Sesbania punicea (red sesbania)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Sesbania punicea (Cav.) Benth.
Preferred Common Name
- red sesbania
Other Scientific Names
- Daubentonia punicea (Cav.) DC.
- Daubentonia tripetii Poit.
- Emerus puniceus (Cav.) Kuntze
- Ormocarpum elegans G. Don
- Piscidia ovalifolia D.A. Larranaga
- Piscidia ovalis D.A. Larranaga
- Piscidia punicea Cav.
- Sesbania tripetii Hubb.
International Common Names
- English: black acacia; Brazil rattlebox; Brazilian glory pea; coffee of the coast; coffee weed; false poinciana; purple sesbane; purple sesbania; rattle box; rattlebush; red seine bean; tame acacia
- Spanish: acacia de bañado; acacia mansa; rama negra
Local Common Names
- USA: Chinese wisteria; rattle pod
- SEBPU (Sesbania punicea)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page Sesbania punicea is a Category 1 invasive plant in South Africa (Stirton, 1980; Wells et al., 1986b; Henderson, 2001), which means that it may not be cultivated, sold or transported between regions. S. punicea is already proclaimed as a pest species in the USA and, though not yet present, in Australia it is listed as a prohibited species.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Fabales
- Family: Fabaceae
- Subfamily: Faboideae
- Genus: Sesbania
- Species: Sesbania punicea
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page Some of the common names listed (e.g. sesban) are used for a variety of other Sesbania species as well as for S. punicea.
DescriptionTop of page Sesbania punicea is a deciduous shrub or small tree up to 5 m high with many slender, thornless branches. The bark is smooth and green on young growth, turning reddish and then brown with age. The leaves are dark green above and somewhat paler below, drooping, 100-200 mm long and pinnate. The leaflets are oblong, ending in tiny pointed tips. The flowers are red or orange in colour, approximately 20 mm long and produce showy, dense sprays up to 250 mm long that droop or project outwards. Flowering is predominantly in spring and early summer. The fruits are brown pods that have four characteristic longitudinal wings. They are oblong in shape, 60-80 mm long by 10 mm wide with distal tips that are sharply pointed. Each pod contains up to 10 seeds (each approximately 6 mm long) born in cavities separated by cross partitions (Henderson, 2001).
The plants are generally more shrubby in the native range, where pod and viable seed production is moderated by phytophagous natural enemies (Erb, 1980). In South Africa, historically, S. punicea grew into large trees up to 6 m tall, with basal stem diameters reaching 180 mm (occasionally somewhat more) and producing copious numbers of pods and viable seeds each season (Hoffmann and Moran, 1988).
Plant TypeTop of page Broadleaved
DistributionTop of page Historically, S. punicea seems to have had a relatively limited natural distribution and was probably confined to the banks and islands of the Parana and Uruguay Rivers of the Entre Rios Province of Argentina and of western Uruguay and southern Brazil. The plants have been cultivated widely, and escaped from cultivation, within these and neighbouring countries, so the true extent of its natural range is currently somewhat obscure (Erb, 1980). It now has some temperate as well as tropical and sub-tropical distribution in Africa and North America.
Distribution TableTop of page
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: 23 Apr 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Present||Introduced||Lock (1989)|
|Eswatini||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Wells et al. (1986)|
|Mauritius||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Polhill (1990)||First reported: 1980s|
|Namibia||Present||Introduced||Brown and Gubb (1986)|
|South Africa||Present, Widespread||Introduced||1858||Invasive||Hoffmann and Moran (1991)|
|Zimbabwe||Present||Introduced||Wells et al. (1986)|
|France||Present, Few occurrences||EPPO (2020)|
|-Corsica||Present||Introduced||Tison (2013); EPPO (2020)|
|United States||Present||CABI (Undated)|
|-California||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||CABI (Undated)|
|-Florida||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||CABI (Undated)|
|-Georgia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||CABI (Undated)|
|-North Carolina||Present||Introduced||Invasive||CABI (Undated)|
|-South Carolina||Present||Introduced||Invasive||CABI (Undated)|
|-Rio Grande do Sul||Present||Native||Erb (1980)|
|-Sao Paulo||Present||Sánchez-Soto et al. (2003)|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page Sesbania punicea is a popular ornamental species that has been planted widely in gardens in many countries around the world (Wells et al., 1986a). It was first recorded in South Africa in a catalogue of plants growing in the Company Gardens in Cape Town in 1858 (McGibbon, 1858) but reports of it being invasive only surfaced some 100 years later (e.g. Pienaar, 1977, 1980; Hoffmann and Moran, 1988). By that time the plant was widespread and was readily forming dense thickets in many areas.
In the USA, S. punicea has raised concerns in recent years as an invasive species (Cuda et al., 1996).
Unpublished records show that S. punicea has recently become naturalised and is spreading on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. No doubt additional records will arise about invasions of this species in other countries because of its popularity as a garden ornamental and the ease with which it spreads from cultivation.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page The popularity of S. punicea as an ornamental species (beauty, easy propagation and quick growth) make it a high risk species for movement between countries by horticulturalists. Seeds are readily available, and easily transported, from suppliers through mail order and are readily available through the internet. The small size and hardiness of seeds renders them easy to carry across international borders without detection.
HabitatTop of page S. punicea is predominantly associated with areas where soil moisture levels are consistently high. Seedlings are especially vulnerable to desiccation when soil moisture levels decline.
In its natural range in South America, S. punicea is most frequently encountered as isolated plants or small clumps of plants on river banks, drainage ditches and depressions, where moisture accumulates (Erb, 1980). In the southwestern regions of South Africa, which experience a Mediterranean climate (i.e. dry summers and wet winters), S. punicea is largely confined to river banks and wetlands. In the summer rainfall regions it is predominantly associated with moist habitats but it also occurs in dryland habitats (especially grasslands and disturbed areas), presumably establishing itself in these areas during periods of unusually prolonged and above average rainfall (Hoffmann and Moran, 1988). In the USA, S. punicea is "a weed of humid pastures and natural areas" (Cuda et al., 1996).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details|
|Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details|
|Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page S. punicea has not been recorded as a pest of crops and is mainly a problem in riparian systems and occasionally in pastures. Other Sesbania species are recorded as pests of crops, competing for light, nutrients and moisture (Evans and Rotar, 1987). These species are predominantly annuals and it is possible that the perennial species such as S. punicea have not become pests because they cannot thrive under continuous disturbance associated with agricultural practices. Several Sesbania species are used for various agricultural purposes including nitrogen fixation, fodder and as a green leaf manure (Evans and Rotar, 1987) so there are risks that weedy perennial species, including S. punicea, may be inadvertently introduced into agricultural lands during such operations and thus become problematic.
Biology and EcologyTop of page Genetics
In its natural range S. punicea breeds true and there are no closely related species to give it the opportunity to hybridize. In North America it reportedly hybridizes readily with S. drummondii, a close congeneric from that region (Cuda et al., 1996). As with 15 of the 26 species of Sesbania where the ploidy level is known (Gill and Husaini, 1985; Evans and Rotar, 1987), S. punicea is diploid. It has a chromosome number 2n=12 (Evans and Rotar, 1987).
Physiology and Phenology
Sesbania punicea is a deciduous shrub or small tree up to 5 m high with many slender, thornless branches. The first leaf is simple, with subsequent leaves being pinnate. The plants are deciduous but some leaves are retained in regions with mild winters. Maximum growth of shoots, leaves and flowers occurs in spring and early summer.
Seeds of S. punicea are hard-coated but they have no inherent dormancy and germinate as soon as imbibition occurs when moisture is available (Graaff and van Staden, 1984). As a result, there is no substantial accumulation of seeds in the soil, and seedlings sprout in large numbers soon after seed fall. Some seedlings fail to emerge from seeds buried at depths >70 mm and no seeds produced seedlings from below 120 mm (Graaff and van Staden, 1984). Reproduction is entirely sexual although rootstocks can be transplanted manually with some success.
The flowers are pollinated by generalist insect pollinators (usually bees) (Evans and Rotar, 1987) and give rise to clusters of three or four (rarely ten) seed pods on the original stalks of the inflorescences. The characteristically winged pods ripen in mid to late summer so that by autumn, in the absence of natural enemies, the branches of the trees appear mottled brown due to the mantle of pods. Some pods dehisce while still hanging on the trees and expel their seeds but most of the pods dislodge from the plants while still intact and containing seeds. Long-range dispersal of seeds occurs through the buoyant water-borne pods being carried downstream and seeds are released as the pods become weathered and disintegrate.
S. punicea has high moisture requirements, especially for seed germination and seedling survival, so the plants only become naturalised in areas where soils remain moist for relatively long periods. In regions with predominantly summer rainfall, S. punicea plants are sometimes found in open areas away from water but most occur in the vicinity of rivers and streams (Henderson and Wells, 1986). In dry regions, and in winter-rainfall regions, S. punicea plants are almost always confined to banks and islands of perennial rivers (Brown and Gubb, 1986), streams, depressions, roadsides or other mesic sites. Periodic high-rainfall seasons allow S. punicea to form thickets away from water courses in low-rainfall areas, but the extent to which this happens is limited.
The plants grow over a wide range of altitudes from sea level upwards and are tolerant of periodic sub-zero temperature conditions. Seeds fail to germinate when incubated at 40°C (Graaff and van Staden, 1984).
In common with most leguminous plants, S. punicea has nitrogen-fixing bacteria, Rhizobium sp., associated with its roots (Evans and Rotar, 1987).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-10|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||8||30|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||27||33|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||-2||12|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||6||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||414||1228||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Bimodal
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
|Neodiplogrammus quadrivittatus||Herbivore||Leaves/Roots/Stems||South Africa|
|Rhyssomatus marginatus||Herbivore||Leaves/Seeds||South Africa|
|Trichapion lativentre||Herbivore||Inflorescence/Leaves||South Africa|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page A comprehensive list of insect herbivores associated with S. punicea in Argentina was compiled during surveys to identify potential biological control agents for use against S. punicea in South Africa (Erb, 1980).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)
Sesbania punicea relies almost exclusively on flowing water for dispersal. The seeds are retained in the pods which fall from the trees and float downstream, dispersing the seeds which sink as the pods disintegrate with time.
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
The propagules have no specific adaptations for biotic dispersal. The seeds are toxic and not attractive to birds or animals.
There is no evidence that S. punicea is dispersed to any great extent by agricultural practices. S. punicea seldom encroaches on crops so there is no source of seeds to contaminate and be transported with harvest. Irrigation channels may serve to some extent as conduits for moving seeds from river systems to adjacent areas.
Accidental introductions of seeds between sites at a national level occur through deliberate movement of soils, especially collection of builder's sand from river beds, and, inadvertently, on soil adhering to vehicles and implements. Accidental introductions internationally are probably not common but could happen when related Sesbania species are promoted for useful purposes including nitrogen fixation, fodder, green manure and gum production (Evans and Rotar, 1987).
The abundance of showy flowers, and pleasing size and shape, have made S. punicea a very popular ornamental garden species which has been moved extensively within and between countries by horticulturalists. Seeds are readily available from distributors in many parts of the world and this process will undoubtedly foster invasions of S. punicea in regions where the plants are not yet naturalised.
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Fruits (inc. pods)||seeds|
|True seeds (inc. grain)|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page Sesbania punicea seldom impacts directly on agriculture or industry and is mainly an environmental problem. Indirect economic affects arise from reduced water availability in invaded rivers due to increased transpiration rates through the plants in dense thickets of the weed. Although reports of poisoning are scarce, S. punicea, and in particular the seed, is toxic to livestock and fowl (Terblanche et al., 1966).
Environmental ImpactTop of page Environmental impacts resulting from invasions of S. punicea include degradation of stream and river banks where the plants form thickets within the water channels and impede water flow, forcing the rivers to overflow and causing lateral erosion of the banks (Macdonald and Richardson, 1986; Hoffmann and Moran, 1988). In the process natural habitats are altered, agricultural lands are encroached upon and water quality and quantity downstream declines. In addition, the shading effect of trees hanging over the water channel reduces sunlight penetration and lowers temperatures with detrimental affects on the development and composition of the native aquatic biota. Though not specifically documented for S. punicea, nitrifying bacteria associated with invasive legume species could be responsible for raised nitrogen levels in the soil to the detriment of native plant species which are adapted to nitrogen-poor soils.
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page The main impact of S. punicea on biodiversity in South Africa is displacement of native flora and its associated fauna in dense thickets of the weed. Most habitats that have been invaded are characterised by assemblages of low-growing plant species (grasses and riverine shrubs). The greater height of the closed canopy that develops in S. punicea infestations rapidly eliminates low-growing indigenous plants leaving predominantly bare soil under the trees and exacerbating erosion during flood events.
Social ImpactTop of page S. punicea impacts socially in three main ways: firstly, it impedes access to rivers and lakes, affecting aquatic recreational pastimes (e.g. fishing, boating); secondly, the greater biomass of plants in dense infestations of the weed extracts more water than natural vegetation in pristine rivers reducing water availability for domestic consumption, agriculture and industry (this indirectly raises the costs of water to consumers because alternative, less available sources need to be tapped); and thirdly, invaded rivers are aesthetically displeasing with adverse effects on tourism, especially in natural parks where visitors expect to experience pristine natural habitats.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Highly mobile locally
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts animal health
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page Apart from its horticultural value, S. punicea has not been used for other purposes to any great extent.
Uses ListTop of page
- Poisonous to birds
- Poisonous to mammals
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page Although there are approximately 50 species of Sesbania distributed pantropically around the world (Evans and Rotar, 1987), the only similar congeneric to S. punicea is the North America indigenous species, S. drummondii. The two species have hybridized readily since S. punicea has become naturalised in North America, raising doubts that they are distinct species (Cuda et al., 1996). Most Sesbania species are annuals, so S. punicea fits into the small group of short-lived perennials (Evans and Rotar, 1987).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.Cultural Control
In general, S. punicea is not amenable to cultural control methods. The plants occur predominantly in habitats that are moist and do not ignite easily or burn intensely enough to kill the plants. Prescribed burning can be used to regulate S. punicea in grasslands when conditions are dry, but only seedlings and small plants are killed outright. Large plants are mostly only scorched and usually re-sprout. The weed has no real agroforestry value, although the wood is used opportunistically in South Africa on a small scale for firewood. Browsing on the foliage is rare because of the toxicity of the plants (Terblanche et al., 1966).
This is the predominant manual method of control for S. punicea. Seedlings and small plants can be pulled, by hand or with implements (Pienaar, 1980). Large plants must be felled and the stumps treated with triclopyr to prevent coppicing. Mechanical control operations in well-established infestations usually disturb the soil and promote seed germination, so frequent follow-up operations are required to ensure sustained control of the weed.
In South Africa, herbicides are applied as a foliar spray with either triclopyr or glyphosate, or as a cut stump treatment with triclopyr, or as soil treatment with clopyralid and tebuthiuron (Wyat, 1997). The use of herbicides as foliar sprays and soil treatment against S. punicea is not common because other control methods (mechanical and biological) are preferred.
A very successful biological control programme has kept S. punicea under control in many parts of South Africa since the 1980s (Hoffmann and Moran, 1991a; Hoffmann and Moran, 1999). The programme relies on three introduced agent species: Trichapion lativentre, a bud-feeding weevil which feeds on the leaflets as adults and develops within the flower buds as larvae; Rhyssomatus marginatus, a weevil whose larvae destroy the ripening seeds within the pods and whose adults feed on the leaves, flowers and meristems of the plants; and Neodiplogrammus quadrivittatus, a large stem-boring weevil whose larvae tunnel in the stems and branches causing structural damage, especially to vascular tissues, which eventually kills the plants. A root-feeding weevil, Eudiagogus episcopalis, was also considered for introduction into South Africa, but was not pursued because of difficulties with handling the beetles in quarantine and because the effectiveness of the other three species rendered it superfluous.
All three beetles act in combination to effect control (Hoffmann, 1990; Hoffmann and Moran, 1991b, 1998). The bud feeder destroys almost all (>98%) of the flowers and reduces seed production dramatically (Hoffmann, 1988; Moran and Hoffmann, 1989; Hoffmann et al., 1990; Hoffmann and Moran, 1992a). The seed feeder destroys 84% of the seeds that are produced in spite of damage caused by the bud feeder (Hoffmann and Moran, 1992b). Together these two species reduce seed production by >99.8%, rendering the plants almost sterile. The invasive potential of S. punicea is much reduced by these two weevils and populations of the weed are unable to recover as readily as happened before the introduction of the weevils. The bud feeder and seed feeder together have reduced the density of the weed in some situations (Hoffmann and Moran, 1998). The stem borer on its own is seemingly unable to bring S. punicea under biological control because recruitment from seedlings outstrips mortality due to the borer and the net loss is insufficient to cause a decline in the weed populations (Hoffmann, 1990). It is the combined action of all three weevils acting simultaneously which ensures that the reproductive capacity and survival of the weed are curtailed sufficiently to reduce its density and keep it in check.
Although no deliberate integrated control programme has been mounted against S. punicea in South Africa, mechanical control operations have proved much more effective since the introduction of Trichapion lativentre and Rhyssomatus marginatus and the drastic reduction in seed production of the weed. The lack of seeds due to damage caused by these two beetles ensures that recruitment of seedlings is minimal following mechanical or chemical clearing operations. Follow-up treatments to combat the weed successfully need not be as rigorous or frequent as was necessary before these agents were introduced.
Under some circumstances mechanical control may negate the effectiveness of biological control because the insect agents are unable to persist in areas where the S. punicea is removed entirely. The weed may then re-invade such areas and flourish until the agents are re-introduced or re-colonize naturally. There are also documented examples of insecticide drift from adjacent citrus orchards detrimentally affecting the biological control agents of S. punicea (Hoffmann and Moran, 1995).
ReferencesTop of page
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