Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Momordica charantia
(bitter gourd)

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Datasheet

Momordica charantia (bitter gourd)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 14 July 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Momordica charantia
  • Preferred Common Name
  • bitter gourd
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • M. charantia is an annual climbing vine probably native to tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia (Englberger, 2009...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Momordica charantia (bitter gourd); leaves and flowers of mature plant. Tonga, May 1988.
TitleMature plant
CaptionMomordica charantia (bitter gourd); leaves and flowers of mature plant. Tonga, May 1988.
Copyright©John T. Swarbrick
Momordica charantia (bitter gourd); leaves and flowers of mature plant. Tonga, May 1988.
Mature plantMomordica charantia (bitter gourd); leaves and flowers of mature plant. Tonga, May 1988.©John T. Swarbrick
Momordica charantia (bitter gourd); fruit.
TitleFruit
CaptionMomordica charantia (bitter gourd); fruit.
Copyright©John T. Swarbrick
Momordica charantia (bitter gourd); fruit.
FruitMomordica charantia (bitter gourd); fruit.©John T. Swarbrick

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Momordica charantia L.

Preferred Common Name

  • bitter gourd

Other Scientific Names

  • Momordica anthelmintica Guin.
  • Momordica elegans Salisb.
  • Momordica muricata Willd.
  • Momordica operculata Vell.
  • Momordica senegalensis Lam.

International Common Names

  • English: balsam apple; balsam pear; bitter balsam apple; bitter cucumber; bitter melon; carilla gourd; paria; wild balsam-apple
  • Spanish: achochilla; archicha; balsamina; carilla; cundeamor; estropajo; pepinillo
  • French: margose; margose a piquant; momordique a feuilles de vigne; pomme de merveille
  • Portuguese: melao de Sao Caetano

Local Common Names

  • : cundeamor; sorosi
  • Angola: mimbuzu
  • Bangladesh: korolla
  • Barbados: carilla; cerassea; cerassee; miraculous bush
  • Bolivia: balsamina
  • Brazil: erva de lavaderia; fruto de cobra; malao de Sao Ceatano; melao de Sao Tana; melao de Sao Vincent; melaozinho
  • Cambodia: moreas
  • Caribbean: squirting cucumber
  • China: ku gua
  • Colombia: archucha; balsamina
  • Ecuador: achochilla
  • El Salvador: balsamito; balsamo
  • Fiji: bitter gourd; kerla
  • Germany: Balsambirne; Bitter balsamkuerbis; Bittere springgurke; Rebensblattriger balsamapfel
  • Ghana: kakle; nya nya; nyinya
  • Guam: alamgosa; wild bitter melon
  • Guatemala: paroka
  • Guyana: coryla vine
  • Honduras: calaica
  • India: kakara; karakara-chettu; karela; kuraila; pagel; pava kai; sushavi
  • Indonesia: pare; paria; pepare; peria
  • Iraq: a'jayib al-maasi; gul khandan; kuraila
  • Italy: pomo balsamo
  • Jamaica: cerasea
  • Liberia: ga ge su lu
  • Madagascar: morogozy
  • Malaysia: kyet-hin-ga; peria laut
  • Mali: lumba-lumba; manamat
  • Mexico: cunde amor; cunde amor grande; pepino
  • Micronesia, Federated states of: selwahkatik suwed (Pohnpei)
  • Netherlands: springkomkommer; wijngaardbladlig springkruid
  • Nigeria: akban ndene; daddagu; ejirin; garafuni; lele duji
  • Panama: balsamino
  • Paraguay: andai mi; andai nu; ani mi; calabacaita
  • Peru: balsamina; papayilla
  • Philippines: amargosa; ampalaya; ampalia; palia; paria
  • Senegal: barbouf; beurhoh; liane mereveille; yombebute; zara
  • Sri Lanka: pahal-kai
  • Sudan: abu eloffein
  • Suriname: wild soproro
  • Thailand: ma hai; ma roi ruu; mara pah; phak hai; phak hoei
  • Trinidad and Tobago: carailee; carilla; cerasee bush
  • USA/Hawaii: peria
  • Venezuela: maravilla
  • Vietnam: cay muop mu; muop dang hona; muop dong

EPPO code

  • MOMCH (Momordica charantia)

Summary of Invasiveness

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M. charantia is an annual climbing vine probably native to tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia (Englberger, 2009). It is now widely distributed throughout tropical and subtropical regions on all continents. It is very invasive in Guam (Englberger, 2009), and has also been reported as invasive in other parts of the Pacific (PIER, 2014), Brazil (I3N-Brazil, 2014) and the Caribbean (Acevedo-Rodriquez and Strong, 2012; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012).

It interferes with the growth of a wide range of vegetables, annual, perennial, orchard and plantation crops by climbing over them, competing for light and possibly for nutrients and water, raising the humidity around their bases, and interfering with access, management and harvesting.

M. charantia is a particular problem in sugarcane; in the first three months it may smother all growth, and at all stages, but particularly towards harvest it climbs over the crop and binds stalks together, reducing sugar content and making harvesting very difficult.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Violales
  •                         Family: Cucurbitaceae
  •                             Genus: Momordica
  •                                 Species: Momordica charantia

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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According to Schaefer and Renner (2010) genus Momordica comprises 59 species distributed in the warm tropics, chiefly in Africa and with about 12 species in South-East Asia. Momordica charanita L. is the most widely cultivated species of Momordica. The generic name apparently derives from the Latin mordeo (to bite), perhaps a reference to the jagged edges of the seeds; charantia is from the ancient Greek for beautiful flower. Momordica is in the subtribe Thladianthinae, tribe Joliffieae, subfamily Cucurbitoideae, Family Cucurbitaceae. There are five other cultivated Momordica species in addition to M. charantia. The other species are  cultivatedin Asia and some parts of Africa (Robinson and Decker-Walters, 1997).  

Momordica is monophyletic and the genus can be divided inot 11 clades. The Asiatic species falls under three sects. Dioecious species like M. cochinchinensis, M. dioica, M. sahyadrica, M. denticulata, M. denudata, M. clarkeana and M. subangulata grouped under the sect. Cochinchinensis, and monoecious species M. charantia and M. balsamina under the sect. Momordica and M. cymbalaria under the sect. Raphanocarpus (Schaefer and Renner, 2010; Behera et al., 2011). The monoecious species M charantia and M. balsamina produce edible fruits, and have been widely distributed as crops becoming naturalized throughout the tropics.

There are two botanical varieties viz.; M. charantia var. muricata (syn. var. abbreviata) and M. charantia var. charantia, the former mostly wild and the latter cultivated. The wild variety (M. charantia var. muricata) is considered as the progenitor of cultivated M. charantia var. charantia (Walters and Decker-Walters, 1988).

Description

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M. charantia is a tropical and subtropical species belonging to the family Cucurbitaceae, and is widely grown for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. Various names exist for the plant and its fruit, including bitter melon, bitter gourd, goya from the Japanese or Karela from Hindi, ampalayá from Tagalog, and cerasee (Caribbean and South America; also spelled cerasse) (Maiti et al., 2012).

M. charantia is an annual to perennial monoecious climbing or sprawling herb, 2-3 m tall. It may be either hairless or slightly hairy.

There is a central taproot, from the apex of which the stems spread to climb over any available support.

The well branched, slender, green stems are usually slightly 5-angled or ridged, and carry unbranched tendrils in the leaf axils.

The leaves are carried singly along the stems on 3-5 cm long stalks, and each leaf is 4-10 cm long, rounded in outline, and deeply 5-9 lobed. The foliage has an unpleasant smell when crushed.

The flowers occur singly in the upper leaf axils on 2-10 cm long stalks with a small leaf-like bract towards the base. Male flowers have a slender basal swelling which is continuous with the base of the sepal tube, which ends in five blunt sepals. There are five oval yellow petals 10-20 cm long, and five central stamens. Female flowers are similar to the male flowers but have a distinct warty swelling well below the base of the sepal tube and three stigmas. Male flowers appear first and usually exceed the number of female flowers by about 20:1. The flower opens at sunrise and remains open for only one day.

The pendulous cylindrical fruits are egg-shaped and 2-10 cm long (up to 20 cm in cultivated varieties), and covered with longitudinal ridges and warts. At maturity, they turn orange to yellow, and the tips split into three and turn back to reveal the yellow pulp and the bright red arils that enclose the seeds which adhere to the inside of the fruit. Each of the flattened woody seeds is 5-9 mm long, and has finely pitted surfaces.

The seedlings show epigeal germination, and resemble cucumber seedlings. The thick, brittle hypocotyl is 2-3 cm long, the cotyledons thick, firm, convex on the lower surface and almost without veins, the epicotyl 1-2 cm long and the first leaves shortly stalked, rounded, bluntly lobed and finely toothed.

Distribution

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M. charantia is widely distributed throughout tropical and subtropical regions on all continents. It appears to be native to the African and Australian continents, but its actual origin has been obscured by its spread as a food crop. Currently it can be found cultivated and naturalized in North, Central and South America, the West Indies and on several islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The wild forms of M. charantia are distributed in tropical and subtropical Africa, S, E and SE Asia, Malesia, Australia and Pacific, India-Andaman and Nicobar Islands, South, North (except NW Himalayas), East and NE, Pakistan, SE Asia: Thailand, Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Borneo), Malesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, parts of China (Yunan), Nepal.

The original place of domestication of M. charantia is unknown or unclear for want of credible archaeological evidences. The putative areas for domestication of M. charantia proposed by various workers include southern China, eastern India or eastern Asia (Walters and Decker-Walters, 1988).

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

BangladeshPresentNativeScholz, 1988
CambodiaPresentNativeAnon, 1966; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014Natural and cultivated
ChinaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014Natural and cultivated
-Hong KongPresentIntroducedCultivated and naturalized
Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)PresentIntroducedPIER, 2014Naturalized
IndiaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1997; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012
IndonesiaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Tjitrosoedirdjo, 1990; Holm et al., 1991; USDA-ARS, 2014
-JavaPresentBacker and, 1973
IraqPresentScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1997
JapanPresentScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
Korea, DPRPresentHolm et al., 1991
MalaysiaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
MaldivesPresentIntroducedPIER, 2014Cultivated
NepalPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
PakistanPresentNativeHolm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced Invasive Scholz, 1988; PIER, 2014
Sri LankaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
TaiwanPresentIntroduced Invasive Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2014Cultivated and naturalized
ThailandPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; USDA-ARS, 2014Natural and cultivated
TurkeyPresentIntroducedDAISIE, 2014
VietnamPresentNativeScholz, 1988; USDA-ARS, 2014

Africa

AngolaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; USDA-ARS, 2014
BeninPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
BurundiPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
CameroonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
Cape VerdePresentConþalves, 1996
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
Côte d'IvoirePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
GabonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
GambiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
GhanaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; USDA-ARS, 2014
KenyaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
LiberiaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; USDA-ARS, 2014
MadagascarPresentNativeHolm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
MalawiPresentNativeJeffrey, 1978; USDA-ARS, 2014
MaliPresentNativeScholz, 1988; USDA-ARS, 2014
MauritiusPresentIntroduced Invasive Scholz, 1988; PIER, 2014
MozambiquePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
NigeriaPresentNativeScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
RwandaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
SenegalPresentNativeScholz, 1988; USDA-ARS, 2014
SeychellesPresentIntroducedPIER, 2014Cultivated
Sierra LeonePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
SudanPresentHolm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
TanzaniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
UgandaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2014
ZambiaPresentNativeJeffrey, 1978; USDA-ARS, 2014
ZimbabwePresentNativeHolm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014

North America

MexicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
USAPresentScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
-FloridaPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2014
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Haselwood and Motter, 1983; Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
-LouisianaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2014
-TexasPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2014Southeast

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
BarbadosPresentIntroducedScholz, 1988; Broome et al., 2007
BelizePresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2014
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012Tortola, Virgin Gorda
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
Costa RicaPresentIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; Chacón and Saborío, 2012
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive Garcia et al., unda; Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1997; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012
DominicaPresentIntroducedFournet and Hammerton, 1991; Broome et al., 2007
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced Invasive Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; USDA-ARS, 2014
GrenadaPresentIntroducedFournet and Hammerton, 1991; Broome et al., 2007
GuadeloupePresentIntroducedFournet and Hammerton, 1991; Broome et al., 2007
GuatemalaPresentIntroducedScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; USDA-ARS, 2014
HaitiPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012
HondurasPresentIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991
JamaicaPresentIntroducedScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
MartiniquePresentIntroducedFournet and Hammerton, 1991; Broome et al., 2007
MontserratPresentIntroducedFournet and Hammerton, 1991; Broome et al., 2007
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
NicaraguaPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2014
PanamaPresentIntroduced Invasive Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroducedFournet and Hammerton, 1991; Broome et al., 2007
Saint LuciaPresentIntroduced Invasive Fournet and Hammerton, 1991; Krauss, 2012
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroducedFournet and Hammerton, 1991; Broome et al., 2007
Trinidad and TobagoPresentIntroducedScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2012St Thomas, St Croix, St John

South America

ArgentinaPresentHolm et al., 1997
BoliviaPresentHolm et al., 1991
BrazilPresentBacchi et al., 1972; Lorenzi, 1986; Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
-AcrePresentIntroducedGomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-AlagoasPresentLorenzi, 1982
-AmapaPresentIntroducedGomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-BahiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Lorenzi, 1982; I3N-Brasil, 2014
-CearaPresentIntroduced Invasive Lorenzi, 1982; I3N-Brasil, 2014
-Espirito SantoPresentLorenzi, 1982
-Fernando de NoronhaPresentLorenzi, 1982
-GoiasPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-MaranhaoPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-ParaibaPresentIntroduced Invasive Lorenzi, 1982; I3N-Brasil, 2014
-ParanaPresentLorenzi, 1982
-PernambucoPresentIntroduced Invasive Lorenzi, 1982; I3N-Brasil, 2014
-PiauiPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Rio Grande do NortePresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982; Gomes-Klein and Gomes-Costa, 2014Naturalized
-Sao PauloPresentLorenzi, 1982
-SergipePresentLorenzi, 1982
ChilePresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Easter IslandPresentIntroducedPIER, 2014Cultivated
ColombiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Morales et al., 1974; Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
EcuadorPresentIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2014Cultivated
GuyanaPresentBushundial, 1991
ParaguayPresentIntroduced Invasive Scholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1997; USDA-ARS, 2014
PeruPresentScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
SurinamePresentHolm et al., 1991
VenezuelaPresentScholz, 1988

Oceania

American SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1997
AustraliaPresentScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedHnatiuk, 1990Naturalized
-New South WalesPresentIntroducedHnatiuk, 1990Naturalized
-QueenslandPresentNativeHnatiuk, 1990; USDA-ARS, 2014
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1997; PIER, 2014
FijiPresentIntroducedScholz, 1988; Holm et al., 1991; Holm et al., 1997; Waterhouse, 1997; Englberger, 2009; USDA-ARS, 2014
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedWaterhouse, 1997; Englberger, 2009Tahiti
GuamPresentIntroduced Invasive Lee, 1985; Waterhouse, 1997; Englberger, 2009Very invasive
KiribatiPresentIntroducedPIER, 2014
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedWaterhouse, 1997Cultivated and naturalized
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroduced Invasive Englberger, 2009Invasive in Pohnpei; also present on Chuuk
NauruPresentIntroducedPIER, 2014Cultivated
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Invasive MacKee, 1985; Holm et al., 1997; Waterhouse, 1997; PIER, 2014
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2014
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2014
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2014
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroduced Invasive Henty and Pritchard, 1975; Hiaso, 1996; Holm et al., 1997; PIER, 2014; USDA-ARS, 2014
SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive Sauerborn and Sauerborn, 1984; Waterhouse, 1997; PIER, 2014
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Hancock and Henderson, 1988; PIER, 2014
TongaPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1997; PIER, 2014
US Minor Outlying IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2014
VanuatuPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1997; PIER, 2014

History of Introduction and Spread

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M. charantia is native to the Old World and was possibly domesticated in India and southern China. It is now found naturalized in almost all tropical and subtropical regions. It is an important market vegetable in southern and eastern Asia, and wild and cultivated populations can be found in countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia, southern China and tropical Africa (PROTA, 2014). It is believed that M. charantia was introduced into America from West Africa with the slave trade. In the West Indies, M. charantia was first recorded in Puerto Rico in 1885 (US National Herbarium). By the end of nineteenth century, local cultivars originally from Asia were recorded on small scale cultivations in tropical America and the southern part of the United States (PROTA, 2014). 

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of M. charantia is very high. This species is a fast-growing vine which has been widely introduced to be consumed as a vegetable and to be used in traditional medicine, and which has escaped from cultivation and naturalized becoming a serious threat for native plant communities (PIER, 2014). Therefore, the likelihood of this species to invade and colonize new habitats remains high. 

Habitat

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M. charantia grows under a very wide range of conditions throughout the tropics and subtropics. Its rapid growth and maturation allow it to colonize any area where there is sufficient short-term soil moisture, whilst it can also survive as a perennial in conditions of continuous soil moisture. It grows from sea level to over 1300 m (Tjitrosoedirdjo, 1990), and in areas with annual rainfall as low as 480 mm. Minimum average annual temperatures may be as low as 12.5°C, though the plant is unlikely to thrive in such cold areas. It grows in soils with pH ranging from 4.3 to 8.7 (Holm et al., 1997). M. charantia is a fast-growing vine and quickly covers the supporting vegetation or structure. In general, this species can be found growing in coastal areas, along creeks and rivers, forest edges and disturbed sites (Hall et al., 2012). For optimum growth, M. charantia needs a strong support, 1-4 m tall, however, it will also grow as a matted ground cover.

Hosts/Species Affected

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In addition to the crops listed, M. charantia is also a major weed in tropical pastures and vegetable crops. It also occurs as a ruderal in disturbed, uncultivated habitats such as roadsides, gardens, fencelines and around houses and farm buildings.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Biology and Ecology

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Reproductive Biology and Phenology

M. charantia is a monoecious species and reproductive activity starts when plants are 30 to 35 days old (days after germination). Flowering and fruiting can occur throughout the year. Flowering starts with male flowers about 30 days after germination, while female flowers appear 10 days later. Flowering may continue for up to 6 months. Flowers open early in the morning before daylight with anthesis at about dawn. Anthers dehisce about two hours before anthesis and optimum viability of pollen and receptivity of the stigma are attained at anthesis. Flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects (Holm et al., 1997; PROTA, 2014).

Physiology

M. charantia has the C3 photosynthetic pathway and is a fast-growing species (Holm et al., 1997).

Longevity and Activity Patterns

M. charantia is a fast-growing vine and seeds germinate readily in moist warm soil even if covered with pasture or shaded by crops. Seedling development and growth is very rapid. Flowering starts about 30 days after germination and young fruits can be harvested 10-14 days after anthesis. Continuous harvesting of all young fruits prolongs crop duration. Fruits left on the plant turn orange or yellow 25-30 days after fruit set (Holm et al., 1997).

Environmental Requirements

M. charantia grows best in wet areas from sea level to 1000 m in elevation, with precipitation ranging from 480 to 4100 mm and temperatures between 12.5 and 25°C. It prefers deep well-drained sandy loam or silt loam soils with a high organic matter content, water-retaining capacity and with pH ranging from 4.3 to 8.7 (Holm et al., 1997).

Bitter gourd cannot tolerate drought and water stress can severely reduce the yield and good soil moisture should be maintained in the upper 50 cm of soil where the majority of roots are located. M. charantia is intolerant to flooding with 4 days of flooding producing significant changes in morphology (Behera et al., 2011). The crop can be furrow irrigated every 10 days during the cool dry season and weekly during the hot dry season. Drip irrigation is an efficient method of supplying water and nutrients through fertigation.

Sex expression is affected by environmental conditions under which M. charantia seedlings grow.  Short-day cultivars, when grow under short photoperiods, exhibit rapid development and comparatively high gynoecy. To encourage a high frequency of pistillate flowers, such short-day treatments should begin at seedling emergence and proceed to sixth-leaf stage (~ 20 days post emergence under growing optimal conditions).  While low temperature enhances short-day effects, relatively high temperatures typically delay reproductive growth, weakening short-day responses.  Likewise, pistillate flower production under short-days is increased by low temperatures (e.g., 25°C day/15°C night). Consequently, optimal conditions for bitter gourd seedling growth are short days and low temperatures (Behera et al., 2011).

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])
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
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)

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 12.5 25
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 6

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall4804100mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Summer
Uniform
Winter

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • shallow

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Most of the insects and pathogens that affect cucurbit crops in the tropics also affect M. charantia when it is grown as a crop and presumably when it occurs as a weed. There is a very large amount of literature on insects and pathogens affecting M. charantia as a crop, especially from India. Pests of particular note include root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) (Paruthi et al., 1995), epilachna beetles (Ahmed and Khatun, 1996), Pseudoperonospora cubensis and Alternaria alternata (Bains et al., 1996), Dacus cucurbitae (melon fruit fly) (Gupta and Verna, 1995), Fusarium wilt (Lin et al., 1996), thrips (Kajita et al., 1996), zucchini yellow mosaic potyvirus (Fukumoto et al., 1993), dodder (cuscuta spp.) (Kondap and Kumar, 1993) and many others.

No natural enemies have been reported from M. charantia as a weed, although it has been suggested that its high susceptibility to root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) may limit its weedy vigour (Holm et al., 1997).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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M. charantia spreads sexually by seeds and vegetatively by underground stems. The tips of the fruits split at maturity, and the sections curl backwards to expose the woody seeds embedded in sugary bright red arils. The arils are attractive to birds and animals which disperse the seeds. Seeds kept in dry storage remain viable for up to 24 months (Holm et al., 1997).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Crop productionCultivated for edible fruits Yes Yes Holm et al., 1997
Escape from confinement or garden escape Yes PIER, 2014
Garden waste disposalSeeds and stem fragments Yes Holm et al., 1997
HorticultureCultivated for edible fruits Yes Yes Holm et al., 1997
Medicinal useStems used in traditional Asian and African medicine Yes Yes Holm et al., 1997
Ornamental purposesCultivated as an ornamental, ground cover and fence cover Yes Yes Holm et al., 1997

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesSeeds and stem fragments Yes Yes Holm et al., 1997
Machinery and equipmentSeeds and stem fragments Yes Yes Holm et al., 1997

Economic Impact

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M. charantia interferes with the growth of a wide range of vegetables, annual, perennial, orchard and plantation crops by climbing over them, competing for light and possibly for nutrients and water, raising the humidity around their bases, and interfering with access, management and harvesting. Holm et al. (1997) reported that it is a weed in 22 crops in over 50 countries. It may overgrow citrus trees in Florida, USA during late summer and autumn and is a particular problem in sugarcane; in the first three months it may smother all growth, and at all stages, but particularly towards harvest, it climbs over the crop and binds stalks together, reducing sugar content and making harvesting very difficult.

This weed is a nuisance in pastures as it has an unpleasant odour when bruised and is unpalatable to stock. It may even be harmful to livestock (Hiaso, 1996). M. charantia is also an alternative host for viruses and leafhoppers that affect celery, pawpaw and watermelon, and is a host for many other pests.

Environmental Impact

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M. charantia is an aggressive invasive that grows as rapidly forming dense colonies that engulf native vegetation, climbing high into mature tree canopies and shading-out trees and shrubs in the understory. It competes for light and resources with native vegetation and it has the potential to completely out-compete vegetation communities by displacing native species, inhibiting the germination and establishment of seedlings in the understory and by changing community structures and altering ecological functions in invaded areas (Holm et al., 1997; PIER, 2014; PROTA, 2014).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Osmoxylon mariannenseCR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered) CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesNorthern Mariana IslandsCompetition - stranglingUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Competition - strangling

Uses

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M. charantia is grown as a food crop throughout the tropics. Leaves are used as pot-herbs and fruit are boiled, fried, pickled or used in curries. Both young shoots and immature fruits are eaten as vegetables; although the immature fruits are very bitter unless blanched, or steeped in salty water. The yellow fruit pulp and arils are high in carotenoids, iron, phosphorous and ascorbic acid.

M. charantia may also be grown as an ornamental, although this use is usually combined with the collection of the fruits and shoots for food. It is sometimes grown as an ornamental because of its showy flowers (Janick and Paull, 2008).

This plant can be grown as a cover crop (for example, under cocoa), but its vigorous vining habit makes it difficult to control.

The plant has many medicinal uses, including use as an anthelminthic, purgative and pain reliever, and to treat haemorrhoids, internal parasites and rashes. A seed extract has the capacity to inactivate certain cancerous tumours and may have anti-leukemic activity; it also helps ameliorate the effects of diabetes mellitus (Holm et al., 1997). Its pharmacological properties have been recently investigated by Zafar and Neerja (1991). Leaves of the plant are brewed in hot water to create a tea to treat malaria and diabetes. The leaves are allowed to steep in hot water before being strained thoroughly so that only the remaining liquid is used for the tea (Maiti et al., 2012).

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Host of pest

General

  • Ornamental

Human food and beverage

  • Vegetable

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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There are many annual tendril-climbing weeds in the same family as M. charantia, none however, have the evil-smelling foliage, ridged and pitted fruit which turns yellow and splits open at maturity, and seeds enclosed in bright red juicy arils. M. balsamina is very similar except that it has bracts towards the top of the flower stalks and the fruits do not split open at maturity.

Prevention and Control

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Cultural Control

M. charantia may be uprooted by hand or hoed out so long as the tap root is cut through at, or just below, ground level (Tjitrosoedirdjo, 1990).

Chemical Control

Post-emergent chemical control of M. charantia can be obtained with:

2,4-D + ametryne (Tjitrosoedirdjo, 1990)
fluroxypyr (Tjitrosoedirdjo, 1990)
fluroxypyr + 2,4-D (Tjitrosoedirdjo, 1990)
acifluorfen + bentazon (Lorenzi, 1986)
ametryn (Lorenzi, 1986)
asulam + diuron (Lorenzi, 1986)
ametryn + atrazine (Bushundial, 1991)
betazone + MCPA (Lorenzi, 1986)
bentazon + paraquat (Lorenzi, 1986)
bifenox (Lorenzi, 1986)
bifenox + propanil (Lorenzi, 1986)
bromacil (Lorenzi, 1986)
chlorimuron-ethyl (Lorenzi, 1986)
dicamba (Lorenzi, 1986)
diquat (Lorenzi, 1986)
diuron (Bushundial, 1991)
diuron + 2,4-D (Lorenzi, 1986)
diuron + MSMA (Lorenzi, 1986)
2,4-D (Lorenzi, 1986)
2,4-D + glyphosate (Lorenzi, 1986)
2,4-D + picloram (Lorenzi, 196)
fomesafen (Lorenzi, 1986)
glyphosate (Lorenzi, 1986)
ioxynil (Lorenzi, 1986)
ioxynil + 2,4-D (Henty and Pritchard, 1975)
MSMA (Lorenzi, 1986)
paraquat (Lorenzi, 1986)
prometryne (Lorenzi, 1986)
tebuthiuron (Lorenzi, 1986).

The authors listed above make no recommendations for the efficacy or suitability of these herbicides against M. charantia in named crops.

Biological Control

No biological control has been attempted against M. charantia.

References

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Contributors

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27/06/14 Updated by:

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

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

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