Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cyanthillium cinereum
(little ironweed)



Cyanthillium cinereum (little ironweed)


  • Last modified
  • 14 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cyanthillium cinereum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • little ironweed
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • C. cinereum is a cosmopolitan weed common in disturbed areas in tropical and subtropical regions of the world (Randall, 2...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cyanthillium cinereum (L.) H. Rob

Preferred Common Name

  • little ironweed

Other Scientific Names

  • Blumea esquirolii H.Lev. & Vaniot
  • Cacalia arguta Kuntze
  • Cacalia cinerea (L.) Kuntze
  • Cacalia erigerodes Kuntze
  • Cacalia exilis Kuntze
  • Cacalia kroneana Kuntze
  • Cacalia linfolia DC.
  • Cacalia rotundifolia Willd.
  • Cacalia vialis Kuntze
  • Calea cordata Lour.
  • Cineraria glaberrima Spreng. ex DC.
  • Conyza chinensis L.
  • Conyza cinerea L.
  • Conzya heterophylla Lam.
  • Conzya incana DC.
  • Conzya prolifera Lam.
  • Crassocephalum flatmense Hochst. & Steud. ex DC.
  • Cyanopis decurrens Zoll. & Mor.
  • Eupatorium arboreum Reinw. ex de Vriese
  • Eupatorium myosotifolium Jacq.
  • Pteronia tomentosa Lour.
  • Seneciodes cinereum (L.) Kuntze
  • Serratula cinerea (L.) Roxb.
  • Vernonia abbreviata DC.
  • Vernonia arguta Baker
  • Vernonia betonicaefolia Baker
  • Vernonia cinerea (L.) Less.
  • Vernonia exilis Miq.
  • Vernonia fasciculata Blume
  • Vernonia kroneana Miq.
  • Vernonia vialis DC.

International Common Names

  • English: ironweed; small ironweed; vernonia
  • Spanish: machadita; rabo de buey; yerba morada
  • French: ayapana sauvage
  • Chinese: ye xiang niu

Local Common Names

  • Cuba: machadita
  • Fiji: kaukamea; tho vuka; vutikaumondro
  • India: ankari; ankta; pokasubgo; sahaderi; sandri
  • Indonesia: maryuna
  • Japan: mura-saki-mukashi-yomogi; reinan-nogiku; yambaru-higotai
  • Lesser Antilles: inflammation bush; iron bush; measle bush
  • Malaysia: rumput taki babi; tambak-tambak
  • Mauritius: ayapa sauvage
  • Nigeria: bojure
  • Philippines: agas-moro; bulak-manok; kolong-kugon
  • Puerto Rico: rabo de buey; yerba socialista
  • Sri Lanka: alavangu pillu; monara kudumbiya
  • Thailand: kaan thuup; yaa dok khaao; yaa-saam-wan; ya-la-ong

Summary of Invasiveness

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C. cinereum is a cosmopolitan weed common in disturbed areas in tropical and subtropical regions of the world (Randall, 2012). It is a fast-growing, annual herb with the capacity to form dense patches in gardens, roadsides, waste grounds and pasture (Holm et al., 1997). Currently, this species is considered invasive in many islands in the Pacific Ocean (e.g. Hawaii, Fiji, French Polynesia and Micronesia), New Zealand, Singapore, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Galápagos Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (see distribution table for details; Chong et al., 2009; Chacon and Saborio, 2012; González-Torres et al., 2012; PIER, 2013).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Asterales
  •                         Family: Asteraceae
  •                             Genus: Cyanthillium
  •                                 Species: Cyanthillium cinereum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The family Asteraceae is one of the most diverse groups among flowering plants including 1620 genera and about 23,600 species (Stevens, 2012). Species in the Asteraceae are very variable vegetatively, but may be recognized by their “capitulate” and involucrate inflorescences in which numerous small flowers open first on the outside and are infrequently subtended by bracts. The anthers in this family are usually fused and form a tube through which the style extends before the two stigmatic lobes separate and become recurved. The rather small, single-seeded fruits usually have a plumose “pappus” and are frequently dispersed by wind (Stevens, 2012).

The genus Cyanthillium has been used as a synonym of Vernonia, while other botanists have treated both genera as distinct. Currently, both genera are treated separately and Cyanthillium is distinguished from Vernonia by its smooth to finely 5-striate (vs. 5-10-ribbed) achenes, and by its echinolophate (vs. tricolporate) pollen, and by base chromosome number usually reported as 2n = 18 or 20 (vs. 2n = 34). Currently five species are recognized within Cyanthillium (Funk and Pruski, 1996).


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Annual herb, to 80 (-150) cm tall. Stems unbranched or more commonly few-branched. Leaves petiolate or distal ones sessile; petioles to 1.5 cm, narrowly winged; blade 1.5-5 × 1-1.5(4) cm, obovate or less often elliptic or ovate, base cuneate, apex acute to obtuse, lower surface pilose, usually glandular. Inflorescence of 5 to numerous heads, 13-20-flowered; involucre 2.5-3 mm long; outer phyllaries much reduced, inner phyllaries subequal. Corolla 3-4 mm, exserted 1.5-2 mm from involucre, the tube long and narrow, 2-3 mm, the limbs short, pilose. Achenes 1.2–2 mm long, subfusiform, terete not ribbed, inner pappus white, exserted from involucre and nearly as long as the corollas (Funk and Pruski, 1996).


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C. cinereum is native to Africa, tropical and temperate Asia, and Australia (USDA-ARS, 2013). It is widely naturalized in tropical regions in America and islands in the Pacific (PIER, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013).   

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


BangladeshPresentHolm et al., 1997Weed
BhutanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
Chagos ArchipelagoPresentIntroduced Invasive Whistler, 1996
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FujianPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-GuangdongPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-GuangxiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-HubeiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-HunanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-JiangxiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-SichuanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-YunnanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
-ZhejiangPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)PresentIntroduced Invasive Orchard, 1993
IndiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
IndonesiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
JapanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
-KyushuPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
MalaysiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
MaldivesPresentPIER, 2013
MyanmarPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
OmanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
PhilippinesPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
SingaporePresent Invasive Chong et al., 2009
Sri LankaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
TaiwanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012Considered a weed
ThailandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
VietnamPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
YemenPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013


BeninPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
BurundiPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
CameroonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
Central African RepublicPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
Côte d'IvoirePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
EritreaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
EthiopiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
GabonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
GhanaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
GuineaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
Guinea-BissauPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
KenyaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
LiberiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
MadagascarPresentNativeMadagascar Catalogue, 2012
MaliPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
MayottePresentIntroduced Invasive Whistler, 1983
NigerPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
RéunionPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
RwandaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
SenegalPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
SeychellesPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2013
Sierra LeonePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
SomaliaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
South AfricaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
SwazilandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
TanzaniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
TogoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
UgandaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013

North America

MexicoPresentIntroducedVibrans, 2009Weed
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Wagner et al., 1999

Central America and Caribbean

AnguillaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
BahamasPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
BarbadosPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
BelizePresentIntroducedBalick et al., 2000
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013Guana, Tortola, Virgin Gorda
Costa RicaPresentIntroduced Invasive Chacón and Saborío, 2012
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive González-Torres et al., 2012Highly invasive
DominicaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
GrenadaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
GuatemalaPresentIntroduced Invasive Pruski, 2013
HaitiPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
HondurasPresentIntroduced Invasive Pruski, 2013
MartiniquePresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
MontserratPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012Saba, St. Marteen
NicaraguaPresentIntroduced Invasive Pruski, 2013
PanamaPresentIntroduced Invasive Pruski, 2013
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Saint LuciaPresentIntroducedGraveson, 2012
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Trinidad and TobagoPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012

South America

BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AmazonasPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-BahiaPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-ParaPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
EcuadorPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Charles Darwin Foundation, 2008
French GuianaPresentIntroducedFunk et al., 2007Naturalised
GuyanaPresentIntroducedFunk et al., 2007Naturalised
SurinamePresentIntroducedFunk et al., 2007Naturalised
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedHokche et al., 2008Naturalised


American SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive Whistler, 1983
AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
-New South WalesPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
-QueenslandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
-Western AustraliaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
Cook IslandsPresentIntroducedMcCormack, 2013
FijiPresentIntroduced Invasive Smith, 1991
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Florence et al., 2013
GuamPresentIntroduced Invasive Stone, 1970
KiribatiPresentIntroduced Invasive Fosberg and Stoddart, 1994Formerly listed as native
Marshall IslandsPresent Invasive PIER, 2013Listed as native for some islands and naturalised and invasive for other islands
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresent Invasive Herrera et al., 2010This species has been listed as native for this archipelago
NauruPresentIntroduced Invasive Thaman et al., 1994Formerly listed as native
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Invasive Gargominy et al., 1996
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2004
Northern Mariana IslandsPresent Invasive PIER, 2013Listed as native for some islands and naturalised and invasive for other islands
PalauPresentNativeWagner et al., 2013
Papua New GuineaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
Pitcairn IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Florence et al., 2013
SamoaPresentWhistler, 1988
Solomon IslandsPresentPIER, 2013
TongaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2013
TuvaluPresentPIER, 2013
US Minor Outlying IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2013
VanuatuPresentPIER, 2013
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Meyer, 2007

History of Introduction and Spread

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The history of introduction of C. cinereum is uncertain. It is highly probable that the species has been introduced accidentally as a contaminant or as a weed in nursery materials (Holm et al., 1997). For the West Indies, herbarium collections show that it was first collected in Jamaica in 1882 (US Herbarium Collection). In Central America the date of introduction is unclear but since the 1950s the species appears listed as a weed (Cardenas and Coulston, 1967).

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of C. cinereum is high. This species is easily dispersed by wind and has the potential to grow as a weed in ruderal areas, and agricultural and pasture lands. C. cinereum has been reported as a weed in 27 crops in 47 countries in Asia, East and West Africa and the Caribbean (Holm et al., 1997). Consequently, this species has the potential to spread much further than it has to date.


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C. cinereum is a common weed in coastal areas, beaches, cultivated areas, disturbed areas, pastures, roadsides, rocky areas, savannas, secondary vegetation, and gardens. In Africa (within its native distribution range), this species grows at lower altitudes (0-800 m) in woodlands and grasslands (PROTA4U, 2013).

Habitat List

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

Hosts/Species Affected

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C. cinereum is reported as a weed in 27 crops in 47 countries (Holm et al., 1997).

Serious weed in:

  • sugarcane, cotton, groundnuts and wheat in India
  • pastures in Australia, India, Nigeria and Thailand
  • rice in Philippines;
  • taro in Samoa. 

Common weed in:

  • banana in Surinam and Tonga
  • cassava in Surinam
  • cocoa in Indonesia
  • citrus in Surinam
  • cotton in the Philippines
  • maize in India
  • oil palm in Surinam
  • pastures in Australia, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Jamaica
  • pineapple in Hawaii
  • rice in Surinam, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka
  • rubber in Indonesia and Thailand
  • sugarcane in Bangladesh, Hawaii, and the Philippines
  • taro in Tonga
  • tea in India and Indonesia
  • vegetables in Surinam and Thailand 

Unranked weed in:

  • abaca (Musa textilis) in the Philippines
  • cocoa in Dominican Republic
  • cassava in India, Indonesia, and Nigeria
  • coconut in Sri Lanka and Surinam
  • coffee in Dominican Republic
  • cotton in Mozambique and Tanzania
  • legumes and tomatoes in the Philippines
  • macadamia nut in Hawaii
  • maize in Cambodia, Gambia, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines and Zambia
  • pastures in the Philippines
  • groundnuts in Indonesia and Nigeria
  • rice in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam
  • rubber and tea in Sri Lanka
  • sugarcane in British Guiana, Dominican Republic, Laos and Vietnam
  • tobacco in the Philippines

Growth Stages

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Biology and Ecology

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C. cinereum plants are diploid with a chromosome number of 2n = 18 (Holm et al., 1997; Pruski 2013). 

Reproductive Biology

Flowers in C. cinereum are pollinated by wind. Probably the most common reproduction system in this genus is allogamy with a sporophytic self-incompatibility (Holm et al., 1997; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2012).

Physiology and Phenology

C. cinereum is an annual herb and under favourable environmental conditions it produces flowers and seeds for many months (Holm et al., 1997; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2012).   

Environmental Requirements

C. cinereum usually grows as a weed, thus it needs full sunlight and moderate water availability to grow. It prefers sandy-loam soils but can be found growing on a range of soils with pH ranging from 4 to 6. It is able to tolerate semiarid conditions as well as partial salinity conditions (PROTA4U, 2013).


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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 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])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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C. cinereum spreads by seeds which are adapted to wind dispersal. In addition, seeds may be secondarily dispersed as a contaminant in crop seeds, pasture seeds and in agricultural machinery (Holm et al., 1997; Pruski 2013).

Impact Summary

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

Economic Impact

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C. cinereum is a weed with important economic impacts mainly in agriculture, pasture and garden activities. It is listed as a weed in about 27 different crops in 47 countries in Asia, Australia, Africa and America. In addition, C. cinereum has the potential to negatively impact natural and seminatural habitats in coastal areas, forest edges, secondary forests, upland forests, and grasslands (Pruski, 2013).

C. cinereum can host the tobacco leaf curl virus and the root-knot nematode (Holm et al., 1997).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
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

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
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • 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)
  • Fast growing
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Loss of medicinal resources
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts cultural/traditional practices
  • Negatively impacts forestry
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult/costly to control


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Leaves of C. cinereum have some antibiotic activity and consequently they are frequently used in traditional medicine in India to treat conjunctivitis, dropsy and urinary disorders. In the Philippines, this species is used as an infusion for cough and skin diseases. A poultice from leaves reduces headaches while a root decoction relieves stomach aches and diarrhea. In Thailand, the leaves are used in the treatment of asthma and bronchitis (Holm et al., 1997; PROTA4U, 2013). The young shoots are eaten as a cooked vegetable in Java (PROTA4U, 2013).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Species of Cyanthillium can be confused with species in the genus Vernonia. These two genera can be distinguished by the following characters:

  1. In Cyanthillium the cypselae is smooth to finely 5-striate while in Vernonia cypselae is 5-10-ribbed.
  2. Pollen in Cyanthillium is echinolophate while in Vernonia pollen is tricolporate
  3. The chromosome number usually reported for Cyanthillium species is 2n = 18 or 20 and for Vernonia species is 2n = 34.

The species C. cinereum is recognized by the slender, ribbed stem, shallowly toothed leaves and the branched corymbs with bright purple to pinkish violet flower heads (Holm et al., 1997).


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10/01/14 Original text by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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