Crotalaria retusa (rattleweed)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Crotalaria retusa L.
Preferred Common Name
Other Scientific Names
- Crotalaria cuneifolia (Forssk.) Schrank
- Crotalaria hostmannii Steud.
- Crotalaria retusa var. maritima Trimen
- Crotalaria retusifolia Stokes
- Dolichos cuneifolius Forssk.
- Lupinus cochinchinensis Lour.
International Common Names
- English: devil bean; devil-bean; rattlebox; rattlepod; wedge-leaf crotalaria; wedge-leaf rattlepod
- Spanish: cascabel; cascabelillo; cascabelillo fétido
- French: pistache; pistache marron; pois franc marron
- Chinese: diao qun cao
Local Common Names
- : gallincillo; patillo; quiebra plato
- Bahamas: large yellow rattlebox
- Cambodia: knông sva; kuël
- Colombia: cascabelito
- Cuba: canario; marimena; maromera; maruga
- Dominican Republic: cachimbito; samba; zapatico
- Haiti: pete-pete
- Indonesia: duku todore; orok-orok cina
- Lesser Antilles: jumbie earing; popbush; pwa zombi; shack-shack; shak shak; sonnet; tcha tcha; wild sweet pea; yellow sweet pea
- Madagascar: akondrondolo; akondronjaza; amberivatrincolo
- Malaysia: giring badak
- Philippines: buli-laua; palpaltog; potokan
- Puerto Rico: matraca; sonajuelas
- Venezuela: maraquita
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Many species in the genus Crotalaria, including the annual herb C. retusa, have been actively introduced in many tropical and subtropical regions of the world to be used in agroforestry systems (Brunner et al., 2013). Evidence available suggests that this species is able to escape from cultivation and naturalize in disturbed areas such as roadsides, waste grounds, urban areas, and grasslands (Wagner et al., 1999; Brunner et al., 2013). Once naturalized this species may become weedy and invasive and has the potential to displace native or desirable vegetation in both natural and managed habitats (ILDIS, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013). Currently, C. retusa is classified as a “noxious weed” in 10 states in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This species is also listed as invasive in India, Cuba, Cocos Island and several islands in the Pacific Ocean (see distribution table for details; Chandra, 2012; González-Torres et al., 2012; PIER, 2013).
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Fabales
- Family: Fabaceae
- Subfamily: Faboideae
- Genus: Crotalaria
- Species: Crotalaria retusa
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
C. retusa is in the subfamily Faboideae (also known as Papilionoideae) of the Fabaceae. Members of this subfamily 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 Crotalaria includes around 700 species, mainly distributed in the Southern Hemisphere throughout tropical regions and extending into the subtropics (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2012; Roux et al., 2013). This genus has its primary centre of species diversity in tropical and subtropical Africa and Madagascar where approximately 543 species occur, and secondary radiations in temperate Asia, tropical Asia and Australasia with 159 species, South America (mainly in Brazil) with 64 species and North America (Mexico and southern United States) with 34 species (Roux et al., 2013). Crotalaria species are easily recognized by the following combination of characters (Wyk, 2005):
- rostrate keel
- highly inflated fruit
- hairy style
- 5 + 5 anther configuration
- paired callosities on the standard petal
- presence of macrocyclic pyrrolizidine alkaloids
The name ‘rattlebox’ for Crotalaria spp. comes from the sound made when their pod-like fruit is shaken, causing the seeds to “rattle” around inside.
DescriptionTop of page
Annual herbs; stems erect, up to 130 cm long, ridged, appressed short-pubescent. Leaves simple, oblanceolate to spatulate, 3-10 × 1-3.8 cm, upper surface glabrous and punctate, lower surface densely sericeous pubescent, apex rounded or retuse, mucronate, base cuneate, petioles 2- 3 mm long, stipules narrowly rhombic-ovate, up to 0.5 mm long. Racemes to 27 cm long, few-flowered, bracts narrowly triangular, minute, early deciduous, calyx broadly bell-shaped, appressed short-pubescent, 12-14 mm long; petals bright yellow, the standard ovate, clawed, to 18 mm long, with reddish veins, wings and keel petals as long as the standard. Pods dark brown to black at maturity, 2.5-4.5 × 1.1-1.3 cm, oblong, nearly cylindrical, glabrous. Seeds approximately 23 per pod, golden-brown to brown, 4-4.5 mm long, smooth (Acevedo-Rodríguez, 1996; Wagner et al., 1999).
Plant TypeTop of page Annual
DistributionTop of page
The exact native distribution range of C. retusa is obscure. At present, this species is considered native to tropical Asia, Africa and Australia and widely naturalized in the tropics (ILDIS, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013).
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: 10 Jan 2020
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
Several Crotalaria species were introduced from Asia into tropical regions in the Western Hemisphere early in the nineteenth century (Sheahan, 2012; USDA-NRCS, 2013). In the West Indies C. retusa was first reported in 1876 in the Virgin Islands (Eggers, 1876). By 1900, this species is listed as a “common herb” in the United States, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, St Kitts, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Netherland Antilles, St Vincent, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago (Urban, 1905; Orwa et al., 2009).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
C. retusa has been actively introduced to be used as a fibre crop, green manure, forage, ground cover and soil improver, and consequently the risk of new introductions as well as the probability of escape from cultivation is high, mainly in disturbed areas (Wagner et al., 1999; Brunner et al., 2013; PIER, 2013).
HabitatTop of page
C. retusa is cultivated in humid tropical areas, but can also grow in semiarid conditions with average annual rainfall as low as 200 mm. C. retusa is common in disturbed areas, roadsides, waste grounds, agricultural lands, pastures, urban areas (i.e., gardens and parks) and grasslands, where it grows as a weed (Wagner et al., 1999; Brunner et al., 2013).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Managed forests, plantations and orchards||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|
|Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Arid regions||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Arid regions||Present, no further details||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The chromosome number reported for C. retusa is 2n=16 (Olivera and Aguiar-Perecin,1999).
Species in the genus Crotalaria are generally reported as self-incompatible. Cross-pollination is extensive and self-pollination occurs only after the stigmatic surface has been stimulated by insects or some other means (Kundu, 1964). Flowers are adapted to buzz-pollination by large bees such as Xylocopa spp. and Vegactile spp (Wyk, 2005).
Physiology and Phenology
C. retusa is an annual herb and its growth is stimulated by high sunlight and water availability (Wagner et al., 1999).
C. retusa grows best in areas with relatively high humidity. However, it is well adapted to drought and can also grow in hot, semiarid habitats (McMullen, 1999). Within its native distribution range, C. retusa occurs in areas with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 27°C. It can tolerate light frosts (-2°C minimum tolerated without injury) and partial salinity conditions (Wagner et al., 1999; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2012; Brunner et al., 2013; PIER, 2013).
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-2|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||15||27|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||8|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Mean annual rainfall||200||1600||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Bimodal
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Special soil tolerances
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
C. retusa only spreads by seeds. Seeds are ejected short distances from the pods which twist upon drying. Additionally, because plants are common in disturbed and agricultural areas, seeds can be easily dispersed as contaminants in mud or hay adhering to vehicles, humans or livestock (Wagner et al., 1999; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2012; PIER, 2013).
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Crop production||Fibre crop||Yes||Yes||Prota4U, 2013|
|Disturbance||Escaped from cultivation||Yes||Yes||Prota4U, 2013|
|Escape from confinement or garden escape||Yes||Yes||Prota4U, 2013|
|Habitat restoration and improvement||Used as ground cover||Yes||Yes||Prota4U, 2013|
|Horticulture||Used as ground cover||Yes||Yes||Prota4U, 2013|
|Medicinal use||Leaves and flowers used in medicine||Yes||Yes||Nuhu et al., 2009|
|Ornamental purposes||Planted in gardens to attract insects||Yes||Yes|
|People foraging||Seeds collected||Yes||Yes||Prota4U, 2013|
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Economic/livelihood||Positive and negative|
|Environment (generally)||Positive and negative|
|Human health||Positive and negative|
Economic ImpactTop of page
C. retusa has escaped from cultivation and become naturalized in disturbed areas, roadsides, waste grounds, urban areas, and grasslands (Wagner et al., 1999; Brunner et al., 2013). Once naturalized, C. retusa grows as a weed and may become invasive, displacing native vegetation (ILDIS, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013). In addition, C. retusa is a nitrogen-fixing species and consequently 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 (Levine et al., 2003). This species is also a noxious weed and annually generates extensive economic impacts principally in agroforestry systems in the United States, West Indies, tropical Asia, and in several islands in the Pacific Ocean (ILDIS, 2013; PIER, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013). There are reports of sheep (Nobre et al., 2005; Riet-Correa et al., 2011) and horses (Nobre et al., 2004) being poisoned by C. retusa in Brazil.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Invasive in its native range
- 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
- Highly mobile locally
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Fast growing
- Altered trophic level
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Modification of nutrient regime
- Modification of successional patterns
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Antagonistic (micro-organisms)
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Pest and disease transmission
- Rapid growth
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page
C. retusa is frequently planted in agroforestry system to be used in the production of fibre, forage, and green manure (Brunner et al., 2013). This species is also used as a ground cover and to improve soil condition (ILDIS, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013). In Africa, roots are used against coughing up blood. Leaves are used to treat fever, scabies, lung diseases and impetigo. Flowers and leaves are consumed as a vegetable. Roasted seeds are eaten in Vietnam and Africa. Occasionally, Crotalaria retusa is grown as an ornamental, and is used as a dye plant in East Africa (PROTA4U, 2013).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
- Soil improvement
Human food and beverage
- Green manure
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.
In small infestations, existing plants of C. retusa should be removed before seeds are produced. Mechanical control should be applied in large infestations and repeated control must be practiced over several years. Glyphosate and triclopyr have been used in the chemical control of several Crotalaria species, but there is no information about chemical control of C. retusa (Cook et al., 2005). Riet-Correa et al. (2011) report that resistant sheep will consume sprouting C. retusa plants, and suggest that they can be used for biological control.
ReferencesTop of page
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Nobre VMda T; Riet-Correa F; Barbosa Filho JM; Dantas AFM; Tabosa IM; Vasconcelos JS, 2004. Poisoning by Crotalaria retusa (Fabaceae) in equidae in the semiarid region of Paraíba. (Intoxicação por Crotalaria retusa (Fabaceae) em eqüídeos no semi-árido da Paraíba.) Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira, 24(3):132-143.
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Herrera K, Lorence DH, Flynn T, Balick MJ, 2010. Checklist of the vascular plants of Pohnpei with local names and uses. In: Allertonia, 146 pp.
ILDIS, 2013. International Legume Database & Information Service., Reading, UK: School of Plant Sciences, Unversity of Reading. http://www.ildis.org/
Lorence DH, Wagner WL, 2013. Flora of the Marquesas Islands., National Tropical Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian Institution. http://botany.si.edu/pacificislandbiodiversity/marquesasflora/
McCormack G, 2007. Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. In: Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2, Rarotonga: Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust. http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org
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Space JC, Lorence DH, LaRosa AM, 2009. Report to the Republic of Palau: 2008 update on invasive plant species., Hawaii, USA: USDA Forest Service, Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. 233 pp.
Stone BC, 1970. The Flora of Guam. In: Micronesica, 6 1-659.
Swarbrick JT, 1997. Environmental weeds and exotic plants on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Report to Parks Australia. In: Weed Science Consultancy, [ed. by Swarbrick JT]. 131 pp.
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ContributorsTop of page
09/01/14 Original text by:
Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
Distribution MapsTop of page
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