Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cleome gynandra



Cleome gynandra


  • Last modified
  • 20 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cleome gynandra
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cleome gynandra L.

Local Common Names

  • Cuba: volantín

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Capparidales
  •                         Family: Capparaceae
  •                             Genus: Cleome
  •                                 Species: Cleome gynandra

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Cleome is one of 10–17 genera of the small family Cleomaceae that were formerly included in the Capparaceae, but raised to comprise a distinct family based on chloroplast and nuclear DNA evidence. This evidence suggested that the genera are more closely related to the Brassicaceae than they are to the Capparaceae (Hall et al., 2002). According to The Plant List (2013) there are multiple synonyms of C. gynandra L. but the most commonly encountered are Gynandropsis gynandra (L.) Briq. and G. pentaphylla (L.) DC. On the basis of a numerical analysis of 100 morphological, anatomical and seed protein characters, Mohamed (2009) supports the subsuming of G. gynandra under C. gynandra as does El-Ghani et al. (2007) on the basis of leaf architecture.

An extensive list of vernacular names is tabulated by Chweya and Mnzava (1997) and these include cat's whiskers, African spider flower, bastard mustard (English); kurhur, karaila (India); phak sian (Thai); babowan (Indonesia); caya blanc, brede caya, mouzambé (French); musambe (Angola); mgagani (Swahili); and boanga, mugole (West Africa).


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Erect, herbaceous annual, 0.5–1(–1.5) m tall, branched and with a long tap root with few secondary roots. Stems and petioles thickly covered with glandular hairs, rarely glabrous, varying in colour from green to pink, or violet to purple. Leaves alternate, digitately palmate, (3–)5(–7) leaflets, sessile, pinnately dissected, sparsely hairy, obovate to elliptic, 2–10 cm long, 2–4 cm wide, finely toothed margin or rounded ends,  petioles 3–23 cm long. Inflorescences showy, up to 30 cm long, terminal and axillary determinate racemes; flowers arise singly in axils of small sessile and trifoliate to simple bracts which are smaller than the leaflets; flowers 1–2.5 cm in diameter; pedicels long; 4 sepals, free, ovate to lanceolate, up to 8 mm long, glandular; 4 narrow clawed petals, 6 stamens with long purple filaments arising from an elongated gynophore; style short extending to a purple capitate stigma depressed at the apex; ovary bicarpellary syncarpous, unilocular with numerous ovules on parietal placentation, a false septum develops during fruiting; petals white, pale pink or lilac; floral formula K4C4A6G(2). Fruit long stalked silique, spindle shaped, 12 cm long, 8–10 mm wide; green in colour and yellow when ripe; easily dehiscent when dry releasing seeds. Seeds numerous, 1.0–1.5 mm in diameter, suborbicular, sharply tuberculate with many concentric ribs and irregular cross ribs; grey-black in colour; seed cleft narrow. Seedlings have oblong cotyledonary leaves, hairy petioles and petiolate trifoliate to elliptical leaflets. Terminal leaflet generally larger than lateral leaflets (Chweya and Mnzava, 1997; Raju and Rani, 2016).


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Widely distributed in drier areas of the tropics and subtropics, C. gynandra is likely to have originated in tropical Africa and South East Asia (Chweya and Mnzava, 1997). Although species of the genus Cleome mostly occur in Africa, Zhang and Tucker (2008) state that the centre of diversity of Cleome is in South West Asia. Semicultivated and considered native across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and in parts of northeast Thailand it is grown on a large scale commercially (JIRCAS, 2010). C. gynandra has been introduced and regarded as a weed in many areas, including the Caribbean islands (Bermuda, Bahamas, Cuba), southern USA, Central and South America, Central and Northern Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands (Chweya and Mnzava, 1997). Information on distribution in relevant countries, locations and whether invasive or cultivated is detailed on the Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk website (PIER, 2018).

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

Central America and Caribbean

CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012

Biology and Ecology

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Growth stages and physiology

After germination, vegetative growth is rapid and, if conditions are favourable, a plant height of 60–90 cm may be achieved before flowering. Flowering is early often within 4–6 weeks of growth, and the growth rate is highest between the 5th and 6th weeks of growth (Chweya and Mnzava, 1997). Leaves follow the direction of the sun throughout the day. Sailaja et al. (1997) noted diurnal constancy in laser induced chlorophyll fluorescence of leaves. This heliotropic behaviour maximises light use efficiency throughout the day avoiding a midday dip in photosynthesis.

Compared to the ancestral C3 state, C4 photosynthesis is a highly efficient process of carbon fixation originating from a complex phenotype of tightly regulated biochemical and anatomical modifications of leaf architecture. It has evolved at least 66 times across several lineages and the evolutionary route from C3 to C4 is not necessarily identical but is likely conserved (Covshoff et al., 2014). A clear understanding of the post-transcriptional mechanisms that regulate gene expression central to the onset of C4 photosynthesis is required before aiming to transform C3 crops into C4 crops (Fankhauser and Aubry, 2017). As it is related to Arabidopsis, a model C3 system, there is great interest in developing C. gynandra as a model C4 species (Marshall et al., 2007). Koteyeva et al. (2011) surveyed several Cleome species for structural and functional forms of C4 and found that C. gynandra has an atriplicoid-type Kranz anatomy with individual veins surrounded by multiple simple Kranz units. Analysis of leaf tissue found high levels of expression of markers for key photosynthetic enzymes of the C4 cycle. Marshall et al. (2007) notes that C. gynandra belongs to the NAD-dependent malic enzyme subtypes of C4 photosynthesis.


Over a period of 2–3 months, 200–400 flowers develop acropetally on the terminal inflorescence in a tight spiral with several flowers open simultaneously. Axillary branches develop and flowering continues on terminal inflorescences for 6–12 months. Taking 2 weeks for flowers to develop, sepals first develop and elongate fully, followed by petals, stamens, stigmas and gynophores. Pedicels elongate throughout floral development and gynophores elongate to around 7 cm before seed development commences and reach 8 cm during seed maturation (Chweya and Mnzava, 1997). Raju and Rani (2016) demonstrated that C. gynandra is polygamodioecious with flowers are of two types: staminate (with residual ovary without ovules) or bisexual (functional ovary and fertile stamens). Bisexual flowers are classified into four different floral morphs based on length of gynoecium: medium gynoecium flowers (MGF), long gynoecium flowers (LGF), medium gynoecium short stamen flowers (MGSSF) and medium gynoecium sessile shortest stamen flowers (MGSeSF). The morphs SGF, MGF and LGF occur on the same individual plant while the other two flower morphs (MGSSF and MGSeSF) are produced singly on different individual plants. Plants producing MGSSF and MGSeSF floral morphs are less common. Flowers are protogynous. In all floral morphs pollen grains are monads, spherical and yellow, 19.92 μm in diameter, prolate, tricolpate and reticulate. C. gynandra is facultatively self-pollinated but outcrossing is thought to occur facilitated by insects and the wind (Chweya and Mnzava, 1997). Omondi et al. (2017) conducted hand pollination experiments between 30 lines and showed that they were self- and cross-compatible. According to Raju and Rani (2016), the number of seeds per fruit varies with floral morph ranging from 82.8 (MGF) to 148 (LGF). Seed set also varies with floral morph ranging from 71% (MGF) to 97% (MGSSF). The light seeds are dispersed by wind during the dry season and by rain in the wet season.

Environmental requirements

Occurring in semi-arid, subhumid and humid climates it is grows in cultivated or fallow fields and alongside roads. Although found mainly in semi-arid conditions it is adapted to moist soils alongside rivers, irrigation canals and ditches. C. gynandra grows from sea level to 2400 m in Africa in the temperature range 18–25°C. Tolerating many soil types providing they are deep, well drained and with a pH range of 5.5 to 7, plants grow well on rubbish dumps and in soils amended with manure (Chweya and Mnzava, 1997). C. gynandra is tolerant of salinity with only a slight reduction in plant height resulting from application of a saline solution (75 mM NaCl) for 15 days. Proline contents of stem, roots and leaves were unaffected (Kulya et al., 2011). Mwai et al. (2004) noted that it can grow and reproduce (although somewhat retarded) under salt stress of -0.9 MPa (0.2 mol/kg NaCl). They suggest that although C. gynandra is salt sensitive it has a capacity for osmotic adjustment. Flooding is not tolerated.


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Young leaves and stems of C. gynandra are cooked and eaten as a vegetable either alone or in stews. Various methods are used to ameliorate bitterness, particularly in eastern African countries. In Kenya leaves are steeped overnight in milk. In Botswana, initial blanching of leaves is performed, the water discarded and cooking continued in fresh water (Sogbohossou et al., 2018). Leaves are also cooked with other leafy vegetables such as nightshades (Solanum spp.), Amaranthus and cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) leaves. In addition, leaves are dried, ground and used as a powder or blanched, rolled into balls and then dried. In Thailand the leaves, young shoots and flowers are fermented in salt water prior to serving as a side dish with nam phrik (JIRCAS, 2010). Seeds are used for mustard and contain edible polyunsaturated oil (Mnzava and Chigumira, 2004).

Leaves, stems and roots are widely used in traditional medicine. Boiled leaves are used to boost immunity in women and children, to treat blood loss in new mothers and after injury, and as a general medicinal meal. Leaf infusions are used to treat diarrhoea and anaemia, while leaves and seed are used externally and internally to treat rheumatism. Root infusions are used to treat chest pains. C. gynandra has also been used to treat various digestive disorders, inflammation, epilepsy and malaria (Mnzava and Chigumira, 2004; Iwu, 2014; Sogbohossou et al., 2018). In Zambia C. gynandra is used to treat chancroid, a venereal infection causing ulceration of the groin lymph nodes (Chinsembu, 2016).

Pharmacological analyses of the leaves have shown high concentrations of various compounds including flavonoids, tannins, glucosinolates, and iridoids. These contribute to antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, analgesic, anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties (Yang et al., 2008; Ghogare et al., 2009; Moyo et al. 2013; Bala et al., 2014).

In comparison with currently used chemicals to control tick infestations in livestock, C. gynandra is one of several species with acaricidal and larvicidal effects with 90–100% efficacy (Adenubi et al., 2016).

Uses List

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Human food and beverage

  • Vegetable

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore
  • Veterinary


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Abugre, C., Appiah, F., Kumah, P., 2011. The effect of time of harvest and drying method on the nutritional composition of spider flower (Cleome gynandra L)., International Journal of Postharvest Technology and Innovation, 2(3):221-232

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Ekpong, B., 2009. Effects of seed maturity, seed storage and pre-germination treatments on seed germination of cleome (Cleome gynandra L.)., Scientia Horticulturae, 119(3):236-240

El-Ghani, M. M. A., Kamel, W., El-Bous, M., 2007. The leaf architecture and its taxonomic significance in Capparaceae from Egypt., Acta Biologica Szegediensis, 51(2):125-136

Fankhauser, N., Aubry, S., 2017. Post-transcriptional regulation of photosynthetic genes is a key driver of C4 leaf ontogeny., Journal of Experimental Botany, 68(2):137-146

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Kulya, J., Lontom, W., Bunnag, S., Theerakulpisut, P., 2011. Cleome gynandra L. (C4 plant) shows higher tolerance of salt stress than its C3 close relative, C. viscosa L., AAB Bioflux, 3(1):59-66

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Marshall, D. M., Muhaidat, R., Brown, N. J., Liu Zheng, Stanley, S., Griffiths, H., Sage, R. F., Hibberd, J. M., 2007. Cleome, a genus closely related to Arabidopsis, contains species spanning a developmental progression from C3 to C4 photosynthesis., Plant Journal, 51(5):886-896

Mauyo, L. W., Anjichi, V. E., Wambugu, G. W., Omunyini, M. E., 2008. Effect of nitrogen fertilizer levels on fresh leaf yield of spider plant (Cleome gynandra) in Western Kenya., Scientific Research and Essays, 3(6):240-244

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Newell, C. A., Brown, N. J., Liu Zheng, Pflug, A., Gowik, U., Westhoff, P., Hibberd, J. M., 2010. Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation of Cleome gynandra L., a C4 dicotyledon that is closely related to Arabidopsis thaliana., Journal of Experimental Botany, 61(5):1311-1319

Nyalala, S., Grout, B. W. W., 2015. Volatile emissions from actively-growing Gynandropsis gynandra and Cleome hasseleriana to control spider mites in protected rose cultivation., Acta Horticulturae:299-302

Omondi, E. O., Debener, T., Linde, M., Abukutsa-Onyango, M., Dinssa, F. F., Winkelmann, T., 2016. Molecular markers for genetic diversity studies in African leafy vegetables., Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology, 7(3):188-197

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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 Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

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