Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Clitoria ternatea



Clitoria ternatea (butterfly-pea)


  • Last modified
  • 20 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Clitoria ternatea
  • Preferred Common Name
  • butterfly-pea
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • C. ternatea is a pasture legume also commercialized as a garden ornamental that has been widely introduced in agroforestry systems in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Traits such as its high growt...

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Clitoria ternatea (butterfly-pea); flower and leaves. India. December 2009.
TitleFlower and leaves
CaptionClitoria ternatea (butterfly-pea); flower and leaves. India. December 2009.
Copyright©Dinesh Valke/via flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0
Clitoria ternatea (butterfly-pea); flower and leaves. India. December 2009.
Flower and leavesClitoria ternatea (butterfly-pea); flower and leaves. India. December 2009.©Dinesh Valke/via flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Clitoria ternatea L.

Preferred Common Name

  • butterfly-pea

Other Scientific Names

  • Clitoria albiflora Mattei
  • Clitoria bracteata Poir.
  • Clitoria coelestris Siebert and Voss
  • Clitoria parviflora Raf.
  • Clitoria philippensis Perr.
  • Clitoria pilosula Benth.
  • Clitoria ternatensium Crantz
  • Lathyrus spectabilis Forssk.
  • Nauchea ternatea (L.) Descourt.
  • Ternatea ternatea (L.) Kuntze
  • Ternatea vulgaris Kunth
  • Ternatea vulgaris Kuntze

International Common Names

  • English: Asian pigeonwings; blue clitoria; blue pea vine; butterfly pea; cordofan pea; cordofan-pea; pigeon wings
  • Spanish: bejuco de conchitas; campanilla; chorreque azul; conchita de mar; papito; zapatillo de la reina
  • French: clitore de ternate; honte; pois hallier
  • Chinese: die dou

Local Common Names

  • Australia: Asian pigeon-wings; butterfly pea
  • Bahamas: blue pea
  • Brazil: cunha
  • Cambodia: rum'choan
  • Cayman Islands: blue bell; blue pea
  • Cuba: bejuco de conchitas; conchita; conchita azul; conchita blanca; conchita doble; manto de vieja
  • Dominican Republic: bejuco de conchitas; conchitas; diversion de los caminantes
  • El Salvador: zapatillo de la reina
  • Germany: Blaue Schmetterlingswicke
  • Haiti: honte
  • Indonesia: bunga biru; kembang telang
  • Italy: fagiolo indiano
  • Jamaica: blue pea
  • Laos: 'ang s'an dam; bang s'an dam
  • Lesser Antilles: pigeon-wings; pois hallier; pois marron; pois sauvage
  • Malaysia: bunga biru; kacang telang
  • Philippines: kolokanting
  • Puerto Rico: bejuco de conchitas; conchitas, papito; deleite
  • Thailand: anchan

EPPO code

  • CXCTE (Clitoria ternatea)

Summary of Invasiveness

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C. ternatea is a pasture legume also commercialized as a garden ornamental that has been widely introduced in agroforestry systems in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Traits such as its high growth-rates, drought tolerance and adaptation to heavy clay soils suggest that this species could be used to improve natural grasslands (Staples, 1992). However, these traits have also helped this species to escape from cultivation and become an invasive species in river banks, creek lines, the margins of waterholes, irrigation channels, disturbed sites, roadsides and disturbed open woodlands and grasslands in Australia, Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, Fiji, and on many islands in the Pacific region (Smith, 1985; Wagner et al., 1999; PIER, 2016; Weeds of Australia, 2016). C. ternatea is an aggressive colonizer of disturbed sites and open areas with the capability to displace and completely outcompete native vegetation (Weeds of Australia, 2016). Past risk assessments have given it a score of 7 (reject) for Australia and 9 (high risk) for the Pacific (PIER, 2016).

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Fabaceae is one of the most diverse families of flowering plants. This family includes about 745 genera and 19,500 species which can be found throughout the world growing in a great variety of climates and environments (Stevens, 2012). Species in the subfamiliy Papilionoideae (also known as Faboideae) are trees, shrubs, and herbs that may be easily recognized by their classical pea-shaped flowers and the frequent occurrence of root nodulation (Stevens, 2012). The genus name Clitoria refers to the similarity of the flowers to human female genitalia. Many vernacular names of the plant in local languages also derive from the shape of the flowers.


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The following description is taken from Flora of China Editorial Committee (2016):

Herbs. Stems twining, slender, densely deciduous adpressed shortly villous. Leaves 2.5–5 cm, pinnately 5- to 7-foliolate, usually 5-foliolate; stipules small, linear, 2–5 mm; petiole 1.5–3 cm; stipels small, bristlelike; petiolules 1–2 mm; leaflets broadly elliptic or almost ovate, 2.5–5 x 1.5–3.5 cm, thinly papery or almost membranous, adpressed shortly villous or some­times glabrous on both surfaces, lateral veins 4 or 5 pairs, base obtuse, apex obtuse, slightly emarginate, usually with mucro. Flowers large, solitary in axil; bracteoles green, small, suborbicular or obovate, membranous, with obvious reticulate veins. Calyx membranous, 1.5–2 cm, 5-lobed; lobes lanceolate, less than 1/2 of tube, apex acuminate. Corolla sky blue, pink, or white, to 5.5 cm; standard faintly white or orange in middle, broadly obovate, ca. 3 cm, base shortly clawed; wings and keels much shorter than standard, both clawed; wings obovate-oblong; keels elliptic. Ovary villous. Legume brown, linear-oblong, 5–11 x 0.7–1 cm, compressed, with long beak. Seeds 6–10, black, oblong, ca. 0.6 x 0.4 cm, with obvious strophiole.

There are varieties with double flowers and white flowers (Flora of Panama, 2016).

Plant Type

Top of page Herbaceous
Seed propagated
Vine / climber


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The origin of C. ternatea is obscured by the extensive cultivation or naturalization of this species across the tropics (Staples, 1992). Currently, this species is considered native to Africa and probably to India (ILDIS, 2016; Weeds of Australia, 2016). It can be found naturalized throughout the humid and sub-humid lowlands of Asia, Australia, the south of the United States (i.e. Florida, Georgia, Texas and California), Mexico, Central and South America, the West Indies, and on several Pacific islands (ILDIS, 2016; PIER, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016; Weeds of Australia, 2016).

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


BangladeshPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
BhutanPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
CambodiaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
ChinaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-FujianPresentIntroducedFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2016
-GuangdongPresentIntroducedFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2016
-GuangxiPresentIntroducedFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2016
-HainanPresentIntroducedFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2016
-Hong KongPresentIntroducedWu, 2001
-YunnanPresentIntroducedFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2016
-ZhejiangPresentIntroducedFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2016
Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)PresentIntroduced Invasive Orchard, 1993; USDA-ARS, 2016
IndiaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-Andhra PradeshPresentNativeILDIS, 2016Probably native
-AssamPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-BiharPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-GujaratPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-HaryanaPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-KarnatakaPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-KeralaPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-Madhya PradeshPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-MaharashtraPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-ManipurPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-RajasthanPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-Tamil NaduILDIS, 2016Probably native
-Uttar PradeshPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-West BengalPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
IndonesiaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-Irian JayaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-JavaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-MoluccasPresentILDIS, 2016
-Nusa TenggaraPresentILDIS, 2016Probably native
-SulawesiPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016
-SumatraPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
IranPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
IraqPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
LaosPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
MalaysiaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-SabahPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
MaldivesPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
MyanmarPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016
NepalPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
PakistanPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
PhilippinesPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
SingaporePresentIntroduced Invasive Chong et al., 2009; USDA-ARS, 2016
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
TaiwanPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
ThailandPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
VietnamPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
YemenPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized


AldabraPresentILDIS, 2016
AngolaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
BeninPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
BurundiPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
CameroonPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
Cape VerdePresentNativeILDIS, 2016
Central African RepublicPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
ChadPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
ComorosPresentILDIS, 2016
Côte d'IvoirePresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
DjiboutiPresentILDIS, 2016
EthiopiaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
GabonPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
GambiaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
GhanaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
GuineaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
Guinea-BissauPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
KenyaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
MadagascarPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
MauritiusPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
MozambiquePresentNativeILDIS, 2016
NigerPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
Rodriguez IslandPresentILDIS, 2016
Sao Tome and PrincipePresentNativeILDIS, 2016
SenegalPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
Sierra LeonePresentNativeILDIS, 2016
SomaliaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
South AfricaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
SudanPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
TanzaniaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
TogoPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
UgandaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
ZambiaPresentNativeILDIS, 2016
ZimbabwePresentNativeILDIS, 2016

North America

MexicoPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized in Jalisco, Oaxaca, Yucatan, Veracruz, and Colima
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2016
-FloridaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2016
-GeorgiaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2016
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Wagner et al., 1999
-IllinoisPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-KentuckyPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-MissouriPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-TexasPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2016

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
ArubaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
BahamasPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
BarbadosPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
BelizePresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012Tortola, Virgin Gorda
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Costa RicaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
CubaPresentIntroducedOviedo Prieto et al., 2012Listed as “potentially invasive”
DominicaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
El SalvadorPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
GuadeloupePresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
GuatemalaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
HaitiPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
HondurasPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
JamaicaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
MartiniquePresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
MontserratPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007St Barthelemy
NicaraguaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
PanamaPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
Saint LuciaPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
Sint EustatiusPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
Sint MaartenPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012

South America

BoliviaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-AcrePresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-BahiaPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-CearaPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-ParaibaPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-PiauiPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-Rio Grande do NortePresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
-SergipePresentIntroducedRando and Souza, 2015Naturalized
ColombiaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
EcuadorPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Charles Darwin Foundation, 2008
French GuianaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
GuyanaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
PeruPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
SurinamePresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized
UruguayPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2016Naturalized


GermanyPresentIntroducedILDIS, 2016


-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2016
-QueenslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2016
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Weeds of Australia, 2016
Cook IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016
FijiPresentIntroduced Invasive Smith, 1985
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Welsh, 1998
GuamPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
KiribatiPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedLorence and Wagner, 2013
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroducedHerrera et al., 2010
NauruPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Invasive MacKee, 1994
NiuePresentIntroducedPIER, 2016
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2003
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
Pitcairn IslandPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016
SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Hancock and Henderson, 1988
TongaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016
VanuatuPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016

History of Introduction and Spread

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This species has been widely introduced in the tropics as a forage legume, and has escaped from cultivation and become naturalized in many areas. In Hawaii, C. ternatea is listed as a popular ornamental naturalized prior to 1871 (Wagner et al., 1999). In Australia it was collected in 1968 and the cultivar 'Milgarra' was released in 1990 (Cook et al., 2005). In the West Indies, this species appears in herbarium collections made in 1881 in St Thomas, 1885 in Puerto Rico, 1900 in Jamaica, 1903 in Bahamas, 1904 in Cuba and 1910 in the Dominican Republic (US National Herbarium).

Risk of Introduction

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This species is commonly used in agroforestry systems and widely commercialized around the world (Staples, 1992; USDA-ARS, 2016). It has repeatedly escaped from cultivation and can be found naturalized across tropical regions of the world. Therefore, the likelihood to escape from cultivation and colonize new areas is very high.  


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Within its natural range, C. ternatea grows in grassland, open woodland, bushlands, riverine vegetation and disturbed forests (Staples, 1992). In Australia, it has escaped cultivation and can be found invading river banks, creek lines, the margins of waterholes, irrigation channels, disturbed sites, roadsides and disturbed open woodlands and grasslands (Weeds of Australia, 2016).

In Hawaii, C. ternatea is often cultivated as an ornamental and it has escaped to disturbed areas and thickets (PIER, 2016). In Fiji, it can be found cultivated and also naturalized along roadsides and in villages, clearings, and cane fields, at elevations up to about 300 m (Smith, 1985). In the Galápagos Islands, this species grows in arid lowlands (McMullen, 1999). In Central America, it can be found cultivated and also naturalized along roadsides, pastures, and disturbed sites in dry and wet forests at elevations from sea level to 650 m (Flora of Panama, 2016).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Productive/non-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
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Riverbanks Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Irrigation channels Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Irrigation channels Present, no further details Natural
Irrigation channels Present, no further details Productive/non-natural

Biology and Ecology

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The chromosome number reported for C. ternatea varies from 2n = 14 to 2n = 16 (Gandhi and Patil, 1993; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2016).

Breeding system

Flowers of C. ternatea are cleistogamous, but a small level of outcrossing occurs and most flowers are self-pollinated. In the wild, flowers are visited by insects, primarily bees (Staples, 1992).

Physiology and Phenology

C. ternatea is a perennial climbing, scrambling or trailing herb with a strong woody rootstock. Individual plants may live for several years and grow into large vines if undisturbed. C. ternatea shows epigeal germination. The radicle emerges within 48–72 hours and seedlings emerge in 3–6 days. Early growth is rapid in warm moist conditions.

This fast-growing herb can cover the ground in 4–6 weeks when sown at a population of 4 plants/m² (Staples, 1992; Cook et al., 2005). Growth of established plants is mostly from the apices of the main axis and axillary branches; very few new shoots arise from ground level. Growth is more or less continuous in the tropics (Staples, 1992; Cook et al., 2005).

In China, C. ternatea has been recorded flowering and fruiting from June to November (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2016). In Panama, it has been collected with flowers in February, April, July, August and November (Flora of Panama, 2016). In Costa Rica, flowering can occur throughout the year (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2016).

Pods mature in 8–10 weeks after flowering and break readily once fully dry. Hand-harvested seed often remains hard-seeded for a long time and requires scarification prior to sowing. Mechanical abrasion, hot water or sulphuric acid can be used to break this dormancy (Staples, 1992; Cook et al., 2005; FAO, 2016).


As with other nitrogen-fixing legumes, C. ternatea has a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria (Cook et al., 2005). In cultivation, C. ternatea has been grown successfully with Pennisetum purpureum, Digitaria eriantha, Andropogon gayanus, Dichanthium aristatum, Cenchrus ciliaris, Chloris gayana,Sorghum bicolor, and Megathyrsus maximum (Cook et al., 2005).

Environmental Requirements

C. ternatea prefers to grow in humid and sub-humid habitats at elevations from sea level to 1600–1800 m and mean annual temperature ranging from 15 to 28°C (Staples, 1992). It is adapted to a wide range of soil types from sandy to deep alluvial loams and heavy clays with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.9 (McCosker and Osten, 1999; FAO, 2016). This species shows drought tolerance and it is able to grow in dry and semiarid habitats with annual rainfall ranging from 500 to 900 mm and survive for up to 5-6 months with only 400 mm of rainfall. C. ternatea also shows moderate frost tolerance and some tolerance to salinity conditions. This species does not tolerate flooding or waterlogging. It is normally grown in full sunlight but moderately shade-tolerant (Staples, 1992; Cook et al., 2005; FAO, 2016).


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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])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
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)
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
20 24

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 15 30


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration06number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall5001500mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Meloidogyne incognita Parasite Other/All Stages not specific
Pratylenchus Parasite Other/All Stages not specific
Thanetophorus cucumeris Pathogen Other/All Stages not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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C. ternatea is affected by fungal leaf diseases (e.g. Cercospora, Colletotrichum, Oidium and Rhizoctonia). Under wet conditions it is attacked by Rhizoctonia microsclerotia [Thanatephorus microsclerotium] and Corticium solani [Thanetophorus cucumeris] in Central America and Africa (FAO, 2016). It is also susceptible to the root nematode species Meloidgyne incognita (Cook et al., 2005). Grass hoppers and leaf-eating caterpillars have been recorded damaging plants in Australia and Costa Rica (Staples, 1992).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Widely introduced by humans across Australia, Africa, tropical Asia, Central and South America and South-East Asia to be used as a forage plant and to improve natural grassland in extensive farm systems (Staples, 1992). Once introduced, C. ternatea spreads by seeds, which are thrown vigorously from the dehiscing dry pods. Seeds can also by dispersed in cattle dung (Staples, 1992).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal productionPlanted for forage, hay and silage Yes Yes Staples, 1992
Escape from confinement or garden escapeEscaped from cultivation Yes Weeds of Australia, 2016
ForagePlanted for forage, hay and silage Yes Yes Staples, 1992
Habitat restoration and improvementUsed as ground cover, soil improver Yes Yes Cook et al., 2005
Medicinal useUsed in traditional Asian medicine Yes Yes Gomez and Kalamani, 2003
Ornamental purposesOften used as ornamental Yes Yes Wagner et al., 1999

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesSeeds Yes Yes Weeds of Australia, 2016
LivestockSeeds dispersed in cattle dung Yes Yes Staples, 1992

Impact Summary

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

Environmental Impact

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C. ternateais regarded as an environmental weed in Australia (Weeds of Australia, 2016). It also listed as invasive in Hawaii, Fiji, French Polynesia, and the Galapagos Islands where it has invaded riparian zones, disturbed sites, grasslands and open woodlands (Weeds of Australia, 2016). Because C. ternatea is a nitrogen-fixing species, it has the capacity to alter chemical soil conditions, nutrient cycling and trophic levels in invaded ecosystems, with negative effects on native vegetation principally in nutrient-poor ecosystems that did not previously contain nitrogen-fixing plants (Smith, 1985; Staples, 1992; Wagner et al., 1999; Cook et al., 2005; PIER, 2016; Weeds of Australia, 2016).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Gregarious
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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Culinary Uses

The butterfly pea flower yields a very valuable blue food colouring, one of the very few sources of edible blue colour, and is popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. It is used to colour confectionery in Malaysia and is added to Peranakan dishes such as nasi kerabu, pulut inti, kuih tekan, pulut tai tai and the savoury nyonya zhang (rice dumplings) (Pwee, 2016). The common Thai drink nam dok anchan is coloured with the flower and served with pandan-flavoured syrup and lime juice; when used with lime juice, the blue colour changes to a pinkish purple colour. The flowers are dipped in batter and fried and eaten as snacks in Myanmar. In Kerala and the Philippines, tender fruits are used as a vegetable (Anon, 2011; Anon, 2012). Blue petals are used in decorating and garnishing salads, soups and ice cream and in many other dishes. A flower extract made in hot water can be used to prepare various desserts, jams and similar products (Halvorsen, 2012; Pwee, 2016). A famous dish using butterfly pea is the blue rice of Indonesia and Thailand, generally known as scented blue rice,  Dried petals of the blue variety are used in a herbal tea combination. The blue colour extracted from the flowers is also used in the pharmaceutical industry (Ravindran, 2017). 

Economic Value

C. ternatea is a highly palatable forage legume generally preferred by livestock over other legumes. It exhibits excellent regrowth within a short period after grazing and produces high yields. It is also grown as a green manure, ground cover crop, for rotational grazing, protein banks, hay and silage production (Gomez and Kalamani, 2003; Cook et al., 2005; FAO, 2016; PROTA, 2016). Its drought tolerance and adaptation to heavy clay soils, and the palatability and quality of its forage, suggest it could be used to improve natural grassland in extensive farm systems in tropical areas (Staples, 1992).

Social Benefit

C. ternatea is grown as an ornamental plant on fences and trellises because of its showy blue or white flowers, and is also grown for dye production and medicinal purposes (Staples, 1992; Gomez and Kalamani, 2003; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2016).

Environmental Services

C. ternatea is often planted to increase soil fertility and improve yields of crops such as maize, sorghum, and wheat (FAO, 2016). In Australia it has been used as a revegetation species on coal mines (Cook et al., 2005).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage


  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Soil conservation
  • Soil improvement

Human food and beverage

  • Beverage base
  • Vegetable


  • Dyestuffs
  • Green manure

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore


  • garden plant

Prevention and Control

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In Australia, the herbicides imazethapyr and bentazone have been used to control this species (Cook et al., 2005; McCosker and Osten, 1999).


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Anon, 2011. Indonesia eats unga telang (blue pea vine or butterfly pea).

Anon, 2012. Food additives – butterfly pea.

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Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2016. Flora of China. St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria.

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Orchard AE, 1993. Canberra, Australia, Australian Government Publishing Service.

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Welsh SL, 1998. Orem, Utah, USA, EPS Inc.420 pp.

Wu TL, 2001. Check List of Hong Kong Plants. Hong Kong Herbarium and the South China Institute of Botany. Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department Bulletin 1 (revised):384 pp.

Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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06/09/16 Original text by:

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

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