Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Indigofera tinctoria
(true indigo)

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Datasheet

Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 16 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Indigofera tinctoria
  • Preferred Common Name
  • true indigo
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • I. tinctoria is a leguminous plant which is widespread across tropical regions around the globe, as it had been cultivated and highly valued for centuries as a main source of indigo dye, leading to its common n...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, with flowers. Botanical specimen in the Botanischer Garten, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. July 2012.
TitleHabit
CaptionIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, with flowers. Botanical specimen in the Botanischer Garten, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. July 2012.
CopyrightPublic Domain - Released by Daderot/via wikipedia - CC0
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, with flowers. Botanical specimen in the Botanischer Garten, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. July 2012.
HabitIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, with flowers. Botanical specimen in the Botanischer Garten, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. July 2012.Public Domain - Released by Daderot/via wikipedia - CC0
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, showing leaves and seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.
TitleHabit
CaptionIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, showing leaves and seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.
Copyright©Yercaud-elango/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, showing leaves and seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.
HabitIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); habit, showing leaves and seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.©Yercaud-elango/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); close view of seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.
TitleSeedpods
CaptionIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); close view of seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.
Copyright©Yercaud-elango/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); close view of seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.
SeedpodsIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); close view of seedpods. nr. Vikramasingapuram, Tamil Nadu, south India. March 2018.©Yercaud-elango/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); leaves and flowers. Jardin des Plantes de Paris, France. June 2014.
TitleFlowers
CaptionIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); leaves and flowers. Jardin des Plantes de Paris, France. June 2014.
Copyright©Pancrat/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo); leaves and flowers. Jardin des Plantes de Paris, France. June 2014.
FlowersIndigofera tinctoria (true indigo); leaves and flowers. Jardin des Plantes de Paris, France. June 2014.©Pancrat/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Indigofera tinctoria L.

Preferred Common Name

  • true indigo

Other Scientific Names

  • Indigofera bergii Vatke
  • Indigofera cinerascens DC.
  • Indigofera houer Forssk.
  • Indigofera indica Lam.
  • Indigofera oligophylla Baker
  • Indigofera orthocarpa (DC.) O.Berg & C.F.Schmidt
  • Indigofera sumatrana Gaertn.
  • Indigofera tinctoria Blanco
  • Indigofera tulearensis Drake

International Common Names

  • English: common indigo; Indian indigo
  • Spanish: indigo
  • French: indigotier
  • Chinese: mu lan

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: anil
  • Cuba: añil; añil cimarrón; añil de Guatemala
  • Germany: Faerber- Indigostrauch
  • Haiti: digo digot
  • Lesser Antilles: French indigo
  • Myanmar: me; me-nai; me-net
  • Puerto Rico: añil verdadero

EPPO code

  • INDTI (Indigofera tinctoria)

Summary of Invasiveness

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I. tinctoria is a leguminous plant which is widespread across tropical regions around the globe, as it had been cultivated and highly valued for centuries as a main source of indigo dye, leading to its common names ‘true indigo’ and ‘common indigo’, before commercial synthetic indigo production came into use in 1897 and reduced the world’s total plant-derived indigo production to 4% by 1914 (Lemmens and Wulijarni-Soetjipto, 1991; PROTA, 2014). I. tinctoria is listed as an “agricultural weed”, “cultivation escape”, “environmental weed”, “garden thug”, “naturalized”, “sleeper weed”, and “weed” in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012), indicating that it has the potential to invade native ecosystems and poses both a present and a future threat. The species was included in Kaufman’s 2013 Invasive Plants of North America (Kaufman and Kaufman, 2013).

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Indigofera L.is the largest genus of the tribe Indigofereae, in the Fabaceae (Leguminosae) family, containing over 700 species found in the tropics and subtropics (Puy et al., 2002). Linnaeus (1753) described the genus based on the three species of I. tinctoria, I. hirsuta and I. glabra, with the name Indigofera referring to the indigo dye produced by members of the genus. Commonly called ‘true indigo’, the species name I. tinctoria reflects its status as a primary source of dye among the indigo plants.

Description

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Erect shrub to 1.5 m tall, many-branched from base. Leaves imparipinnate; leaflets opposite, 11-13, 1.5-2.5 × 0.7-1 cm, oblong, elliptic or oblanceolate, membranous, puberulent on lower surface, the apex mucronulate, rounded or seldom obtuse, the base tapering to obtuse, the margins entire; petiolules 1-1.5 mm long; stipules awl-shaped, 2-3 mm long, persistent. Racemes axillary, many-flowered, 5-10 cm long, sericeous; bracts minute, persistent. Calyx bell-shaped, 1-1.5 mm long, pubescent; corolla pink, tomentose without, the standard to 5 mm long, broadly elliptic, the wings and keel as long as the standard. Legume 3-3.5 cm long, curved only at apex, cylindrical, becoming glabrous, tardily dehiscent; seeds ca. 2 mm long, square-shaped to oblong (Acevedo-Rodríguez, 1996).

Plant Type

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Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated
Shrub

Distribution

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I. tinctoria is thought to be native to the Malaysian Archipelago and grows spontaneously in Africa, although the species’ origins remain unclear (Duke, 1981; Bisby et al., 1994; MacLeod, 1997). It was widely cultivated in India, China, Java, Africa, Malagasy, and tropical America, and has been known to have escaped from cultivation in many of these areas (Duke, 1981; Lemmens and Wulijarni-Soetjipto, 1991; Seidemann, 2005). 

The species’ native status in Madagascar is uncertain (ILDIS, 2014); USDA-ARS (2014) reports it as native to Madagascar, while Puy et al. (2002) reported it as a naturalized 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.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

BangladeshPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
CambodiaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AnhuiPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
-GuangdongPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2014
-GuangxiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2014
-GuizhouPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2014
-HainanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
-YunnanPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2014
Georgia (Republic of)PresentIntroducedILDIS, 2014Abkhazia, Adzharia.
IndiaPresentNativeOviedo Prieto et al., 2012
-Andhra PradeshPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-Arunachal PradeshPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-AssamPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-BiharPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-Dadra and Nagar HaveliPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-DamanPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-DelhiPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-DiuPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-GoaPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-GujaratPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-HaryanaPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-Himachal PradeshPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-Indian PunjabPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-Jammu and KashmirPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-KarnatakaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-KeralaPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-Madhya PradeshPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-MaharashtraPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-ManipurPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-MeghalayaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-MizoramPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-NagalandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-OdishaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-RajasthanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-SikkimPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-Tamil NaduPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-TripuraPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-Uttar PradeshPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-West BengalPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
IndonesiaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-Irian JayaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
-JavaPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-KalimantanPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-MoluccasPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-Nusa TenggaraPresentNativeILDIS, 2014Bali.
-SumatraPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
JapanPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
MalaysiaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-SarawakPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
MaldivesPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
MyanmarPresentNativeKress et al., 2003; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014Bago, Yangon
PakistanPresentNativeFlora of Pakistan, 2014; ILDIS, 2014Including Sind
PhilippinesPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
Saudi ArabiaPresentBisby et al., 1994Native/Introduced status uncertain.
SingaporePresentIntroducedILDIS, 2014
Sri LankaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
TaiwanPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
ThailandPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; Flora of Pakistan, 2014; ILDIS, 2014
TurkeyPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013
UzbekistanPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2014
VietnamPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
YemenPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013Including Socotra.

Africa

AngolaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
BeninPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
BotswanaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
CameroonPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
Cape VerdePresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
Central African RepublicPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
ChadPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
ComorosPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2014Anjouan I, Grande Comore I.
Côte d'IvoirePresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
EthiopiaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
GabonPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
GambiaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
GhanaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
GuineaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
Guinea-BissauPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
KenyaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
MadagascarWidespreadPuy et al., 2002; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014Native according to USDA-GRIN, naturalised according to Puy et al, 2002, Uncertain status in ILDIS.
MalawiPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
MaliPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
MauritiusPresentBisby et al., 1994
MozambiquePresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
NigerPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
NigeriaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
RéunionPresentIntroducedBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
Rodriguez IslandPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2014
Sao Tome and PrincipePresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
SenegalPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
SeychellesPresentIntroducedBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
SomaliaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
South AfricaPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
SudanPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
TanzaniaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
TogoPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
UgandaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
ZambiaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014
ZimbabwePresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014

North America

BermudaPresentIntroducedBritton, 1918
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; ILDIS, 2014

Central America and Caribbean

AnguillaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
BahamasPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; ILDIS, 2014
BarbadosPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
BelizePresentIntroducedBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012Virgin Gorda
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2014
CubaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012
CuraçaoPresentIntroducedBoldingh, 1914; Britton and Wilson, 1924
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; ILDIS, 2014
El SalvadorPresentIntroducedBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
GuatemalaPresentIntroducedBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
HaitiPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; ILDIS, 2014
JamaicaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; ILDIS, 2014
MartiniquePresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
MontserratPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012and Viegues Island.
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Saint LuciaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012Naturalized. St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas.

South America

French GuianaPresentIntroducedFunk et al., 2007Cultivated, perhaps escaped.
GuyanaPresentIntroducedFunk et al., 2007Cultivated, perhaps escaped.
PeruPresentIntroducedBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedBritton and Wilson, 1924; Bisby et al., 1994; Funk et al., 2007; ILDIS, 2014Cultivated, perhaps escaped (Funk et al. 2007).

Europe

Russian FederationPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Southern RussiaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2014Krasnodar

Oceania

AustraliaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; ILDIS, 2014
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
-QueenslandPresentNativeILDIS, 2014
GuamPresentWagner et al., 2012
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentWagner et al., 2012Agrihan, Saipan, Tinian Is.
Papua New GuineaPresentNativeBisby et al., 1994; USDA-ARS, 2013; ILDIS, 2014Including Bismarck Archipelago.

History of Introduction and Spread

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I. tinctoria was widely used as a textile dye and a medicine for centuries in Southeast Asia and India, although its origin remains obscure; indigo dye from several Indigofera species, mostly I. tinctoria, was found on the remains of an Egyptian mummy dating back to 2300 BC and the species has also been found in Inca tombs (MacLeod, 1997; Armitage, 2008). Pliny wrote of an Indicum plant that possessed similar properties to the modern Indigo, and in the 15th century, the Venetians were in the habit of receiving Indigo from the East via Alexandria, Egypt (Macfadyen, 1837). After the discovery of the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope, the Dutch were supposedly the first to import indigo directly into Europe in the middle of the 16th century, although “it was long, however, where it came into general use as a dye, and there appears to have existed against it a very unaccountable prejudice. It…. was prohibited in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and also in Saxony by the Elector, who described it in his edict as a corrosive substance, and fit food only for the devil” (Macfadyen, 1837).

I. tinctoria was reported (as syn. I. sumatrana) to have been introduced to Bengal, India in the mid-1700s for dye production, “either from Malabar or directly from Malaya, and proving a more satisfactory plant than either the Egyptian or the Indian kinds, has spread westward through Upper India as far as the Punjab and more recently southward to Madras. From Bengal it was taken to the West Indies” (University of Calcutta, 1902). Macfadyen (1837) writes that sometime after Queen Elizabeth’s reign indigo’s importance “came to be understood, and the cultivation of the plants which yield it was introduced into the West Indies, and into Mexico, and followed up with such success, that the market of Europe was for a long time principally supplied from these countries” instead of from the East, with a large portion being furnished by Jamaica.

The exact date of introduction of I. tinctoria to the West Indies is uncertain, but it was in Jamaica by 1837 (Macfadyen, 1837) and as of 1876 the species was recorded as ‘cultivated in former times but now only found wild or naturalized’ in St. Croix and other Virgin Islands (Eggers, 1876, 1879). It was included in an 1893 flora of St. Vincent (Kew Bulletin, 1893). The species occurred in Saint Kitts by 1901, Cuba by 1909, Curacao by 1914, and by 1924 it was known to occur in Vieques, St. Thomas, Florida, Hispaniola and from St. Martin to Grenada (Boldingh, 1914; Britton and Wilson, 1924). The first record of the species on the West Indies island of Navassa was a 1929 visual report by Erik Eckman (Zanoni and Buck, 1999). Specimens were collected from Martinique in 1885, Montserrat in 1907, Puerto Rico in 1914, Haiti in 1920, and St. Kitts-Nevis and St. Martin in 1932 (US National Herbarium). I. tinctoria was also known to be cultivated in Guatemala by 1854 as an alternative indigo source to the East Indies (Pereira, 1854).

I. tinctoria is very similar to I. suffruticosa and I. arrecta (see ‘Similarities to Other Species’ section), and in past records these three species have sometimes been confused. For example, Britton’s 1918 flora of Bermuda identifies the I. tinctoria of Jones, LeFroy and HB Small as I. suffruticosa, the only indigo species to be listed in Britton’s flora (Britton, 1918).

Risk of Introduction

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Because I. tinctoria was widely introduced for dye production in tropical regions around the world and escaped from cultivation, it is now considered an agricultural and environmental weed, with the potential to threaten native ecosystems (Randall, 2012). It can tolerate a wide range of precipitation (annual rainfall 640-4100 mm/year), requires little attention after sprouting, and has widely spreading branches that could crowd out other species with its shade (Duke 1981). It spreads by seeds, which are numerous (up to 15 per pod). The risk of introduction of I. tinctoria is moderate to high based on current literature, but more data and research is required.

Habitat

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I. tinctoria has been widely cultivated in tropical regions, usually between 0 and 300 m altitude, and grows well in brushwood, bush margins, grassy fields, and secondary forest, seasonally flooded grassy fields and sandy coasts and along roadsides and riverbanks, although the species cannot tolerate excessive water or heat (Duke, 1981; Seidemann, 2005). Aside from cultivated areas, the species was also common in thickets and roadsides in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (Britton and Wilson, 1924). In Madagascar, I. tinctoria is widely naturalized around villages, roadsides, disturbed areas, and grassland, at altitudes up to 800 m (Puy et al, 2002).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Natural
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Productive/non-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
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
Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Littoral
Coastal areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The chromosome count for I. tinctoria is 2n=16 (Duke, 1981; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2014).

Reproductive Biology

Sedimann (2005) states: Seeds germinate in about 4-5 days. Plants may start to flower 3-4 months after sowing. Like many other leguminous plants, I. tinctoria forms root nodules with nitrogen-fixing capacity with e.g. Rhizobium indigoferae. The total lifespan for dye crops is 2-3 years when grown as a ratoon crop. Propagation is by seed, of which 20-30 kg/ha is needed. The seeds commonly have a hard seed coat and soaking overnight in water or scarification with sulphuric acid can improve germination to over 90%. The crop normally requires little attention after sowing. Weeding is done when needed.

Associations

Like several other members of the Indigofera genus, I. tinctoria has been cultivated as a green manure due to its capability of nitrogen-fixing symbiosis with rhizobia and bradyrhizobia, including Rhizobium indigoferae (Duke, 1981; Lemmens and Wulijarni-Soetjipto, 1991; Seidemann 2005). 

Environmental Requirements

I. tinctoria occurs at 0-1000(-1250) m altitude, in regions with an annual rainfall of 500-1500(-4100) mm and average annual temperature of 23 degrees Celsius. It cannot tolerate continuous rain, excessive waterlogging and flooding, high winds and hailstorms, and can wither under excessive heat and hot winds (Duke, 1981; Seidemann, 2005). From a mean of 13 cases, I. tinctoria tolerates c. 15.2 dm of annual rainfall, 23.1 degrees C annual temperature, and c. 6.5 pH soil (Duke, 1981). It requires little or no shade in order to thrive; according to Macfadyen (1837), the quality of indigo dye obtained from plants grown in a wet climate was considered “small in quantity and inferior in quality”, and shade had a negative effect on crops so that “it is evident, that Indigo requires much and continued sunshine to render its juices rich”.

[Rainfall, temperature and pH levels in tables are from Duke, 1981].

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])
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)

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 10.5 27.4

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall6404100mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Several fungi are known to attack indigo plants: Cercosporella indigofericola, Cladosporium indigoferae, Colletotrichum indigoferae, Nectria cinnabarina, Parodiella perisporioides, Phymatotrichopsis omnivora, Ravenelia indigoferae, Ravenelia laevis, and Uromyces indigoferae. Plants are also susceptible to blights, green caterpillars, grasshoppers, locusts, and other insects that feed on the leaves and flowers, especially when plants are young. Plants are attacked by the nematode Heterodera glycines (Duke, 1981).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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I. tinctoria spreads by seeds (Duke, 1981). Dispersal by humans is primarily through intentional introduction as it has been cultivated for indigo dye production, for environmental purposes and for traditional/folk medicine. There is also accidental introduction as a cultivation escape, as well as by animals, as the leaves are rich in potash and the plant reportedly eaten by cattle in some places (Duke, 1981). I. tinctoria can also spread via water, as it can grow on sandy coastlines and riverbanks.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Digestion and excretionSaid to be eaten by cattle Yes Yes Duke, 1981
Habitat restoration and improvementWidely used as cover and green manure crop Yes Yes Duke, 1981; Lemmens and Wulijarni-Soetjipto, 1991; Seidemann, 2005
Industrial purposesHistorically important as a primary source of indigo dye and introduced widely for that purpose Yes Yes Duke, 1981; MacFadyen, 1837; Seidemann, 2005
Medicinal useTradtitional medicines Yes Duke, 1981

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Machinery and equipment Yes Yes
Soil, sand and gravel Yes Yes
Water Yes Yes

Impact Summary

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

Environmental Impact

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I. tinctoria has a positive impact on soil quality, serving as both a green manure and a cover crop, and has been widely used as such around the world. Using it as a green manure for rice increases yield while reducing the need to supply extensive nitrogen fertilizer to about half. The reside remaining after indigo extraction is also applied as manure. I. tinctoria is also a good N catch crop, reducing the amount of fertilizer NO3 leaching to the groundwater. However, the species possesses traits that pose a threat to native flora, as it is fast-growing, disperses easily by seeds and is easily transported by humans and animals.

Social Impact

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I. tinctoria has been used as a hair dye and there have been concerns of its possible harm to human health. In April 2004, the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products identified the need for a complete safety dossier of the species, and a review of its potential toxicity was conducted by the EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety which concluded in 2012 that further research is required, as currently there is insufficient data (SCCS, 2012).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Monoculture formation
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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I. tinctoria was once the world’s primary source of Indian indigo, but was eventually replaced by I. arrecta, before the rise of synthetic indigo production replaced plant-based indigo dye (Duke, 1981). It has also been used as a cover crop in coffee plantations and rice fields, as green manure for crops such as maize, cotton, and sugarcane, as well as an occasional fodder crop, contrasting with the poisonous nature of some other members of the Indigofera genus (Duke, 1981; Lemmens and Wulijarni-Soetjipto, 1991). Although now made of synthetic dyes, painters in the past used I. tinctoria for the blue in their watercolours (Macfadyen, 1837). In Madagascar, the species was previously cultivated and is still used as a dye plant, while the pounded leaves are used as a compress or as a herbal tea (Puy et al., 2002). Other folk medicinal uses include the juice of the leaves as a prophylactic against hydrophobia, and as a decoction for blennorrhagia; plant extract as treatment for epilepsy, nervous disorders, bronchitis, and as an ointment for sores, old ulcers, and haemorrhoids; and roots for hepatitis, scorpion bites, and urinary complaints (Duke, 1981; Lemmens and Wulijarni-Soetjipto, 1991).

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Soil improvement

Materials

  • Dye/tanning
  • Green manure

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Siedemann (2005), gives the following text on related species: “For indigo production several Indigofera species are used, but there are 3 closely related, major ones: I. tinctoria, I. arrecta, which originates from tropical Africa but is now distributed pantropically, and I. suffruticosa, originating from tropical America and now locally cultivated elsewhere in the tropics, including Africa and Madagascar but not in tropical East Africa. The origin and identity of Indigofera plants cultivated for dye production is often obscure as a result of introduction, selection and the close affinity of species. I. arrecta is sometimes difficult to separate from I. tinctoria. The latter usually differs in its larger and less numerous leaflets and longer fruits containing more seeds. In East Africa, but not West Africa, I. arrecta generally occurs at higher altitudes (1000-2000 m) than I. tinctoria (below 1000 m). I. suffruticosa differs from I. tinctoria by its rather straight, short, 10-15 mm long, red-brown pods and short (c. 3 mm long) stamens”. In short, “Indigofera tinctoria can be distinguished from the related I. arrecta and I. longiracemosa by its longer, indehiscent pods with slight constrictions between the seeds, and its slightly larger flowers with a slightly longer staminal tube” (Puy et al., 2002).

Intermediate specimens between I. tinctoria, I. arrecta, and I. suffruticosa have been found, and are possibly hybrids. “Based on the form of the fruits, 2 varieties are distinguished in Indigofera tinctoria: var. tinctoria has straight or slightly curved pods (not more than 50 degrees), [whereas] var. arcuate JB Gillett has pods curved more than 50 degrees, often semi-circular and sometimes forming a ring” (Seidemann, 2005).

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Further data and research are needed to gauge the impact of I. tinctoria on native flora and natural communities, and the extent of the species’ potential for invasiveness, especially considering its widespread distribution across tropical regions. There is currently a lack of information on managing and controlling the species in natural areas.

References

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Links to Websites

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

Contributors

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08/03/2014 Original text by:

Marianne Jennifer Datiles, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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

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