Fabaceae Lindl.

Indigofera L.

This genus is accepted, and its native range is Africa, Asia to SW. Pacific, Central & S. U.S.A. to Tropical & Subtropical America.


Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

Morphology General Habit
Annual or perennial herbs or small shrubs
Morphology General Indumentum
Hairs typically biramous, sometimes subsimple or simple through the suppression of one arm; stiff erect multicellular, often gland-tipped, hairs sometimes also occur
Morphology Leaves
Leaves pulvinate, usually imparipinnate, sometimes 3-foliolate, conjugate, 1-foliolate or simple, very rarely paripinnate with the rhachis ending in a point; stipules not adnate to petiole nor encircling the stem; stipellae present or absent; leaflets entire, their lateral nerves obscure
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers usually in axillary racemes, less often in open or subcapitate panicles, single in the leaf-axils or in dense axillary clusters
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Corolla usually red or pink, caducous or rarely the standard persistent, at the most (in Flora area) ± 18 mm. long, usually much less; standard longer than wide, narrowed gradually to the base; claw of wing, if distinct from blade, less than one-eighth as long as blade; keel with a ± gently curved lower margin, rather gibbous or, more usually, spurred at each side; claw of keel short, widening gradually, often hardly distinct from blade
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Upper (vexillary) filament free, the others united, persistent; anthers ± uniform, dorsifixed, almost always apiculate, with or, more usually, without basal scales
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pod usually dehiscent, 1-seeded by abortion, or, more often, 2–many-seeded, cylindrical, tetragonal or flattened, never inflated, rarely as much as 3 mm. across; endocarp often spotted, forming septa between the seeds.


Legumes of the World. Edited by G. Lewis, B. Schrire, B. MacKinder & M. Lock. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2005)

Herbs, shrubs or small trees
Seasonally dry tropical to warm temperate forest, woodland, wooded grassland and grassland, sclerophyllous shrubland, forest margins and disturbed areas
Africa-Madagascar (c. 490 spp.); Asia to Pacific (c. 115 spp.); Australasia (c. 30-40 spp.); c. 13 spp. widespread in the Palaeotropics; c. 6 spp. pantropical; New World c. 45 spp. USA to Argentina (c. 30 spp. in N & C America, c. 15 spp. in S America)
A genus of c. 25 sections in Africa-Madagascar where Indigofera is most diverse, increasing to c. 30 sections worldwide; all species belong to one of four well-supported and biogeographically distinctive clades in the analyses of Schrire et al. (2003)

Polhill (1981f) recognised 4 genera and c. 710 species in Indigofereae. This treatment following Polhill (1994), Schrire (1995), Barker et al. (2000) and Schrire et al. (2003) recognises 7 genera and c. 768 species in the tribe (Fig. 44). The Indigofereae are predominantly African-Madagascan in distribution, occurring in seasonally dry vegetation types of the tropics and subtropics. The genus Indigofera (third largest in the Leguminosae) is pantropical in distribution.

Recent morphological-molecular analyses (Pennington et al., 2000a; Crisp et al., 2000; Wojciechowski et al., 2000, 2004; Hu, 2000; Kajita et al., 2001; Hu et al., 2002 and Wojciechowski, 2003) place Indigofereae at the base of a combined millettioid group of tribes (including Millettieae, Abreae, Phaseoleae, Desmodieae and Psoraleeae). This entire clade is sister to Hologalegina (comprising the robinioids and the Inverted Repeat Lacking Clade (IRLC)). Basally branching to these two clades are the South African Hypocalypteae and Australian tribes Mirbelieae and Bossiaeeae.

The Indigofereae (Barker et al., 2000; Schrire et al., 2003) comprises a Cyamopsis, Indigastrum, Microcharis and Rhynchotropis (CRIM) clade which is sister to the Indigofera-Vaughania clade. The Madagascan Phylloxylon is putatively the most basally branching genus in the tribe, although in some analyses in Schrire et al. (2003), Phylloxylon is sister to the CRIM clade.


M. Thulin et al. Flora of Somalia, Vol. 1-4 [updated 2008]

Morphology General Habit
Herbs or shrubs with biramous hairs
Morphology Leaves
Leaves usually imparipinnate, sometimes 1–3-foliolate or simple
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Flowers usually in axillary racemes
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Corolla usually red or pink, falling quickly, or sometimes the standard persistent; standard almost always pubescent, usually indistinctly veined; keel with lateral spurs
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens Filaments
Vexillary filament free; anthers almost always apiculate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Stigma
Stigma terminal, capitate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pod cylindrical, 4-angled or flattened, usually dehiscent, 1–many-seeded.
Some 700 species in tropical and subtropical areas, but absent from the Mediterranean region.


Legumes of the World. Edited by G. Lewis, B. Schrire, B. MacKinder & M. Lock. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2005)

Trees and shrubs
Seasonally dry tropical forest, woodland, xerophytic bushland and grassland, on sand or rocky (often limestone) outcrops and riverine
Madagascar (S, SW, W and C)
Recent molecular evidence (Barker et al., 2000; Schrire et al., 2003) places Vaughania, together with the anomalous Réunion Island endemic Indigofera ammoxylum (DC.) Polhill (= Bremontiera ammoxylum DC.), as elements within Indigofera; both are considered to be highly modified, Indian Ocean Island, neo-endemic lineages of Indigofera, but formalising the transfer of Vaughania into synonymy awaits further study

Used as dyes (important species are I. arrecta Hochst. ex A. Rich., I. articulata Gouan, I. suffruticosa Mill. and I. tinctoria L.), medicine, fodder, cover crops, green manure, human food, erosion control and ornamentals; some species are toxic to livestock, others have insecticidal qualities

Several species, particularly I. arrecta, I. articulata, I. coerulea and I. tinctoria, were once of international importance as the source of the blue-black dye indigo,butnow they are only used locally.

The extremely hard wood is used for fuel, poles, implements and construction; other uses are fodder for livestock

Native to:

Afghanistan, Alabama, Aldabra, Algeria, Andaman Is., Angola, Argentina Northeast, Argentina Northwest, Arizona, Aruba, Assam, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bismarck Archipelago, Bolivia, Borneo, Botswana, Brazil North, Brazil Northeast, Brazil South, Brazil Southeast, Brazil West-Central, Burkina, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Provinces, Cape Verde, Caprivi Strip, Cayman Is., Central African Repu, Chad, Chile North, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, Christmas I., Cocos (Keeling) Is., Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Florida, Free State, French Guiana, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Gulf States, Guyana, Hainan, Haiti, Honduras, India, Inner Mongolia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Jawa, Kansas, Kenya, Korea, KwaZulu-Natal, Laccadive Is., Laos, Lebanon-Syria, Leeward Is., Lesotho, Lesser Sunda Is., Liberia, Libya, Louisiana, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaya, Maldives, Mali, Maluku, Manchuria, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Mississippi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nansei-shoto, Nepal, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New Mexico, New South Wales, Nicaragua, Nicobar Is., Niger, Nigeria, North Carolina, Northern Provinces, Northern Territory, Oklahoma, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Panamá, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Qinghai, Queensland, Rwanda, Réunion, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sinai, Socotra, Somalia, South Australia, South Carolina, South China Sea, Southwest Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sulawesi, Sumatera, Swaziland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tasmania, Texas, Thailand, Tibet, Togo, Trinidad-Tobago, Turks-Caicos Is., Uganda, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Venezuelan Antilles, Victoria, Vietnam, West Himalaya, Western Australia, Western Sahara, Windward Is., Yemen, Zambia, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

Introduced into:

Bermuda, Caroline Is., Chagos Archipelago, Cook Is., Fiji, Hawaii, Marianas, Marquesas, Nauru, Niue, Norfolk Is., North Caucasus, Rodrigues, Samoa, Seychelles, Society Is., Tonga, Transcaucasus, Tubuai Is.

Indigofera L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status Has image?
Dec 1, 1974 Letouzey, R. [13433], Cameroon K000087040 No
Nov 1, 1974 Letouzey, R. [13136], Cameroon K000087142 No
McWhirter, J. [239], Madagascar 32227.000 No
61448.000 No
Schrire, B.D. [2581], Kenya 62732.000 No
Schrire, B.D. [2565], Kenya 62852.000 No
Kuchar, P. [17682], Somalia K000392765 isotype Yes
Kuchar, P. [17682], Somalia K000392766 isotype Yes
Thulin, M. [5561], Somalia K000392838 isotype Yes
Moore, C. [s.n.], Australia K000217363 Yes
Lindley [s.n.], Australia K000217399 Yes
Bauer [s.n.], Australia K000217447 Yes
Mitchell [s.n.], Australia K000217448 Yes
Cunningham, A. [s.n.], Australia K000217466 Yes
leg. ign. [s,n,], Australia K000217465 Yes
leg. ign. [s.n.], Australia K000217364 Yes
Cunningham, A. [s.n.], Australia K000217321 Yes
leg. ign. [s.n.], Australia K000217467 Yes
leg. ign. [20], Australia K000217472 Yes
Backhouse, J. [s.n.], Australia K000217361 Yes
Patel, H. [7413], Mozambique K000613675 No

First published in Sp. Pl.: 751 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Govaerts, R., Nic Lughadha, E., Black, N., Turner, R. & Paton, A. (2021). The World Checklist of Vascular Plants, a continuously updated resource for exploring global plant diversity. Scientific Data 8: 215.


Flora of West Tropical Africa

  • Tisserant in Bull. Mus. Hist. Nat., sér. 2, 3: 163–172, 258–272 (1931).
  • —F.T.A. 2: 65

Flora of Somalia

  • Flora Somalia, Vol 1, (1993) Author: by M. Thulin [updated by M. Thulin 2008]
  • Gillett in Kew Bull., Add. Ser. 1 (1958) & Fl. Trop. E. Afr. (1971).

Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Gillett in K.B., Add. Ser. 1 (1958)
  • L., Gen. Pl., ed. 5: 333 (1754)
  • Sp. Pl.: 751 (1753)

  • Art and Illustrations in Digifolia

    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew

  • Flora of Somalia

    Flora of Somalia

  • Flora of Tropical East Africa

    Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew

  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Kew Science Photographs

    Copyright applied to individual images

  • Legumes of the World Online