Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Spermacoce verticillata
(shrubby false buttonwood)



Spermacoce verticillata (shrubby false buttonwood)


  • Last modified
  • 27 September 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Spermacoce verticillata
  • Preferred Common Name
  • shrubby false buttonwood
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • S. verticillata is a scrambling annual or perennial native to the Americas. It has been introduced widely but sporadically across Asia and the Pacific and to tropical Australia. It can grow on a wide range of l...

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Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
TitleFlowering habit
CaptionSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
Copyright©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
Flowering habitSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, upperside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
CaptionSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, upperside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
Copyright©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, upperside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
LeavesSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, upperside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, underside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
CaptionSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, underside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
Copyright©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, underside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.
LeavesSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); stem and leaves, underside. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA. March 2015.©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA.
CaptionSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA.
Copyright©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Spermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA.
HabitSpermacoce verticillata (buttonwood); flowering habit. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach Co., Florida, USA.©Jerry R. Oldenettel-2015/via flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Spermacoce verticillata L.

Preferred Common Name

  • shrubby false buttonwood

Other Scientific Names

  • Bigelovia verticillata (L.) Spreng.
  • Borreria commutata Spreng.
  • Borreria globularioides Cham. & Schltdl.
  • Borreria graminifolia M.Martens & Galeotti
  • Borreria kohautiana Cham. & Schltdl.
  • Borreria laevigata M.Martens & Galeotti
  • Borreria minima DC.
  • Borreria molleri Gand.
  • Borreria oaxacana M.Martens & Galeotti
  • Borreria oligodonta Steyerm.
  • Borreria podocephala DC.
  • Borreria stricta G.Mey.
  • Borreria thymocephala Griseb.
  • Borreria verticillata (L.) G.Mey.
  • Borreria verticillata (L.) Spreng.
  • Spermacoce globosa Schumach. & Thonn.
  • Spermacoce graminifolia (M.Martens & Galeotti) Hemsl.
  • Spermacoce minimai Pohl ex DC.
  • Spermacoce molleri Gand. Govaerts
  • Spermacoce mucronata Nees
  • Spermacoce oaxacana (M.Martens & Galeotti) Hemsl.
  • Spermacoce oligodonta (Steyerm.) Govaerts
  • Spermacoce podocephala (DC.) C.Wright
  • Spermacoce polycephala (DC.) Hemsl.
  • Spermacoce polycephala Bartl. ex DC.
  • Spermacoce reclinata Nees
  • Spermacoce stellata Willd. ex Roem. & Schult.
  • Spermacoce thymocephala (Griseb.) C.Wright
  • Tardavel verticillata (L.) Hiern

International Common Names

  • English: shrubby false buttonwood; southern larra flower; whitehead broom
  • Spanish: botón blanco; botoncito blanco; cardio de frade
  • French: borrerie verticillée
  • Portuguese: éribun; poaia; vassourinha-de-botao

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: coroa-de-frade; poaia miúda; poaia preta; vassourinha
  • Puerto Rico: juana la blanca
  • Saint Lucia: ti makònèt
  • Thailand: chat sam chan; ya khi kratai

EPPO code

  • BOIVE (Borreria verticillata)

Summary of Invasiveness

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S. verticillata is a scrambling annual or perennial native to the Americas. It has been introduced widely but sporadically across Asia and the Pacific and to tropical Australia. It can grow on a wide range of land types but often requires disturbance to establish. S. verticillata can form large clumps which can smother other vegetation. In its native range it has been recorded as a significant weed of agricultural crops, for example in the Caribbean it is a problem of sugarcane, vegetables and root crops (Fournet and Hammerton, 1991). In addition to this, on St Helena, it is among the exotic plants threatening the critically endangered fern, Pteris adscensionis.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Gentianales
  •                         Family: Rubiaceae
  •                             Genus: Spermacoce
  •                                 Species: Spermacoce verticillata

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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S. verticillata was named by Linnaeus in 1753. Subsequently the genus Borreria was created by Meyer and he renamed it Borreria verticillata. This name has been very widely used and is still used by some today, but the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (Govearts et al., 2016) treats allBorreriaspecies as Spermacoceand this is followed by Kew Herbarium (Sally Dawson, personal communication, Kew, UK, April 2016).

Phillips (1951) distinguished the two genera by the presence of unisexual flowers in Spermacoce (though bisexual flowers can also occur) while all flowers are bisexual in Borreria.Terrell and Wunderlin (2002) indicate that the genera have been distinguished by Borreria having fruits in which both carpels open, while those of Spermaacoce have only one carpel opening, the other remaining closed. On this character, S. verticillata should fall in Borreria, but these authors comment that on the basis of seed morphology, the distinction between the genera cannot be sustained. Further phylogenetic studies are needed. Despite these opinions, the species is still very commonly referred to as Borreria verticilata.

A large number of other synonyms have also been applied to S. verticillata but B. verticillata is most commonly used.

The term ‘verticillata’ refers to the leaves occurring in whorls.


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S. verticillata is an annual, or more usually perennial. Stems straggling, to 100 cm or more, glabrous or nearly so, usually erect and simple or sparsely branched, often copiously branched from the base, usually 40 cm high or less, the stems tetragonous. Stipule sheath very short, the setae about 1.5 mm long; leaves glabrous, sessile or nearly so, linear or lanceo-linear, mostly 1.5-4 cm long and 1.5-6 mm broad, commonly 1-veined, often with fascicles of smaller leaves in the axils. Flowers white, very small in sessile clusters at the upper stem nodes or more usually terminal, then the heads subtended by 2 or 4 leaf-like bracts. Hypanthium pilose above, the 2 sepals narrowly triangular, 1.5 mm long or less. Corolla of 4 petals, 3 mm long, hispidulous outside at the apex, the lobes about equalling the tube; anthers exserted. Capsule 2.5 mm long; seeds reddish brown about 1 mm long (PIER, 2016).


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S. verticillata is native to the American tropics and sub-tropics. It has been introduced quite widely but sporadically across Asia, Western Africa, the Pacific and to tropical Australia. 

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


ChinaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
-JiangxiLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2016
-ZhejiangPresentLi et al., 2006
East TimorPresentIntroducedCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
IndiaPresentIntroducedBiodiversity India, 2016; Flowers of India, 2016
-KarnatakaPresentIntroducedBiodiversity India, 2016
-KeralaPresentIntroducedBiodiversity India, 2016
-Tamil NaduPresentGBIF, 2016
IndonesiaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
-Irian JayaPresentIntroducedCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
PhilippinesPresentIntroducedAlejandro and Liede, 2003
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016Two records from 1978
ThailandPresentIntroducedPuff, 2007; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016


AngolaPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
BeninPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
Burkina FasoPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
CameroonPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
Cape VerdePresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
CongoPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
Côte d'IvoirePresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
Equatorial GuineaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
GabonPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
GambiaPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
GhanaPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
GuineaPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
Guinea-BissauPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
LiberiaPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
MadagascarPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963; GBIF, 2016
MaliPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
NigeriaPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
Saint HelenaPresentIntroduced Invasive Renshaw et al., 2012Invasive on Ascension island
Sao Tome and PrincipePresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
SenegalPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016
Sierra LeonePresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
SudanPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963
TogoPresentIntroducedHutchinson and Dalziel, 1963

North America

MexicoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
-FloridaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012; USDA-NRCS, 2016
-GeorgiaPresentIntroducedSellers and Ferrell, 2014
-TexasPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012; USDA-NRCS, 2016

Central America and Caribbean

BelizePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
Costa RicaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
DominicaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
Dominican RepublicPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
GuadeloupePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
GuatemalaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
HaitiPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
HondurasPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
MartiniquePresentFournet and Hammerton, 1991
NicaraguaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
PanamaPresentNativePIER, 2016
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2016
Saint LuciaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
Sint MaartenPresentFournet and Hammerton, 1991
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2016

South America

BoliviaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
BrazilPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
-AlagoasPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-BahiaPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-CearaPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Espirito SantoPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Fernando de NoronhaPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-GoiasPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982Goias and Distrito Federal
-MaranhaoPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Minas GeraisPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-ParaPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-ParaibaPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-ParanaPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-PernambucoPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-PiauiPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Rio de JaneiroPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Rio Grande do NortePresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Rio Grande do SulPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Santa CatarinaPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-Sao PauloPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-SergipePresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
-TocantinsPresentNativeLorenzi, 1982
ColombiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
EcuadorPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
French GuianaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
GuyanaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
ParaguayPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
PeruPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
SurinamePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016
VenezuelaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2016


AustraliaPresentIntroducedCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
-QueenslandPresentIntroducedCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
FijiPresentIntroducedParham, 1958
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016Present on Huahine and Tahiti
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016; GBIF, 2016
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016

History of Introduction and Spread

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There are very few records reporting the introduction and spread of S. verticillata into other countries. However, a report that states that S. verticillata was first seen in Fiji in 1943 (Parham, 1958) and earliest specimen date from 1929 in Florida, USA (FLEPPC, 2016), 1948 in Australia, 1982 in Tahiti and 1992 in Papua New Guinea (GBIF, 2016).


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia 1948 GBIF (2016)
Fiji 1943 GBIF (2016) First record
Florida 1920s FLEPPC (2016) Earliest herbarium specimen 1929
French Polynesia 1982 GBIF (2016)
Papua New Guinea 1992 FLEPPC (2016)

Risk of Introduction

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Deliberate introduction of S. verticillata as an ornamental or medicinal plant is the most likely means of introduction, though there are no specific records of this. There is a low risk of introduction via contaminated crop seed, this risk, however, would seem to be low, given current more stringent phytosanitary regulations. There are however a further eight species of Spermacoce listed in the PIER (2016) database which indicates that this is a very invasive genus.


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S. verticillata grows on a wide range of land types, but often requires disturbance to establish. In Guatemala, S. verticillata occurs mainly at low elevations but ascending to about 2,000 m in thickets or savannas, meadows, or in waste or cultivated ground (PIER, 2016). In West Africa it is described as a weed of cultivation and waste places (Hutchinson and Dalziel, 1963). It grows on sand and caliche in prairies and openings in Texas. In Puerto Rico, it grows on roadsides, construction sites, old fields and pastures and is one of the major invaders of abandoned pastures and slash-and-burn fields. In Brazil, it is a feature of degraded pastures (Mascarenhas et al., 1999). In Nigeria it is a component of the weed flora in cereal mono-crops but is less common in mixed cropping situations, perhaps a reflection of increased competition (Weber et al., 1995).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Secondary/tolerated habitat
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Principal habitat

Hosts/Species Affected

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In a number of countries S. verticillata has been shown to have a negative impact on agricultural crops such as Coffea arabica, Oryza sativa, Phaseolus vulgaris, Saccharum officinarum, Theobroma cacao, Vigna unguiculata Manihot esculenta and Zea mays (Fournet and Hammerton, 1991; Holm, 1997; Johnson, 1997; Marques et al., 2011; Cherigo et al., 2012).

Biology and Ecology

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A chromosome number of 2n = 28 has been reported (CCDB, 2016; Missouri Botanic Garden, 2016).

Reproductive Biology

The flowers of S. verticillata are pollinated by a wide range of bees, wasps and butterflies and the plant is promoted in the horticultural trade for its value in attracting pollinating insects (ISSG, 2016). Germination of seed is low (up to 10%) in darkness, higher in light (up to nearly 40% at constant temperatures between 20-35°C) and highest (up to 55%) at alternating 20/30°C in the light (Ferreira and Rosa, 2009).

Physiology and Phenology

Seedlings grow slowly at first but begin rapid growth after about six months and start flowering at about nine months (ISSG, 2016). In Brazil, S. verticillata flowers from February through August, in Texas it flowers from March through May. In central and northern Florida it flowers from April to the first hard frost, at which time above-ground parts are killed, but it regenerates from its roots in spring. In southern Florida it may flower all year. Likewise flowering is almost continuous in moist portions of Puerto Rico.

Established plants root readily at the nodes when covered by soil or rotting plant material.


S. verticillata shrubs live for a minimum of four years and probably much longer, in Puerto Rico (ISSG, 2016).


Andrioli et al. (2014) report on the presence of the endophyte Mycoleptodiscus indicus in S. verticillata.

Environmental Requirements

S. verticillata requires disturbance to establish and needs full or good partial sunlight to survive. It competes well with sparse grass and weeds, but is overcome by dense, tall grass, brush and trees (ISSG, 2016).

It grows on moist soils, both acid and alkaline, of all textures derived from nearly all types of rocks in areas. It also grows in areas that receive from about 750 to 3000 mm of annual rainfall from near sea level to 600 m or more in elevation.


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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 Preferred > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Preferred < 430mm annual precipitation
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
0-35 0-30

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Very little information is available with regards to the natural enemies of S. verticillata, however nematodes in the genus Paralongidorus have been recorded on S. verticillata in Senegal (Faye and Mounport, 2007).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

S. verticillata seeds are presumed to spread naturally by wind or water movement.

Vector Transmission

The seeds of S. verticillata are thought to be dispersed by grazing animals (ISSG, 2016).

Accidental Introduction

The seeds are likely to be spread locally by farm equipment  and as a result of contamination in pot plants from nurseries (ISSG, 2016).

Intentional Introduction

S. verticillata may be introduced deliberately, especially as an ornamental, being favoured as a garden plant for its continuous flowering and for its attraction for pollinating insects.

Impact Summary

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

Economic Impact

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S. verticillata has a negative impact on agriculture as it decreases yields. It is a significant weed of sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) and vegetable and root crops in the Caribbean (Fournet and Hammerton, 1991) and is a widespread weed of crops in Brazil, including cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) and cassava (Manihot esculenta) (Marques et al., 2011) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao) (Lisboa and da Vinha, 2000). Holm et al. (1991) class S. verticillata as a ‘principal’ weed in Trinidad. In West Africa and Colombia it is a weed of rice (Johnson, 1997; Ramirez et al., 2015), of coffee in Panama (Cherigo et al., 2012) and of maize and beans in West Africa (Holm, 1997). Pot experiments using equal numbers of rice and S. verticillata resulted in a 30% reduction in crop leaf area (Cerqueira et al., 2013).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Biodiversity

S. verticillata has been described as a major invader of abandoned pastures and slash-and-burn fields (Useful Tropical Plants, 2016.). As such it can have a substantial influence on biodiversity in these situations. On St Helena, it is among the exotic plants threatening the critically endangered fern, Pteris adscensionis (Renshaw et al., 2012). 

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Pteris adscensionisCR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered) CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered)Saint HelenaCompetition - monopolizing resources; Competition - shading; Competition - smotheringRenshaw et al., 2012

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Long lived
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts human health
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult/costly to control


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Economic Value

S. verticillata is sold as an ornamental and available from a number of nurseries and the internet. It is valued for its nectar which attracts a range of insects including bees and butterflies and Larra bicolor, a useful insect helping to control mole crickets (Scapteriscus didactylus).

Social Benefit

S. verticillata has a wide range of traditional medicinal uses in its native range. In Brazil, the infusion of the flowers is used as an antipyretic and analgesic, the roots as an emetic and the leaves as an anti-diarrhoeal and for treating erysipelas and hemorrhoids. In the West Indies, the decoction of this plant is used for diabetes and dysmenorrhea and when prepared with Cuscuta and Zebrina it is used for amenorrhea, while in Senegal it is used to treat bacterial skin infections and leprosy. In Nigeria, fresh juice prepared from aerial parts is applied to treat eczema and in Jamaica the decoction of the endocarp, prepared jointly with Iresine and Desmodium, is used as a diuretic (Conserva and Ferreira, 2012).

In Africa, leaf extracts are used to treat leprous conditions, furuncles, ulcers and gonorrheal sores. A lotion is prepared to relieve skin itches. Other preparations are used internally to treat diarrhea, as a diuretic, in the treatment of schistosomiasis and as an abortive. Ramcharan et al. (2010) have also demonstrated cytotoxic activity against leukaemia cell line, MT-4.

An essential oil extracted from the leaves has been shown to inhibit Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus (ISSG, 2016), also Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candidas albicans (Ushie and Adamu, 2010), including multi-resistant strains of P. aeruginosa (Peixoto-Neto et al., 2002).

Oliveira et al. (2010) demonstrated activity against the larvae of Aedes aegypti. Active substances from S. verticillata include alkaloids and iridoids. The aerial parts contain the indole alkaloids barrerine and borreverine and an essential oil which contains the sesquiterpenes guiaene, caryophyllene and cadiene. The root-bark contains the iridoids daphylloside, asperuloside, feretoside, methyl desacetylasperulosidate, desacetylasperuloside, asperulosidic acid and desacetylasperulosidic acid (Useful Tropical Plants, 2016). Other compounds detected by Cherigo et al. (2012) were scualene, epoxy-scualene and borrecapine. In Nigeria, alkaloids, saponins, phenols, flavonoids, tannins, glycosides, triterpenes and carbohydrates were detected as possible sources of the antioxidant properties of S. verticillata (Gero et al., 2014), while analgesic properties of leaf extracts have also been confirmed by the same authors (Abdullahi-Gero et al., 2014).

Environmental Services

In Puerto Rico, the flowers of S. verticillata attract Larra americana and L. bicolor, wasps used as a biocontrol agent for control of mole crickets (Scapteriscus didactylus) which damage sugarcane, coffee, vegetable seedlings, pastures and turf (van Emden and Service, 1994).

Studies of honey in Brazil show that S. verticillata is a predominant source of pollen for Melimpona subnitida, Apis mellifera and other species of bee (Pinto et al., 2014; Novais and Absy, 2015; Souza et al., 2015).

S. verticallata has considerable tolerance of high arsenic suggesting possible value for re-vegetating contaminated sites (Campos et al., 2014).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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The most closely related weed is S. alata but that has stems distinctly winged, hairy leaves and flowers are fewer, individually larger, occurring mostly in leaf axils when compared to S. verticillata. In West Africa, the closet relative is S. octodon but this has very narrow, linear leaves.

Prevention and Control

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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 and Sanitary Measures

The abundance of S. verticillata in a Colombian pasture was reduced by 39% after fertilizing with potassium and sulphur to increase the vigour of the pasture grasses (ISSG, 2016). In Nigeria S. verticillata is less common in mixed cropping situations than in cereal monocrops, suggesting a significant effect of competition from vigorous crop (Weber et al., 1995).

Physical/Mechanical Control

Grazing, mowing and cultivation are effective in preventing S. verticillata progressing beyond the herbaceous stage and forming the dense clumps which threaten other vegetation.

Chemical Control

S. verticillata is relatively resistant to many of the most common herbicides including 2,4-D, MCPA, atrazine and metolachlor (Kasasian, 1962). In a pasture in Puerto Rico S. verticillata was well controlled by the application of picloram + 2,4-D and by dicamba + 2,4-D (Gonzalez-Ibanez, 1977). FLEPPC (2016) indicate that it may be controlled by glyphosate but only after repeated applications at a high dosage. Sellers and Ferrell (2014) report disappointing results with a range of herbicides including dicamba, but obtained good selective control from hexazinone when applied in Paspalum notatum.


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29/04/2016 Original text by:

Chris Parker, consultant, Bristol, UK

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