Striga gesnerioides (cowpea witchweed)
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Growth Stages
- List of Symptoms/Signs
- Biology and Ecology
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Plant Trade
- Detection and Inspection
- 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
- Striga gesnerioides (Willd.) Vatke (1875)
Preferred Common Name
- cowpea witchweed
Other Scientific Names
- Buchnera gesnerioides Willd. (1800)
- Buchnera hydrabadensis Roth. (1821)
- Buchnera orobanchoides R.Br. (1814)
- Striga orobanchoides R.Br. Benth. (1836)
- STRGE (Striga gesnerioides)
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Scrophulariales
- Family: Orobanchaceae
- Genus: Striga
- Species: Striga gesnerioides
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
DescriptionTop of page
S. gesnerioides also differs from most other Striga species in developing a substantial haustorium at least several millimetres across, about 1 cm on tobacco and often up to 3-4 cm in diameter on cowpea. The root system is rudimentary.
Chromosome number (2n) = 40.
DistributionTop of page
S. gesnerioides is widely distributed in Africa, from Morocco and Egypt, south to South Africa, also in Arabia and widely in India (up to 2000 m) and Sri Lanka. Holm et al. (1979) indicate occurrence in Australia, but there is no more recent confirmation of this. It also occurs locally in Florida, USA.
A record of S. gesnerioides in Japan (Holm et al., 1979; EPPO, 2014) published in previous versions of the Compendium is unreliable. No original source was provided for the record in Holm et al. (1979). According to Spallek et al. (2013), S. gesnerioides is not present in Japan.
Across most of its range it occurs only on wild hosts. It is only in the western African countries of Senegal, Mali, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad that it constitutes a serious weed problem on cowpea. In Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ethiopia it occurs only very locally on tobacco and/or sweet potato.
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: 30 Jun 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Central African Republic||Present|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Present|
|Congo, Republic of the||Present|
|South Africa||Present, Widespread|
|Japan||Absent, Unconfirmed presence record(s)|
|Saudi Arabia||Present, Widespread|
|Sri Lanka||Present, Widespread|
|United States||Present, Localized|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
HabitatTop of page
Habitat ListTop of page
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
Individual biotypes of S. gesnerioides have a much narrower range of hosts, however. The types attacking cowpea are rarely detected on any wild host. An exception is the occurrence of a Nigerian biotype on Indigofera spicata and I. tinctoria as well as cowpea in pot experiments by Igbinnosa and Okonkwo (1991); another type with deeper purple flowers and more slender stems, which overlaps in distribution, attacks Tephrosia (Fabaceae), Jacquemontia and Merremia species (Convolvulaceae). Although the host range of individual biotypes is generally very limited, the hosts attacked by a single biotype may come from diverse plant families. The form occurring in Florida, USA, has only five or six known hosts but these include sunflower (Asteraceae), sweet potato (Solanaceae), Jacquemontia tamnifolia (Convolvulaceae) and Alysicarpus vaginalis (Fabaceae) in addition to the main host Indigofera hirsuta (Fabaceae) (Upton, 1979). Other forms are apparently specific (or nearly so) to tobacco, or to Euphorbia species, while individual biotypes can also differ in the varieties of cowpea that they can parasitize, as noted under Control. These specificities apparently depend on factors involved after attachment, rather than at the germination stage, but the precise mechanisms are not yet fully understood.
References from before 1957, cited here and in other sections, are usefully abstracted in the compilation by McGrath et al. (1957).
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
|Euphorbia abyssinica||Euphorbiaceae||Wild host|
|Indigofera hirsuta (hairy indigo)||Fabaceae||Wild host|
|Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato)||Convolvulaceae||Other|
|Jacquemontia tamnifolia (Smallflower morningglory)||Wild host|
|Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco)||Solanaceae||Other|
|Oryza glaberrima (African rice)||Poaceae||Other|
|Vigna unguiculata (cowpea)||Fabaceae||Main|
Growth StagesTop of page
SymptomsTop of page
List of Symptoms/SignsTop of page
|Leaves / yellowed or dead|
|Whole plant / dwarfing|
|Whole plant / early senescence|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Attachment and penetration of the host root do not appear to differ from the other main species (see Reiss and Bailey, 1998), but the physiology of the established parasite differs in showing very low rates of photosynthesis. The effects on the host also differ in that there is no change in root:shoot ratio. Host roots beyond the point of attachment tend to abort. Host photosynthesis may be reduced to some degree but the greatest damaging effect is attributed to the removal of metabolites from the host (Graves et al., 1992; Hibberd et al., 1996). Fertilization is autogamous (Musselman et al., 1991).
A survey by Cardwell and Lane (1995) suggested an association of S. gesnerioides with sandy soils.
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop 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|
|Bulbs/Tubers/Corms/Rhizomes||seeds||Yes||Pest or symptoms not visible to the naked eye but usually visible under light microscope|
|Fruits (inc. pods)||seeds||Yes||Pest or symptoms not visible to the naked eye but usually visible under light microscope|
|Growing medium accompanying plants||seeds||Yes||Yes||Pest or symptoms not visible to the naked eye but usually visible under light microscope|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||seeds||Yes||Pest or symptoms not visible to the naked eye but usually visible under light microscope|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches|
ImpactTop of page
Detection and InspectionTop of page
A technique for detecting the seeds of Striga spp. as contaminants of crop seed is described by Berner et al. (1994). This involves sampling the bottom of sacks, elutriation of samples in turbulent flowing water and collection of seeds and other particles on a 90-µm mesh sieve. Striga seeds are then separated from heavier particles by suspension in a solution of potassium carbonate of specific gravity 1.4 in a separating column. Sound seeds collected at the interface are then transferred to a 60-µm mesh for counting. However, the seeds of S. gesnerioides are not readily distinguished from those of other Striga species such as S. asiatica or S. hermonthica (see Musselman and Parker, 1981).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
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
No cultural control methods have been widely developed or adopted. Crop rotation should be effective over the long term but is rarely practicable and there has been little research on the potential for trap crops, although pigeon pea, velvet bean (Mucuna species), sorghum and soyabean have been suggested (Wild, 1948; Igbinnosa and Okonkwo, 1991; Berner and Williams, 1998). Cardwell and Lane (1995) also note an apparent absence of S. gesnerioides where cotton is grown. The use of manures or fertilizer to increase soil fertility has apparently much less impact on this species than on those attacking cereal crops (Parker and Riches, 1993). Hand-pulling is difficult and liable to uproot the crop itself, though it should be used where new sporadic infestations are discovered.
Some herbicides have shown moderate promise for conventional pre-emergence application (see Parker and Riches, 1993), but the farmers affected by S. gesnerioides are not generally in a position to use these and there has been no field use. A more recent development has been the demonstration that S. gesenerioides may be controlled by application of the herbicide imazaquin to the crop seed itself (Berner et al., 1994) but it is uncertain whether this has yet been used in practice.
S. gesnerioides is often very heavily affected by Smicronyx gall-forming weevils and while there has been no attempt to exploit these for biological control it has been noted that this natural control can be adversely affected by insecticide use. The only effort towards biological control has been the testing of the ethylene-generating bacterium Pseudomonas syringae as a means of inducing suicidal germination (Berner et al., 1999). Promising progress in the development of mycoherbicides for control of S. hermonthica, based on Fusarium species, has recently been reported (Watson et al., 2000), and could have relevance for control of S. gesnerioides in the future.
The main control measure available for cowpea is varietal resistance. The most important source of resistance is the landrace B301, originally selected for its partial resistance to Alectra vogelii in Botswana (Parker and Riches, 1993). B301 fortunately shows high-level resistance to A. vogelii in West Africa (based on two dominant genes) as well as to S. gesnerioides (based on a single dominant gene) (Singh et al., 1993; Atokple et al., 1995). The resistance, or virtual immunity, of this line has been effective against all biotypes of the parasite in West Africa except that occurring locally in southern Benin. Lane et al. (1996) describe the existence of five known parasite biotypes, varying in their virulence on different 'resistant' varieties of cowpea. Two other sources of resistance, Suvita-2 and IT82D-849, have different single dominant genes for resistance to the Mali biotype, and a different pattern of response to the five parasite biotypes (Atokple et al., 1995). While B301 and IT82D-849 resist four of the known biotypes, Suvita-2 is resistant only in Mali. Fortunately, although each of these three sources is susceptible in southern Benin, other resistant lines, 58-57 and IT81D-994, are resistant to this Benin biotype (Lane et al., 1993) even though they show susceptibility to biotypes in Niger and Nigeria. Further lines with resistance to some biotypes include APL-1 and 87-2 (Moore et al., 1995) but none of these, other than B301, and to some extent IT81D-994, has cross-resistance to Alectra. The mechanisms of resistance are not fully understood but involve a failure of the parasite to develop normally following penetration of the parasite haustorium into the host root (Reiss et al., 1995).
Although B301 is an agronomically poor line, the simple dominance of the resistance character has allowed its ready transfer into more desirable varieties (Singh and Emechebe, 1991). IITA (International Institute for Tropical Agriculture) has now developed lines with resistance to Striga and Alectra, as well as to various other pests and diseases. Singh (1999) lists the most promising of these and indicates that IT90K-76 and IT90K-59, both with resistance from B301, have already been released in Nigeria and South Africa, respectively. Progress is also being made in the development of varieties with combined resistance to Alectra and all five biotypes of S. gesnerioides, using crosses between 58-57 and the B301-derived IT90K-76 (Singh and Emechebe, 1997). In Senegal, Cisse et al. (1995) report a useful degree of resistance in the variety Mouride, whereas the variety KN-1 demonstrates a degree of tolerance, being less damaged in spite of parasite development (Gworgwor, 1991).
Although there has been no evidence as yet for the breakdown of resistance after repeated trials of the varieties based on B301 and other lines, vigilance will be needed to detect any such breakdown and minimize the risks of a build-up of more virulent biotypes. Shawe and Ingrouille (1993) used isoenzyme techniques to demonstrate differences between the populations of S. gesnerioides (from Niger) which emerged on a susceptible variety and on Suvita-2 which is partially resistant to the Niger biotype, emphasizing the risk of selection for virulence in any but totally immune varieties.
ReferencesTop of page
Anderson DM, Cox ML, 1997. Smicronyx species (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), economically important seed predators of witchweeds (Striga spp.) (Scrophulariaceae) in sub-Saharan Africa. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 87(1):3-17; 32 ref.
Botanga, C. J., Timko, M. P., 2005. Genetic structure and analysis of host and nonhost interactions of Striga gesnerioides (witchweed) from Central Florida. Phytopathology, 95(10), 1166-1173. doi: 10.1094/PHYTO-95-1166
Cardwell KF, Lane JA, 1995. Effect of soils, cropping system and host phenotype on incidence and severity of Striga gesnerioides on cowpea in West Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 53(3):253-262
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Emechebe AM, Singh BB, Leleji OI, Atokple IDK, Adu JK, 1991. Cowpea-striga problems and research in Nigeria. Combating striga in Africa: proceedings of the international workshop held in Ibadan, Nigeria, 22-24 August 1988 [edited by Kim, S.K.] Ibadan, Nigeria; International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, 18-28
EPPO, 2014. PQR database. Paris, France: European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization. http://www.eppo.int/DATABASES/pqr/pqr.htm
Graves JD, Press MC, Smith S, Stewart GR, 1992. The carbon canopy economy of the association between cowpea and the parasitic angiosperm Striga gesnerioides. Plant, Cell and Environment, 15(3):283-288
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Gworgwor NA, 1991. Studies on the biology and control of Striga. III. Varietal trial of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) for resistance to Striga gesnerioides. Proceedings of the 5th international symposium of parasitic weeds, Nairobi, Kenya, 24-30 June 1991 [edited by Ransom, J,K,; Musselman, L.J.; Worsham, A.D.; Parker, C.] Nairobi, Kenya; CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), 104-107
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Igbinnosa I, Okonkwo SNC, 1991. Studies on seed germination of cowpea witchweed (Striga gesnerioides) and its effect on cowpea (Vigna unguiculata). Proceedings of the 5th international symposium of parasitic weeds, Nairobi, Kenya, 24-30 June 1991 [edited by Ransom, J.K.; Musselman, L.J.; Worsham, A.D.; Parker, C.] Nairobi, Kenya; CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), 58-67
Lane JA, Moore THM, Child DV, Cardwell KF, Singh BB, Bailey JA, 1993. Virulence characteristics of a new race of the parasitic angiosperm, Striga gesnerioides, from southern Benin on cowpea (Vigna unguiculata). Euphytica, 72(3):183-188
Maass E, 1999. A comparative study on the germination requirements of some economically important Striga species. PhD Thesis. South Africa: University of Stellenbosch.
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M'Boob SS, 1994. Striga in Africa. In: Lagoke STO, Hoevers R, M'Boob SS, Traboulsi, eds. Improving Striga Management in Africa. Proceedings of the 23nd General Workshop of the Pan-African Striga Control Network (PASCON), Nairobi, 1991. Rome, Italy: FAO, 25-29.
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Hepper FN, 1990. 32. Striga Lour. In: Flora Zambesiaca, 8 (2) [ed. by Laurent E, Pope GV]. London, Flora Zambesiaca Management Committee. 127-135.
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Saldanha CJ, 1963. The genus Striga in western India. In: Bulletin of the Botanical Survey, India, 5 (1) 67-70.
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