Keith Bradley, personal observation, 2015). It has also been documented colonizing reclaimed phosphate mines in Florida, USA (FIPR and Kleinfelder, 2012). In Mexico, it occurs in pine-oak-Liquidambar forests (Carlson, 1954) and in sunny wet fields (Matuda, 1950). In Puerto Rico, it is a weed of lower and middle elevations (Liogier, 1980).

In Hawaii, USA, C. carthagenensis occupies mesic to wet disturbed sites (Wagner et al., 1999). Seedlings have been found colonizing bare rock landslides (Restrepo and Vitousek, 2001), and it has been found in strip mined bauxitic soils (Howard, 1991). In Fiji, it is known from disturbed places, pastures, pond edges, and on mountain summits (Robert, 1970; Ghazanfar, 2001; Franklin et al., 2008). In American Samoa, Whistler (1998) reports it from pastures and wet sunny places from sea level to 1060 m. In Indonesia it is able to grow on dry land, in plantation areas, and in open fields (Solfiyeni et al., 2013). In Taiwan, it has been reported in farmlands (Xu et al., 2012).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

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C. carthagenensis has been listed as a weed of a number of agricultural crops. In its native range in Brazil it is considered one of the most important weeds by (Pio, 1980) because of its abundance and competitive effects in Brazilian state of São Paulo, but which crops were affected were not specified. In Hawaii, USA,C. carthagenensis is a weed of cucumber (Cucumis sativus) (Valenzuela et al., 1994). In Assam, India, it is a dominant weed of rice (Oryza sativa) (Randhawa et al., 2006). In Indonesia, it dominates corn (Zea Mays) plantings (Solfiyeni et al., 2013). On Vanuatu, it is a serious pest of coconut (Cocos nucifera) groves and in pastures (Mullen, 2009). It is also a weed of taro (Colocasia esculenta) in Fiji (Heap, 2015) and of pastures (Robert, 1970). Laca-Buendia et al. (1989) reported it to be a sporadic weed of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) in Brazil. 

Biology and Ecology

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C. carthagenensis has a chromosome number of n=8 (Graham, 1987).

Reproductive Biology

C. carthagenensis is self-fertile (Graham 1988; 1998).

Seeds stored at constant temperature were reported to show no germination (ranging from 5-35 °C), but 80% germinated with alternating temperatures (da Rosa and Ferreira, 1998).

In Fiji, two bees were found visiting its flowers, including the introduced allodapine bee (Braunsapis puangensis) and the native Homolictus fijiensis (da Silva et al., 2015).

Seeds were found in the soil seed bank in association with invasion of Singapore daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata) in Fiji (Macanawai, 2013).

Physiology and Phenology

Reproductive phenology of C. carthagenensis varies with geography. In Brazil, it flowers from December to March and fruits from January to April (Pio, 1980). In southeastern USA, it flowers from June to September (Weakley, 2012). In Fiji, it flowers and fruits throughout the year (Weakley, 2012).  

C. carthagenensis is an annual (Graham, 1975). It is occasionally listed as a short-lived perennial (Degener and Degener, 1973).


Koske et al. (1992) found an association with mycorrhizal fungi in Kauai, Hawaii, USA, in a broad survey of 147 species of vascular plants.

Environmental Requirements

Cuphea carthagenensis is a tropical species. It prefers a light to medium soil texture that is free, impeded or seasonally waterlogged. It can grow in acidic, neutral or alkaline soil.

Cuphea carthagenensis can tolerate some extreme conditions. In Hawaii it has been found in strip mined bauxitic soils (Howard, 1991). In Florida it has colonized reclaimed phosphate mines (FIPR, and Kleinfelder, 2012).


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 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 Tolerated < 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])
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
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)
37 29.6

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Criconemella denoudeni Parasite Roots
Meloidogyne incognita Herbivore Roots
Milesia cupheae Pathogen Leaves to genus
Neolasioptera cupheae Herbivore Stems to species

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Fungi pathogens of C. carthagenesis have been reported in Colombia, including Phakopsora cupheae, the teleomorph of Milesia cupheae (Uredo cupheae) (Pucciniastraceae) as detailed by Index Fungorum (2015) (Kern and Chardon, 1927).
A gall midge, Neolasioptera cupheae (Cecidomyiidae), has been found in the stem of C. carthagenensis in Brazil (Gagné et al., 1998; Carneiro et al., 2009).
Singh (2009) found C. carthagenensis to be a host of Meloidogyne incognita (root-knot nematode) (Meloidogynidae), and it is reported as a host of Criconemella denoudeni [Mesocriconema denoudeni] (ring nematode) (Criconematidae) (DAFF, 2012).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

The small seeds of C. carthagenensis are probably dispersed by water (Technigro, 2011).

Accidental Introduction

Seeds of C. carthagenensis may be accidentally transported with machinery such as mowers or agricultural equipment, or on vehicle tires, and may also be a contaminant in agricultural products (Technigro, 2011).

Intentional Introduction

C. carthagenensis is occasionally grown for traditional medicine. This activity is probably limited primarily to its native range in South America. Its potential as an oil-producing crop may lead to its cultivation in new areas where it is likely to escape.

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Positive

Economic Impact

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C. carthagenensis may have an effect on some crops, but the severity of this impact is not well known. It is an agricultural weed in both its native and introduced range.

In Brazil, Pio (1980) considered it to be one of the most important weeds of crops because of its abundance and competitive effects in São Paulo. In Hawaii, it is a weed of cucumber fields (Valenzuela et al., 1994). In India, it is a dominant weed in puddled rice in Assam (Randhawa et al., 2006). In Indonesia, where it dominates corn (Zea Mays) plantings, it is considered one of the top ten weeds (Solfiyeni et al., 2013). On Vanuatu it is a serious pest of coconut groves and in pastures (Mullen, 2009). It is also a weed of taro in Fiji (ISHRR, 2015) and of pastures (Robert, 1970). In Australia it is a pasture weed (Carter et al., 1999).

In Louisiana, USA, C. carthagenensis has caused crop impactions in bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus), an important game species (Hurst, 1978). This could indicate that it has impacted hunting yields in southeastern USA. 

Environmental Impact

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In southeastern USA, C. carthagenensis is occasionally found within undisturbed intact natural habitats, particularly communities of pine flatwoods. When it invades such ecosystems it does not seem to effectively displace native species or alter ecosystem functions. This is due to its small size and the low densities of the invasions (Keith Bradley, personal observation, 2015). However, C. carthagenensis is principally a weed of various agricultural crops (see Economic Impacts section).

In Texas, USA, Nesom (2009) ranked C. carthagenensis as “F2”, commonly invasive in disturbed habitats, much less commonly in natural habitats.

In New South Wales, Australia, Downey et al. (2010) assessed the species as low-level threat to biodiversity.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Reduced native biodiversity
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult/costly to control


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Social Benefit

In South America, C. carthagenensis has a wide range of traditional uses where it is known as sete-sangrias. Medicinal uses are common in Brazil (Andrighetti-Fröhner et al., 2005; Vendruscolo and Mentz, 2006), but it is also used in other countries, including Nicaragua (Coe, 2008a). The species is used traditionally to treat hypertension, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, circulation, anemia, fever, inflammation, stomach aches, kidney stones, vaginal infection, weakness, worm parasites, diarrhea, intestinal infection, syphilis, varicose veins, and used as a laxative and diuretic (Andrighetti-Fröhner et al., 2005; Vendruscolo and Mentz, 2006; Dickel et al., 2007; De Oliveira et al., 2008; Coe, 2008b; Castro et al., 2011; Feijó et al., 2012)

Due to its widespread use in traditional medicine it has gained attention for modern clinical uses, particularly for cardiovascular disease. Clinical tests have shown that it is effective in reducing plasma cholesterol in rats (Biavatti et al., 2004), and in eliciting vasodilation in rat aortic rings (Schuldt et al., 2000; Krepsky et al., 2012). This is likely a result of the species containing quercetin-3-sulfate, which when metabolized to quercetin has a vasodilator effect (Krepsky et al., 2010). Pre-clinical data indicate potential role in treatment of hyperlipidemia (Dickel et al., 2007).

Tests have shown that extracts of C. carthagenensis have antiviral activity (Andrighetti-Fröhner et al., 2005). They have also shown activity against gram negative and gram-positive bacteria, and that it produced anti-anxiety effects in mice (de Lorenzo, 2000).

C. carthagenensis has also been studied for its potential as a source of edible oil. Its seeds have high concentrations of oil, analyzed at 33% by (Dayton Maclay et al., 1963). This oil was found to be high in lauric acid, with analyses reporting a range from 57% to 80% (Dayton Maclay et al., 1963; Cao, and Huang, 1987; Arkcoll, 1988).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Cuphea carthagenensis has been confused with Cuphea viscosissima, a species native to eastern USA (Graham, 1975; Graham, 1988). They can be distinguished by the colour of the floral tube which is green in C. carthagenensis and purple-green in C. viscosissima.

Cuphea strigulosa, a species from tropical America, is a sister to C. carthagenensis which can be distinguished by having creeping, rooting stems (Graham, 1998).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.


Control is difficult because of the small size of the plant and its annual life cycle (Keith Bradley, personal observation, 2015).

Physical/mechanical control

Small colonies of C. carthagenensis can be controlled by hand pulling (Technigro, 2011). Annual retreatments are necessary to deplete the soil seed bank. Plants should be bagged and removed from the site to prevent seed from being released from pulled plants.

Chemical control

Large colonies of C. carthagenensis that cannot be control by hand pulling can be treated with herbicide. In Australia, glyphosate has been used, including aquatic-registered forms in wetter areas (Technigro, 2011). Resistance to paraquat in taro fields has been reported in Fiji, where it is applied as a direct spray between rows (Heap, 2015; Preston, 2015).



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26/06/2015 Original text by:

Keith Bradley, Consultant, South Carolina, USA

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