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Cajanus cajan, more commonly known as pigeon pea, is a drought-resistant crop important for small scale farmers in semi-arid areas where rainfall is low. Pigeon pea contains high levels of protein and important B vitamins and is therefore especially important for people living on subsistence diets. In India, pigeon pea seeds come in a huge variety of flavours and colours, ranging from bitter to sweet and from black to creamy white.

Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea)

[CPLC]

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Distribution
Cultivada en Colombia; Alt. 50 - 2000 m.; Andes, Llanura del Caribe, Valle del Cauca, Valle del Magdalena.
Morphology General Habit
Arbusto

[ILDIS]

International Legume Database and Information Service

Conservation
Cultigen not known in the wild
Ecology
Africa: Cultivated, Zambezian anthropic landscapes., Sudanian anthropic landscapes, Somalia-Masai anthropic landscapes
Morphology General Habit
Annual/Perennial, Not climbing, Herb/Shrub
Vernacular
Ambarivatry, Ambatribe, Ambaty, Amberivatry, Ambote, Ambraty, Ambrevade, Ambrevate, Antsotry, Arahar, Arhar, Congo Pea, Dahl, Dhal, Frijol De Arbol, Frijol Quinchancho, Gandul, Gandures, Golubinyi Gorokh, Guandu, Guandul, Gungo Pea, Ihora, Jinsonge, Kayan

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

Cajanus cajan, more commonly known as pigeon pea, is a drought-resistant crop important for small scale farmers in semi-arid areas where rainfall is low. Pigeon pea contains high levels of protein and important B vitamins and is therefore especially important for people living on subsistence diets. In India, pigeon pea seeds come in a huge variety of flavours and colours, ranging from bitter to sweet and from black to creamy white.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Pigeon pea was first domesticated in India where it has been growing for thousands of years. Around 2,000 BC, a second centre of pigeon pea diversity was developed in East Africa and from there, probably as a result of the slave trade, the crop was brought to the Americas. Today pigeon pea is grown throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world; the largest producer is India, followed by East Africa and Central America. 

Description

Overview: Cajanus cajan is an erect shrub up to 4 metres tall, with roots that extend up to 2 metres into the soil. Its main stem is erect, ribbed and the plant has many secondary branches. 

Leaves: The leaves are alternate along the stems and are composed of three leaflets (tri-foliolate) and they are positioned alternately along the stem. The petiole (the stalk which connects the leaf to the stem) is 1-8 cm long and grooved above. The leaflets are elliptical (like a stretched circle when flat) to lance-shaped (lanceolate) and are 2.5-13.5 cm long to 1-5.5 cm wide. The leaflets are green above and a silvery grey-green beneath and are covered on their lower surfaces in small yellow glands. 

Flowers: The stalked flowers are arranged along an unbranched axis (a raceme). The racemes are axillary (arising from the point between the main stem and a leaf). The flowers are yellow and are papilionaceous, typical of species belonging to the Leguminosae subfamily Papilionoideae, and resemble, for example, the pea ( Pisum sativum ) flower. Each flower has 10 stamens, 9 of which are fused into a partial tube, with the tenth stamen free. The ovary is positioned above the sepals, petals and stamens. The style is curved. 

Fruit: The fruit is a straight or sickle-shaped pod 2-13 cm long x 0.5-1.5 cm wide containing up to 9 seeds. The seeds are 4-9 mm x 3-8 mm and can be white, brown, purplish, black or mottled. 

Threats and conservation

Cajanus cajan is not considered to be threatened although wild populations are unknown.

Uses

Pigeon pea is cultivated mainly for its edible seeds, which are rich in protein and add a nutty flavour to many food preparations.

In India, pigeon pea is most commonly used in 'dhal' (soaked dried, hulled, and split seeds) and in many other parts of Asia the seeds are used instead of soya bean to make tempeh or tofu.In Africa, the dried seeds are typically used in sauces to accompany staple food preparations such as rice, yam and cassava. The immature seeds and pods of pigeon pea can be eaten fresh as a vegetable in soups and sauces and when ripe, the seeds are often soaked first before frying or boiling them into porridge.In Central America pigeon pea seeds are canned and frozen so that they can be stored and eaten when the crop is no longer in season.

Besides being an excellent food source for humans, the seed pods and the leaves of pigeon pea are used to feed livestock and the plants themselves make a useful living fence, windbreaker, shade cover crop and support for vanilla.

Pigeon pea has the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen through bacteria housed in root nodules, making it a good fertiliser for the soil.

The stems and branches are used for basketry, thatching, fencing and as fuel. It also serves as a host for silkworm and the lac insect.

The leaves of pigeon pea are used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea, gonorrhoea, measles, burns, eye infections, earache, sore throat, sore gums, toothache, anaemia, intestinal worms, dizziness and epilepsy. Remedies prepared from the root of the plant are taken to treat cough, stomach problems and syphilis. The roots are chewed to relieve toothache and in Madagascar the leaves are used to clean the teeth. 

Crop wild relatives of pigeon pea

The Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are engaged in a ten-year project, called 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change'. The project aims to protect, collect and prepare the wild relatives of 29 key food crops, including pigeon pea, so that they are available to pre-breeders for the development of new varieties that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The  Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plants worldwide, focusing on those plants which are under threat and those which are of most use in the future. Once seeds have been collected they are dried, packaged and stored at -20°C in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank vault.

Description of seeds: Average weight of 1,000 seeds = 98.5 g

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant can be dried to a low moisture content without significantly reducing their viability. This means they are suitable for long-term frozen storage).

Germination testing: Successful

This species at Kew

Pressed and dried specimens of pigeon pea are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details and images of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

Distribution
India
Ecology
Pigeon pea grows in tropical and subtropical regions. The crop thrives when annual rainfall is 600-1000 mm, but it is tolerant of drought and can be grown in areas with less than 600mm rainfall. Pigeon pea can grow on a wide range of soil types.
Conservation
Widespread in cultivation. It is not known in the wild, but often occurs naturalized as an escape from cultivation.

[ILDIS]
Use
Chemical products, Domestic, Environmental, Food and Drink, Forage, Medicine, Miscellaneous, Wood

[KSP]
Use
Food, fodder, medicine, living fence, basketry, fuel.

Native to:

Assam, India, West Himalaya

Introduced into:

Afghanistan, Andaman Is., Angola, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Benin, Bermuda, Bismarck Archipelago, Bolivia, Brazil Northeast, Brazil South, Burkina, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Caroline Is., Cayman Is., Central African Repu, Chad, China South-Central, China Southeast, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Is., Cuba, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Florida, French Guiana, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Guyana, Hainan, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Jawa, Kenya, KwaZulu-Natal, Laccadive Is., Laos, Leeward Is., Lesser Sunda Is., Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaya, Mali, Marianas, Marquesas, Mauritius, Mexico Southwest, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New South Wales, Nicobar Is., Niger, Nigeria, Northern Provinces, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Queensland, Rwanda, Réunion, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Society Is., Somalia, Southwest Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sulawesi, Sumatera, Suriname, Swaziland, Tadzhikistan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Transcaucasus, Trinidad-Tobago, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Windward Is., Yemen, Zambia, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

English
Pigeon pea

Cajanus cajan (L.) Huth appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
Jan 1, 1997 Coradin, L. [7720], Bahia K000206969
Jan 1, 1997 Coradin, L. [270887], Brazil K000930927
Oct 1, 1995 Alcântara, M. [s.n.], Pernambuco K000206971
Oct 1, 1995 Rodal, M.J.N. [500], Pernambuco K000206970
Jul 1, 1990 Agra, M.F. [1176], Paraíba K000206972
Jul 1, 1990 Agra, M.F. [1176], Paraíba K000206973
Jan 1, 1989 Balée, W.L. [2634], Brazil K000930914
Jan 1, 1987 Barros, M.A.G. [110], Brazil K000930924
Jan 1, 1987 Barros, M.A.G. [110], Brazil K000930925
Jan 1, 1984 Staviski, M.N.R. [757], Brazil K000930922
Mar 1, 1983 Lewis, G.P. [701], Bahia K000206977
Jan 1, 1983 Hage, J.L. [1019], Bahia K000206976
Jan 6, 1982 Coradin, L. [5120], Brazil K000930915
Jan 1, 1981 Hage, J.L. [239], Bahia K000206975
May 1, 1978 F.K.W. [6429], Bhutan K000782017
Nov 1, 1974 Satabie, B. [70], Cameroon K000087447
Jan 1, 1974 Mbenkum, T. [TFM 403], Cameroon K000087448
Harley, R.M. [19449], Bahia K000206978
Irwin, H.S. [17368], Brazil K000930912
Burchell [10108-6], Brazil K000930913
Chung, H.H. [1125], China K000782001
Chung, H.H. [1225], China K000782002
Sellow, F. [383], Brazil K000930926
Mexia, Y.E.J. [5318], Brazil K000930916
Shiu Ying Hu [9367], China K000782004
Dusén, P. [10103], Brazil K000930920
Tso, C.L. [23005], China K000782006
Rudd, V.E. [3323], Sri Lanka K000782016
Remanandan, P. [4728], India K000782015
Lei, C.I. [522], China K000782008
s.coll. [s.n.] K000930921
Lei, C.I. [361], China K000782007
Preston, T.A. [s.n.], Brazil K000930923
Eiten, G. [5721], Brazil K000930917
Burchell [2961], Brazil K000931466
Chow, K.S. [78494], China K000782003
Ridley [27], Pernambuco K000206974
Hoehne, W. [s.n.], Brazil K000930919
Semir, J. [1928], Brazil K000930918
s.coll. [Cat. no. 5577] Cajanus bicolor K001121332
Wallich, N. [Cat. no. 5577], Nepal Cajanus bicolor K001121336
s.coll. [Cat. no. 5577] Cajanus bicolor K001121330
s.coll. [Cat. no. 5577] Cajanus bicolor K001121334
s.coll. [Cat. no. 5577] Cajanus bicolor K001121329
Wallich, N. [Cat. no. 5577], Myanmar Cajanus bicolor K001121337
s.coll. [Cat. no. 5577] Cajanus bicolor K001121331
s.coll. [Cat. no. 5577] Cajanus bicolor K001121333
s.coll. [Cat. no. 5577] Cajanus bicolor K001121327
Porter, G. [Cat. no. 5577], Malaysia Cajanus bicolor K001121335
Jan 1, 1917 Bourne [3276], India Cajanus indicus K000782027
Silva, M.B. [31], Brazil Cajanus indicus K000930928
Harsukh [21468], India Cajanus indicus K000782024
Henry, A. [10357], China Cajanus indicus K000782005
Bullock, A.A. [862], India Cajanus indicus K000782011
Archer, W.A. [8019], Brazil Cajanus indicus K000930929
Panda, B. [1750], India Cajanus indicus K000782009
Gamble, J.S. [2222A], India Cajanus indicus K000782018
Gamble, J.S. [7784], Bangladesh Cajanus indicus K000782019
Thomson, G. [s.n.], India Cajanus indicus K000782029

First published in Helios 11: 133 (1893)

Accepted by

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  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006). Flore Analytique du Bénin: 1-1034. Backhuys Publishers.
  • Barthelat, F. (2019). La flore illustrée de Mayotte: 1-687. Biotope éditions.
  • Berhaut, J. (1976). Flore illustrée du Sénégal 5: 1-658. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du développement rural direction des eaux et forêta, Dakar.
  • Boggan, J. Funck, V. & Kelloff, C. (1997). Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas (Guyana, Surinam, Franch Guiana) ed. 2: 1-238. University of Guyana, Georgetown.
  • Boulvert, Y. (1977). Catalogue de la Flore de Centrafrique 2(1): 1-85. ORSTROM, Bangui.
  • Brako, L. & Zarucchi, J.L. (1993). Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Gymnosperms of Peru Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 45: i-xl, 1-1286. Missouri Botanical Garden.
  • Brunel, J.F., Hiepo, P. & Scholz, H. (eds.) (1984). Flore Analytique du Togo Phanérogames: 1-751. GTZ, Eschborn.
  • Catarino, L., Sampaio Martins, E., Pinto-Basto, M.F. & Diniz, M.A. (2006). Plantas Vasculares e Briófitos da Guiné-Bissau: 1-298. Instituto de investigação científica tropical, Instituto Português de apoio ao desenvolvimento.
  • Choudhary, R.K., Srivastava, R.C., Das, A.K. & Lee, J. (2012). Floristic diversity assessment and vegetation analysis of Upper Siang district of eastern Himalaya in North East India Korean Journal of Plant Taxonomy 42: 222-246.
  • Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015). The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan: 1-400. Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Du Puy, D.J., Labat, N.-N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J. (2002). The Leguminosae of Madagascar: 1-737. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Dy Phon, P. (2000). Dictionnaire des plantes utilisées au Cambodge: 1-915. chez l'auteur, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
  • Figueiredo, E. & Smith, G.F. (2008). Plants of Angola Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Fosberg, F.R., Sachet, M.-H., Oliver, R. (1979). A geographical checklist of the Micronesian Dicotyledonae Micronesica; Journal of the College of Guam 15: 41-295.
  • Garcia-Mendoza, A.J. & Meave, J.A. (eds.) (2012). Diversidad florística de Oaxaca: de musgos a angiospermas (colecciones y listas de especies), ed. 2: 1-351. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
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  • Hokche, O., Berry, P.E. & Huber, O. (eds.) (2008). Nuevo Catálogo de la Flora Vascular de Venezuela: 1-859. Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela.
  • Isely, D. (1998). Native and Naturalized Leguminosae (Fabaceae) of the United States: 1-1007. Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
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Literature

Kew Species Profiles

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Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia

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Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006). Flore Analytique du Bénin: 1-1034. Backhuys Publishers.
  • Audru, J., Cesar, J. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1994). Les Plantes Vasculaires de la République de Djibouti. Flore Illustrée 1: 1-336. CIRAD, Départerment d'Elevage et de Médecine vétérinaire, Djibouti.
  • Berhaut, J. (1976). Flore illustrée du Sénégal 5: 1-658. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du développement rural direction des eaux et forêta, Dakar.
  • Boggan, J. Funck, V. & Kelloff, C. (1997). Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas (Guyana, Surinam, Franch Guiana) ed. 2: 1-238. University of Guyana, Georgetown.
  • Boulvert, Y. (1977). Catalogue de la Flore de Centrafrique 2(1): 1-85. ORSTROM, Bangui.
  • Brako, L. & Zarucchi, J.L. (1993). Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Gymnosperms of Peru Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 45: i-xl, 1-1286. Missouri Botanical Garden.
  • Britton, N. (1918). Flora of Bermuda: 1-585. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
  • Brunel, J.F., Hiepo, P. & Scholz, H. (eds.) (1984). Flore Analytique du Togo Phanérogames: 1-751. GTZ, Eschborn.
  • Catarino, L., Sampaio Martins, E., Pinto-Basto, M.F. & Diniz, M.A. (2006). Plantas Vasculares e Briófitos da Guiné-Bissau: 1-298. Instituto de investigação científica tropical, Instituto Português de apoio ao desenvolvimento.
  • Choudhary, R.K., Srivastava, R.C., Das, A.K. & Lee, J. (2012). Floristic diversity assessment and vegetation analysis of Upper Siang district of eastern Himalaya in North East India Korean Journal of Plant Taxonomy 42: 222-246.
  • Du Puy, D.J., Labat, N.-N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J. (2002). The Leguminosae of Madagascar: 1-737. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Dy Phon, P. (2000). Dictionnaire des plantes utilisées au Cambodge: 1-915. chez l'auteur, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
  • Figueiredo, E. & Smith, G.F. (2008). Plants of Angola Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Fosberg, F.R., Sachet, M.-H., Oliver, R. (1979). A geographical checklist of the Micronesian Dicotyledonae Micronesica; Journal of the College of Guam 15: 41-295.
  • Garcia-Mendoza, A.J. & Meave, J.A. (eds.) (2012). Diversidad florística de Oaxaca: de musgos a angiospermas (colecciones y listas de especies), ed. 2: 1-351. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Gonzalez, F., Nelson Diaz, J. & Lowry, P. (1995). Flora Illustrada de San Andrés y Providencia: 1-281. Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Colombia.
  • Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (eds.) (1989 publ. 1990). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
  • Hokche, O., Berry, P.E. & Huber, O. (eds.) (2008). Nuevo Catálogo de la Flora Vascular de Venezuela: 1-859. Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela.
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