Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius
(chaya)

Vélez-Gavilán J, 2019. Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya). Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.14554.20203482738

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Datasheet

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 14 July 2020
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Documented Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cnidoscolus aconitifolius
  • Preferred Common Name
  • chaya
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is a shrub or small tree native to southern Mexico and Central America, with a long history of cultivation for its edible leaves and other purposes, dating back to the Mayan civilization. It is believed...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
TitleHabit
CaptionCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
HabitCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
TitleHabit
CaptionCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
HabitCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
TitleHabit
CaptionCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
HabitCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves, stem and flowsers. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
TitleHabit
CaptionCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.
HabitCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit. Ulupalakua, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June 2009.©Forest & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves and stems.
TitleFoliage
CaptionCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves and stems.
Copyright©Eric Toensmeier/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves and stems.
FoliageCnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya); habit, showing leaves and stems.©Eric Toensmeier/via flickr - CC BY 2.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Mill.) I. M. Johnst.

Preferred Common Name

  • chaya

Other Scientific Names

  • Cnidoscolus chaya Lundell
  • Cnidoscolus chayamansa McVaugh
  • Cnidoscolus fragrans (Kunth) Pohl
  • Cnidoscolus longipedunculatus (Brandegee) Pax & K.Hoffm.
  • Cnidoscolus napifolius (Desr.) Pohl
  • Cnidoscolus palmatus (Willd.) Pohl
  • Cnidoscolus quinquelobatus (Mill.) León
  • Jatropha aconitifolia Mill.
  • Jatropha deutziiflora Croizat
  • Jatropha fragrans Kunth
  • Jatropha longipedunculata Brandegee
  • Jatropha napifolia Desr.
  • Jatropha palmata Sessé & Moc. Ex Cerv.
  • Jatropha palmata Willd.
  • Jatropha papaya Medik.
  • Jatropha quinqueloba Sessé
  • Jatropha quinquelobata Mill.

International Common Names

  • English: cabbage-star; Mayan tree spinach; tread softly; tree spinach
  • Spanish: picar
  • French: manioc bâtard; manioc brûlant; ricin bâtard; ricin brûlant

Local Common Names

  • Belize: chaya col; chaykeken; chaykol; col Chaya; k’ek’ek’enchay; keken-chay; kiki-chay; kikil-chay
  • Colombia: manolo Martínez
  • Costa Rica: chicasquil; hierba santa; ortiga; ortiguilla
  • Cuba: salva hombre
  • Dominican Republic: lechoso macho
  • Ecuador: saya
  • Guatemala: chatate; chay; chaya común; chaya del monte; chayo; chichicaste; copapayo; drug tread softly; tzizicastli
  • Mexico: ch’inch’inchay ; chay; chaya amarilla; chaya brava ; chaya cimarrona; chaya común; chaya del monte; chaya mansa; chaya pica; chaya verde; chaykeken; chicicaste; chim-chimchay; chinchin-chay; e’tel; jom chaay; k’an chaay; k’ek’ek’enchay; keken-chay; kiki-chay ; kikil-chay; kulis ek; mala mujer; ortiga; ortiguilla; pica ; quelite ; salik la ; sla ek ; spurge nettle; ts’imtys’imchay; ts’its’ik-chay; tsah; tsaj; tsajim; tsasts; tsats; tza; tzintzinchay; tzintzin-chay; tzitzicastli; x’chay; x’etel; xchay; xts’ats; xtsah; xtzah; ya’ax chaay
  • Panama: chame; chorera; ortiga; ortiguilla; pingamoaz; pringamosca
  • Puerto Rico: papayo macho; papayuelo

Summary of Invasiveness

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Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is a shrub or small tree native to southern Mexico and Central America, with a long history of cultivation for its edible leaves and other purposes, dating back to the Mayan civilization. It is believed to have its origins in the Yucatán Peninsula, spreading due to domestication. It has been widely introduced as a cultivated plant in warmer parts of the world, and become naturalized in the wild in some countries, but it is not widely reported as invasive. It has been reported as invasive in the Galapagos Islands, but other sources indicate that it is not abundant in the wild there. In Cuba, it is reported as a transformer species, naturalized and spreading in some habitats, without further details. In most of the countries where it has been introduced, either there is not enough information available, or it is reported with a low possibility of becoming invasive because the cultivated forms reproduce mostly by stem cuttings. PIER (2018), however, assess it as being of high risk for the Pacific islands.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Euphorbiales
  •                         Family: Euphorbiaceae
  •                             Genus: Cnidoscolus
  •                                 Species: Cnidoscolus aconitifolius

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The Euphorbiaceae is a pantropical family of about 230 genera with nearly 5700 species (POWO, 2020). The family includes species of great economic importance, for example, cassava (Manihot esculenta), castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), Para rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) and poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Cnidoscolus is a neotropical genus characterised by having urticating epidermal hairs, distinctive petiolar or foliar glands, and a single white floral envelope (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002).

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius exhibits extensive morphological and phenological variation, with a wild type and four domesticated varieties known. The varieties can be recognised by the amount of stinging hairs present and their distinctive leaf morphology. The common name most used for the species, Chaya, comes from the Mayan word “chay”. Other common names are a reference to the urticating hairs (for example, ortiga, pica, tread-softly and spurge nettle) (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002). 

Description

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The following description is from Flora of Panama (2019): 'Tree or arborescent shrub ca 3-8 m high; glabrous, stinging hairs sparse or absent except on petioles and leaf veins. Leaves thinly chartaceous; petioles ca 15- 25 cm long, usually unarmed or nearly so; junction of petiole and blade with a single median dark reniform gland ca 2-3 mm wide; stipules very inconspicuous; blades as broad as or broader than long, usually 15-25 cm across and deeply cut, with 5 main lobes and 2 smaller basal lobes, the lobes oblong to obovate, often runcinate-pinnatifid, sharply toothed, acuminate. Dichasia terminal; peduncles ca 15-30 cm long, smooth or sometimes armed, the first branches opposite, the forks of dichasium compact, the inflorescence 3-6 cm across at anthesis, the axes of inflorescence densely and closely minutely pilose. Staminate flowers subsessile; perianth greenish-white, minutely pilose outside but usually unarmed, ca 10-14 mm long, the perianth tube distally dilated, 6-10 mm long, lobes roundish-oblong, 4-6 mm long; disc ca 1-1.5 mm across; stamens with filaments united for most of their lengths into a column, the outer ones 4-5 mm long, the inner 8-9(-12) mm long, the anthers ca 1.5 mm long; staminodes 3, 4-5 mm long. Pistillate flowers subsessile or on short pedicels 1-2 mm long; calyx-segments whitish, linear-oblong, deciduous, 5-7 mm long; disc similar to that of staminate flower; ovary pubescent, the styles 3-4 mm long, connate for 1 mm at base, 3-4-fid into narrow segments. Capsules unarmed, green, minutely rugose, 8-12 mm long; seeds elliptic, compressed, 6-8.5 mm long, 4-5.5 mm broad, pale to dark brown and mottled, the caruncle deltoid-cordate, 1.5-2 mm high, 2-2.8 mm broad.'

According to Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002), the four cultivated varieties of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius have distinctive morphological differences. The varieties 'Estrella' and 'Picuda' are more similar to the wild type. 'Estrella' has leaves with five spreading, non- overlapping dentate lobes, lacking almost completely the stinging hairs present on the wild type. 'Picuda', also lacks the stinging hairs, and differs from 'Estrella' in having much narrower, strongly dentate to pinnatifid, leaves with 5-9 lobes. Mature fruits are unknown for the variety 'Estrella', but ‘Picuda’ can produce fruits and seeds. 'Chayamansa', the most domesticated variety, has strongly obovate leaves with five lobes, the three central ones usually overlapping. The leaves have shorter stinging hairs, only found along the petiole and bottom margins. Fruits are rarely found in this variety and it never produces viable seeds. The variety 'Redonda' has entire to slightly dentate three-lobed leaves, without any stinging hairs present. The immature leaves are often entire. This variety produces pollen, but less than 1% is viable and seed production is extremely rare.

There are extrafloral nectaries at the bases of the leaf blades (Abdala-Roberts and Parra-Tabla 2005).

Plant Type

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Broadleaved
Perennial
Seed propagated
Shrub
Tree
Vegetatively propagated
Woody

Distribution

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Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is to southern Mexico and Central America. Although there is some discussion about the extent of its native range in Central America, most authors agree that it includes Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua (Standley, 1946; Ross-Ibarra, 2003). It is also cultivated throughout its native range. It has been introduced to South America, the Caribbean, Africa, south-east Asia, Oceania and the southern USA (see Distribution table for details) (Little et al., 1974; Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002; Herrera et al., 2010; Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; Welzen and Fernández-Casas, 2017; Dave’s Garden, 2019; Berkelaar, 2006; Flora of Panama, 2019; PFAF, 2019; PIER, 2018; PROTA, 2019; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2019; USDA-ARS, 2019).

Although Cnidoscolus aconitifolius has been reported as escaping from cultivation and as invasive in the Galapagos Islands (PIER, 2018), Guerrero et al. (2008) state that it was recently introduced to the islands and had become naturalized but not abundant in the wild. In Cuba, it is reported as a transformer species, naturalized and spreading in some habitats, but without further details (Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012). In most countries where it has been introduced, either there is not enough information available or it is reported with a low possibility of becoming invasive. Considering particular examples, in Hawaii some plants of a stinging variety, which never became popular in cultivation, can still be seen growing wild (Berkelaar, 2006); Francis and Liogier (1991) report that in Puerto Rico the species is widespread with more than 1000 plants but reproduces slowly and is confined to a few habitats, without more specific information being provided; it is currently not reported as an invasive there (Rojas-Sandoval and Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2015).

It might be present in other countries but overlooked as being only a cultivated species.

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.

Last updated: 10 Jul 2020
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes

Africa

Burkina FasoPresentIntroduced
GhanaPresentIntroduced1977Cultivated in Research Station
KenyaPresentIntroduced
NigeriaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedCultivated in Research Station
TanzaniaPresentIntroducedNon-stinging cultivars
ZambiaPresentIntroduced2000Non-stinging cultivars
ZimbabwePresentIntroduced

Asia

BruneiPresentIntroduced1979
IndonesiaPresentIntroduced1998Reportedly 10,000 households with benefits from its cultivation
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced1954Cultivated, with two collections from the wild outside Cebu City

North America

BahamasPresentIntroducedNon-stinging cultivars. Cat Island
BelizePresentNative
Costa RicaPresentIntroducedPuntarenas and Guanacaste
CubaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedCultivated, naturalized and potentially invasive
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedNon-stinging cultivars
El SalvadorPresentNative
GrenadaPresentIntroduced
GuatemalaPresentRecorded in 1946 as scarce and possibly introduced; in 2019 as native
HondurasPresentNative
MexicoPresentNative and IntroducedNative in the south; cultivars introduced to some parts of the country
NicaraguaPresentNative
PanamaPresentIntroducedExtensively cultivated with one herbarium record suggesting it has naturalized
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedPlanted as an ornamental and shade tree along city streets and near houses; locally common
U.S. Virgin IslandsPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedSaint Croix. Cultivated
United StatesPresent, LocalizedIntroducedOnly in cultivation except for Hawaii
-ArizonaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedCultivated
-CaliforniaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedCultivated
-FloridaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedCultivated all over the state
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced1985Kaua’i and O’ahu Islands; cultivated with some plants growing wild
-TexasPresentIntroducedCultivated
-West VirginiaPresentIntroducedCultivated

Oceania

Federated States of MicronesiaPresentIntroducedCultivated for food and animal forage
FijiPresentIntroduced
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroduced
VanuatuPresentIntroduced

South America

BoliviaPresentIntroducedSanta Rosa, Chaco
BrazilPresentIntroducedNortheast
ColombiaPresentIntroducedAntioquia
EcuadorPresentIntroducedInvasive in Galapagos Islands; on mainland only cultivated
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasiveEscaped from cultivation and invasive on San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz Islands
PeruPresentIntroduced
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedDistrito Federal, M?rida, Nueva Esparta, Sucre, Trujillo

History of Introduction and Spread

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The native distribution of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is in southern Mexico and Central America (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002). It is believed that the species was domesticated in or near the Yucatan Peninsula by the Mayans, and from there distributed into Central America as a food source (Ross-Ibarra, 2003). In its native range it is mostly used as a food source, for medicinal purposes and as living fence posts. Its spread worldwide has been mainly through its cultivation for food. It was introduced in the 1970s to Africa and Asia from Puerto Rico as a potential agricultural crop (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002). In some countries in Africa, it is present only in cultivation at local experimental stations (PROTA, 2019). Although it has been present in the Philippines since 1954, it has not spread into the wild, with only two collections made outside cultivation (Welzen and Fernández-Casas, 2017).

Over the past few decades, cuttings of the species have been actively distributed by humanitarian organizations into South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, because its high nutritional value (Berkelaar, 2006). More recently, Indian families have spread the cultivated varieties in urban and suburban areas throughout Mexico and the southwestern United States (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Ecuador 2000s Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes No Guerrero et al. (2008) Naturalized in Galápagos Islands
Philippines 1954 Horticulture (pathway cause) No No Welzen and Fernández-Casas (2017)
Ghana Puerto Rico 1977 Horticulture (pathway cause) No No Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002)
Brunei Darussalam Puerto Rico 1977 Horticulture (pathway cause) No No Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002)
Indonesia 1998 Horticulture (pathway cause) No No Berkelaar (2006) Although widely cultivated, no specific reports about its naturalization
Zambia 2000 Horticulture (pathway cause) No No Berkelaar (2006)
Hawaii 1985 Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes No PIER (2018) Naturalized

Risk of Introduction

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Cnidoscolus aconitifolius has a high risk of introduction for cultivation in suitable tropical and subtropical habitats, mainly because of its ability to grow well in poor soil conditions and its high nutritional value. Its distribution is being promoted worldwide by various humanitarian organisations, to provide poor communities with good nutritional options (Berkelaar, 2006; Growables, 2019). However, its invasive potential is generally considered low because the cultivated forms reproduce almost solely by stem cuttings. PIER (2018), on the other hand, assess it as being of high risk for the Pacific islands.

Habitat

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The wild type of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is reported from moist and dry thickets in open forest, often in open rocky localities, from sea-level up to elevations of 1300 metres (PROTA, 2019; Useful Tropical Plants, 2019). The cultivated varieties are usually associated with dwellings, or as escapes from cultivation in abandoned areas and along streams (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002; Welzen and Fernández-Casas, 2017).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRocky areas / lava flows Present, no further details Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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There are no reports of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius affecting other plants or crops.

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

Germplasm collections are available for Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (USDA-ARS, 2019). The chromosome number reported for the species is n=18 (Miller and Webster, 1966). The species is known to have a wild type and four cultivars (‘Chayamansa’, ‘Redonda’, ‘Estrella’ and ‘Picuda’) (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002). Three of the cultivars (‘Chayamansa’, ‘Redonda’ and ‘Estrella’) usually do not produce seeds. Ross-Ibarra (2003) reports the loss of genetic diversity through the process of domestication, mainly due to selection and to extensive vegetative reproduction.

Reproductive Biology

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius reproduces by seeds or vegetatively by stem cuttings (PFAF, 2019). Kolterman et al. (1984) report that some cultivars do not produce seeds as the pollen is not viable. Pollination occurs from early morning up to noon. The pollinators reported for the species are butterflies and bees, including Apis mellifera, Trigona nigra, T. fulviventris and Melipona species. The fruits are explosively dehiscent (Parra-Tabla et al., 2004; Parra-Tabla and Herrera 2010; Jara-Guerrero et al., 2011).

Among the four cultivated varieties known, ’Estrella’, 'Chayamansa’ and ‘Redonda’ usually do not set seed, whereas the variety ‘Picuda’ is known to produce fruits and seeds (Ross-Ibarra, 2003). Although most reproduction is via stem cuttings, sexual reproduction may still occur since the wild type and some cultivated varieties can produce seeds.

Physiology and Phenology

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius flowers mostly during the summer months, but flowering and fruiting can occur all year round. The glandular hairs present on leaves, stems, inflorescences and fruits serve as chemical and physical defence against herbivores (Abdala-Roberts and Parra-Tabla, 2005). Herbivory has been found to induce the production of the hairs. Some of the cultivated types have few to no stinging hairs and unviable pollen, and fail to produce fruits (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002; Welzen and Fernández-Casas, 2017).

Associations

The spider Peucetia viridans uses Cnidoscolus aconitifolius as a nesting place and a place to prey on the pollinators (Arango et al., 2000). The extrafloral nectaries at the bases of the leaf blades are visited by at least five species of ants (Abdala-Roberts and Parra-Tabla, 2005).

Environmental Requirements

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is a fast-growing shrub to small tree, usually at its best in full sun and short days, although it can grow in the shade. It can grow in a wide variety of well-drained soil types. It is drought-tolerant and will grow in infertile soils, but is not salt-tolerant. It prefers a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, tolerating 4.5 to 7.5, but will grow in very acid and very alkaline soils. It grows best in areas with temperatures of 20 - 32°C, but can tolerate 12 - 38°C. It prefers a mean annual rainfall of 1000 to 2000mm, but tolerates 500 to 2500mm. It tolerates occasional inundations (PFAF, 2019; Useful Tropical Plants, 2019).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
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])
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)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
38 18

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 12
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 20 32
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 38
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 12

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall5002500mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Bimodal
Summer
Uniform
Winter

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral
  • very acid
  • very alkaline

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Cassava common mosaic virus Pathogen Plants|Whole plant not specific
Manduca quinquemaculata Herbivore Plants|Leaves not specific
Manduca sexta Herbivore Plants|Leaves not specific
Polyphagotarsonemus latus Herbivore Plants|Growing point; Plants|Inflorescence; Plants|Leaves; Plants|Stems not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is reported as not being seriously affected by pests and diseases (PFAF, 2019). A few caterpillars and grasshoppers eat the leaves in its native range, especially after the rainy season (Parra-Tabla et al., 2004). Among the caterpillars that cause most of the leaf damage are Chioides catillus albofascicatus and Anteos maerula (Abdala-Roberts and Parra-Tabla, 2005). The mites Paraponychus sp. and Polyphagotarsonemus latus are also reported to affect the species (Aguilar and Murillo, 2008). Other insects reported are the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta, and the tomato hornworm, M. quinquemaculata (Growables, 2019). The species is also a host of Cassava Common Mosaic Virus (CCMV) (Growables, 2019).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Intentional Introduction

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius has been in cultivation in the Yucatan Peninsula since the Mayan civilization. It has been widely introduced as a food source, for traditional medicine, as an ornamental and to provide living fence posts (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002). It is sold over the internet and at nurseries (Dave’s Garden, 2019).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Botanical gardens and zoosPresent in Botanical Gardens Yes Yes Lasser et al. (1974); Riverón-Giró et al. (2015)
Crop production Yes Yes Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002)
DisturbancePossible, if cuttings are able to root Yes
Escape from confinement or garden escapePossible, if cuttings are able to root Yes
FoodSold at local markets Yes Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002)
ForageUsed to feed animals Yes Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002)
Garden waste disposalPossible, if cuttings are able to root Yes
Hedges and windbreaksUsed as living fence posts Yes Yes Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002)
HorticultureUsed as an ornamental Yes Yes Little et al. (1974)
Internet salesPlants and cuttings available over the internet Yes Yes Dave’s Garden (2019)
Medicinal useUsed for traditional medicine Yes Yes PFAF (2019)
Nursery tradePlants and cuttings available for sale Yes Yes Dave’s Garden (2019)
Ornamental purposesPlanted as an ornamental Yes Yes Little et al. (1974)

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesPossible, if cuttings are able to root Yes
MailCuttings are reported as surviving for several weeks in the mail Yes Yes Berkelaar (2006)
Mulch, straw, baskets and sodPossible, if cuttings are able to root and in the rare event of cultivated plants producing seeds Yes
Soil, sand and gravelPossible, if cuttings are able to root and in the rare event of cultivated plants producing seeds Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive and negative

Impact: Economic

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No economic impact is reported for Cnidoscolus aconitifolius.

Impact: Environmental

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Although Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is reported as invasive in the Galapagos Islands (PIER, 2018) and potentially invasive in Cuba, no details concerning its impact on habitats or other species are given.

Impact: Social

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Cnidoscolus aconitifolius contains cyanogenic glycosides, which could be poisonous for mammals and birds (PFAF, 2019; PROTA, 2019). The leaves are usually cooked before they are consumed. Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002) report that there were no known incidents of acute or chronic effects due to the consumption of fresh or cooked leaves. Contact with the sap or the stinging hairs can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. The use of gloves is recommended for handling the species (PFAF, 2019).

Risk and Impact Factors

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Invasiveness
  • 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
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact mechanisms
  • Causes allergic responses
  • Poisoning
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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Economic Value

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is available for purchase at some nurseries and over the internet (Dave’s Garden, 2019). The edible leaves have the potential to be canned or frozen (Growables, 2019). C. aconitifolius plants are sold in local markets for medicinal purposes and the leaves are sold as a vegetable, as well as being used to feed animals (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002).

Social Benefit

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is cultivated for food and for medicinal purposes, and used as live fence-posts (PFAF, 2019). It was domesticated in pre-Columbian times, with Mayan Indians planting it wherever they settled to have a year-round supply of leaves for food (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002). The leaves and young shoots are still consumed throughout Mesoamerica, being frequently planted near houses and sold at local markets. Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz (2002) found about 70 recipes that use the leaves of C. aconitifolius as one of the ingredients. The species is regarded as being more nutritious than spinach, with high contents of vitamin C, carotene, calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin (PFAF, 2019). The leaves also have a high protein content and are regarded as a suitable replacement for meat. Reports show the use of C. aconitifolius as a famine food by the 16th century. Because of its high nutritional value, C. aconitifolius is promoted by humanitarian organizations as a good food source for developing countries (Berkelaar, 2006).

The leaves are also used to feed animals, such as pigs, chickens, iguanas, ducks, goats and occasionally cattle (Ross-Ibarra and Molina-Cruz, 2002).

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius is used for several medicinal purposes, including treatment for alcoholism, diabetes, insomnia, gout, scorpion stings, skin disorders, and venereal diseases, and to strengthen fingernails, darken greying hair, heighten virility and improve brain function and memory (PFAF, 2019).

It is also planted to form living fences and as an ornamental (Little et al., 1974; PFAF, 2019). It is also considered as a good mulch for vegetable gardens (Growables, 2019).

Environmental Services

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius attracts wildlife, including bees, spiders, ants, butterflies and birds (Arango et al., 2000; Abdala-Roberts and Parra-Tabla, 2005; Growables, 2019; PFAF, 2019).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed

Environmental

  • Amenity
  • Boundary, barrier or support

General

  • Botanical garden/zoo

Human food and beverage

  • Emergency (famine) food
  • Vegetable

Materials

  • Green manure

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Ornamental

  • garden plant

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Details of the reproductive biology of the cultivated plants and the wild type are needed. Information is also needed on: the origin and dispersal of the varieties and which are cultivated where; the possibility of cuttings getting established accidentally; and the possible impact of the species where naturalized.

References

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Abdala-Roberts L, Parra-Tabla V, 2005. Artificial Defoliation Induces Trichome Production in the Tropical Shrub Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Euphorbiaceae). Biotropica, 37(2), 251-257. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2005.00034.x

Acevedo-Rodríguez, P., Strong, M. T., 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies, Washington, DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution.1192 pp. http://botany.si.edu/Antilles/WestIndies/catalog.htm

Aguilar, H., Murillo, P., 2008. New hosts and records of plant feeding mites for Costa Rica: interval 2002-2008. (Nuevos hospederos y registros de ácaros fitófagos para Costa Rica: período 2002-2008). Agronomía Costarricense, 32(2), 7-28.

Arango, A. M., Rico-Gray, V., Parra-Tabla, V., 2000. Population structure, seasonality, and habitat use by the green Lynx spider Peucetia viridans (Oxyopidae) inhabiting Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Euphorbiaceae). Journal of Arachnology, 28(2), 185-194. doi: 10.1636/0161-8202(2000)028[0185:PSSAHU]2.0.CO;2

Berkelaar, D, 2006. Chaya. North Fort Myers, Florida, USA: ECHO.16 pp. http://people.umass.edu/psoil370/Syllabus-files/Chaya.pdf

Dave's Garden, 2019. Dave's Garden. In: Dave's Garden El Segundo, California, USA: Internet Brands.http://davesgarden.com

Dodson, CH, Gentry, AH, Valverde, FM, 1986. Flora of Jauneche (including the Pedro Franco Davila Biological Station) Los Rios, Ecuador. Selbyana, 8(1/4), 1-512. https://www.jstor.org/stable/i40082036

ECHO, 2016. More Valuable Than Ever. ECHO News, 39(2), 3-5. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/516da119e4b00686219e2473/t/573cb02037013b84828baa62/1463595042154/EN416_web.pdf

ECHO, 2017. Experiencing a ‘Superfood Movement’: The Story of Chaya in Indonesia. North Fort Myers, Florida, USA: ECHO.https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/23cb13b7-e177-4418-9ab3-f9245f1717d6

ECHO, 2019. Woman growing Chaya in Burkina Faso. North Fort Myers, Florida, USA: ECHO.https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/11cd7852-440a-4b91-a84e-56d9f48d5f53

Flora of Panama, 2019. Flora of Panama (WFO). In: Flora of Panama (WFO) St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, MA, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria.http://www.tropicos.org/Project/FOPWFO

Francis, J. K., Liogier, H. A., 1991. Naturalized exotic tree species in Puerto Rico. In: General Technical Report - Southern Forest Experiment Station, USDA Forest Service , (No. SO-82) . i + 12 pp.

Growables, 2019. Growing Florida Edibles. https://www.growables.org/

Guerrero, A. M., Pozo, P., Chamorra, S., Guezou, A., Buddenhagen, C. E., 2008. Baseline data for identifying potentially invasive plants in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. Pacific Conservation Biology, 14(2), 93-107.

Herrera, K., Lorence, D. H., Flynn, T., Balick, M. J., 2010. Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia with Local Names and Uses. Allertonia, 10, 1-192. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23193787

Jara-Guerrero, A., Cruz, M. de la, Méndez, M., 2011. Seed dispersal spectrum of woody species in South Ecuadorian dry forests: environmental correlates and the effect of considering species abundance. Biotropica, 43(6), 722-730. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2011.00754.x

Kolterman DA, Breckon GJ, Kowal RR, 1984. Chemotaxonomic Studies in Cnidoscolus (Euphorbiaceae). II. Flavonoids of C. aconitifolius, C. souzae, and C. spinosus. Systematic Botany, 9(1), 22-32. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2418403 doi: 10.2307/2418403

Lasser, T, Braun, A, Steyermark, J, 1974. Catalogue of plants growing in the Botanical Garden of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Caracas. (Catálogo de las plantas que crecen en el Jardín Botánico del Ministerio de Agricultura y Cría, Caracas). In: Acta Botánica Venezuélica , 9(1/4) . 9-61. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41740621

Little, E. L., Jr., Woodbury, R. O., Wadsworth, F. H., 1974. Trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Second volume. In: Agriculture Handbook, US Department of Agriculture , (No. 449) . xiv + 1024 pp.

Miller, K. I., Webster, G. L., 1966. Chromosome numbers in the Euphorbiaceae. Brittonia, 18(4), 372-9. doi: 10.2307/2805153

Missouri Botanical Garden, 2019. Tropicos database. In: Tropicos database St. Louis, Missouri, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden.http://www.tropicos.org/

Oviedo Prieto, R., Herrera Oliver, P., Caluff, M. G., et al., 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y potencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011). Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantas del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba, 6(Special Issue No. 1), 22-96.

Parra-Tabla, V., Herrera, C. M., 2010. Spatially inconsistent direct and indirect effects of herbivory on floral traits and pollination success in a tropical shrub. Oikos, 119(8), 1344-1354. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.18283.x

Parra-Tabla, V., Rico-Gray, V., Carbajal, M., 2004. Effect of defoliation on leaf growth, sexual expression and reproductive success of Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Euphorbiaceae). Plant Ecology, 173(2), 153-160. doi: 10.1023/B:VEGE.0000029318.68342.b1

PFAF, 2019. Plants For A Future Database. In: Plants For A Future Database Dawlish, UK: Plants For A Future.http://www.pfaf.org/USER/Default.aspx

PIER, 2018. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk. In: Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: HEAR, University of Hawaii.http://www.hear.org/pier/index.html

POWO, 2020. Plants of the World Online. In: Plants of the World Online London, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.http://www.plantsoftheworldonline.org

PROTA, 2019. PROTA4U web database. In: PROTA4U web database Wageningen and Nairobi, Netherlands\Kenya: Plant Resources of Tropical Africa.https://www.prota4u.org/database/

Riverón-Giró FB, Hernández Montero Y, García González A, Escalona Domenech RY, 2015. The medicinal plant collection of the Botanical Garden of Holguín, Cuba: its social and scientific importance. (La colección de plantas medicinales del Jardín Botánico de Holguín, Cuba: su importancia social y científica). Revista del Jardín Botánico Nacional, 36, 219-222.

Rojas-Sandoval, J., Acevedo-Rodríguez, P., 2015. Naturalization and invasion of alien plants in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Biological Invasions, 17(1), 149-163. doi: 10.1007/s10530-014-0712-3

Ross-Ibarra J, 2003. Origin and domestication of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius Mill I. M. Johnst): the Maya spinach. (Origen y domesticación de la chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius Mill I. M. Johnst): La espinaca Maya). Estudios Mexicanos, 19(2), 287-302. http://www.rilab.org/pdfs/Ross-Ibarra-2003.pdf

Ross-Ibarra, J., Molina-Cruz, A., 2002. The ethnobotany of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius ssp. Aconitifolius Breckon): a nutritious Maya vegetable. Economic Botany, 56(4), 350-365. doi: 10.1663/0013-0001(2002)056[0350:TEOCCA]2.0.CO;2

Standley, PC, 1946. Food plants of the Indians of the Guatemalan highlands. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, 27(4), 395-400.

USDA-ARS, 2019. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. In: Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory.https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysimple.aspx

Useful Tropical Plants, 2019. Useful tropical plants database. In: Useful tropical plants database : K Fern.http://tropical.theferns.info/

Welzen, P. C. van, Fernández-Casas, F. J., 2017. Cnidoscolus (Euphorbiaceae) escaped in Malesia?. Blumea, 62(1), 84-86. doi: 10.3767/000651917X695476

Distribution References

Berkelaar D, 2006. Chaya., North Fort Myers, Florida, USA: ECHO. 16 pp. http://people.umass.edu/psoil370/Syllabus-files/Chaya.pdf

CABI, 2020. CABI Distribution Database: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI

CABI, 2020a. CABI Distribution Database: Status inferred from regional distribution. Wallingford, UK: CABI

Dave's Garden, 2019. Dave's Garden. In: Dave's Garden. El Segundo, California, USA: Internet Brands. http://davesgarden.com

Dodson CH, Gentry AH, Valverde FM, 1986. Flora of Jauneche (including the Pedro Franco Davila Biological Station) Los Rios, Ecuador. Selbyana. 8 (1/4), 1-512. https://www.jstor.org/stable/i40082036

ECHO, 2016. More Valuable Than Ever. ECHO News. 39 (2), 3-5. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/516da119e4b00686219e2473/t/573cb02037013b84828baa62/1463595042154/EN416_web.pdf

ECHO, 2017. Experiencing a ‘Superfood Movement’: The Story of Chaya in Indonesia. North Fort Myers, Florida, USA: ECHO. https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/23cb13b7-e177-4418-9ab3-f9245f1717d6

ECHO, 2019. Woman growing Chaya in Burkina Faso. North Fort Myers, Florida, USA: ECHO. https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/11cd7852-440a-4b91-a84e-56d9f48d5f53

Flora of Panama, 2019. Flora of Panama (WFO). In: Flora of Panama (WFO). St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, MA, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria. http://www.tropicos.org/Project/FOPWFO

Growables, 2019. Growing Florida Edibles., https://www.growables.org/

Guerrero A M, Pozo P, Chamorra S, Guezou A, Buddenhagen C E, 2008. Baseline data for identifying potentially invasive plants in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. Pacific Conservation Biology. 14 (2), 93-107.

Herrera K, Lorence D H, Flynn T, Balick M J, 2010. Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia with Local Names and Uses. Allertonia. 1-192. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23193787

Lasser T, Braun A, Steyermark J, 1974. Catalogue of plants growing in the Botanical Garden of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Caracas. (Catálogo de las plantas que crecen en el Jardín Botánico del Ministerio de Agricultura y Cría, Caracas). In: Acta Botánica Venezuélica, 9 (1/4) 9-61. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41740621

Little E L Jr, Woodbury R O, Wadsworth F H, 1974. Trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Second volume. In: Agriculture Handbook, US Department of Agriculture, xiv + 1024 pp.

Missouri Botanical Garden, 2019. Tropicos database. In: Tropicos database. St. Louis, Missouri, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden. http://www.tropicos.org/

Oviedo Prieto R, Herrera Oliver P, Caluff M G, et al, 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y potencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011). Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantas del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba. 6 (Special Issue No. 1), 22-96.

PFAF, 2019. Plants For A Future Database. In: Plants For A Future Database. Dawlish, UK: Plants For A Future. http://www.pfaf.org/USER/Default.aspx

PIER, 2018. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk. In: Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: HEAR, University of Hawaii. http://www.hear.org/pier/index.html

PROTA, 2019. PROTA4U web database. In: PROTA4U web database. Wageningen and Nairobi, Netherlands\Kenya: Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. https://www.prota4u.org/database/

Ross-Ibarra J, Molina-Cruz A, 2002. The ethnobotany of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius ssp. Aconitifolius Breckon): a nutritious Maya vegetable. Economic Botany. 56 (4), 350-365. DOI:10.1663/0013-0001(2002)056[0350:TEOCCA]2.0.CO;2

Standley PC, 1946. Food plants of the Indians of the Guatemalan highlands. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. 27 (4), 395-400.

USDA-ARS, 2019. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. In: Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysimple.aspx

Welzen P C van, Fernández-Casas F J, 2017. Cnidoscolus (Euphorbiaceae) escaped in Malesia? Blumea. 62 (1), 84-86. DOI:10.3767/000651917X695476

Contributors

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08/09/19: Original text by:

Jeanine Vélez-Gavilán, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico

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