Fabaceae Lindl.

Desmodium Desv.

This genus is accepted, and its native range is Tropics & Subtropics to N. America.


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


The tribe Desmodieae as treated by Ohashi et al. (1981) comprised 27 genera and c. 540 species in three subtribes, the Bryinae, Desmodiinae and Lespedezinae. Molecular analyses by Bailey et al. (1997) and Doyle et al. (2000) show that Bryinae has affinities elsewhere; Lavin et al. (2001a) place it within the Pterocarpus clade of the Dalbergieae sens. lat. (see page 309). The Bryinae are therefore removed from the Desmodieae here, as are two genera formerly placed in subtribe Lespedezinae; Phylacium Benn. and Neocollettia Hemsl., which are moved to tribe Phaseoleae (see page 393) on morphological, palynological and molecular evidence (Doyle et al., 2000; Kajita et al., 2001). The two remaining subtribes of Desmodieae are recognised in this treatment as three groups, the Lespedeza, Phyllodium and Desmodium groups, based on results of an analysis of the chloroplast gene rbcL (Kajita et al., 2001). The Phyllodium and Desmodium groups correspond to subtribe Desmodiinae, and the Lespedeza group to subtribe Lespedezinae (with Campylotropis now comprising 37 instead of 65 species as in Ohashi et al., 1981).

Desmodieae as circumscribed here comprises 30 genera and (524)–527–(530) species (Fig. 48). The tribe occurs in the tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions of the world, but extends into the cool temperate and sub-boreal regions of E Asia and N America (except W of the Rocky Mountains). At generic level subtribe Desmodiinae is most diverse in tropical S and SE Asia (Dy Phon et al., 1994), while temperate E Asia (Yang & Huang, 1995) and N America (Isely, 1998) are the centres of diversity of subtribe Lespedezinae. The tribe occurs widely from coastal to montane areas, but not at high altitudes. Species are most commonly shrubs or subshrubs, sometimes herbs, rarely trees and are usually erect and 3-foliolate.

The Desmodieae have been considered similar to tribe Phaseoleae (Polhill, 1981a) and were recently shown to be a monophyletic lineage included within Phaseoleae sens. lat. (Fig. 47, page 394), closely related to subtribe Kennediinae (Doyle & Doyle, 1993, Bruneau et al., 1995; Doyle et al., 1997) and possibly sister to Mucuna (Bailey et al., 1997; Doyle et al., 2000; Kajita et al., 2001).

Shrubs or herbs, rarely small trees
Seasonally dry to wet tropical, warm temperate and temperate forest, woodland, thicket, wooded grassland, bushland and grassland, usually common in open or seasonally wet and riverine areas, also in disturbed and ruderal vegetation
most diverse in SE Asia (at infrageneric level) and Mexico to S America (at specific level). Occurring from Africa-Madagascar (c. 40 spp., c. 15 endemic), tropical SE Asia (c. 70 spp.), China to temperate E Asia (c. 35 spp., c. 10 endemic), warm temperate N America (c. 35 spp.), Mexico (c. 80 spp., c. 50 endemic), C America, Caribbean and tropical to subtropical S America (c. 80 spp., 21 spp. found in Argentina) and Australia (c. 14 spp.). A number of species are widespread in the Old and New Worlds and are often cultivated


Leguminosae, B. Verdcourt. Flora Zambesiaca 3:6. 2000

Morphology General Habit
Shrubs or erect or prostrate subshrubs or herbs.
Morphology Leaves
Leaves 1-foliolate or pinnately 3–5-foliolate; leaflets often large; stipules free, somewhat joined, or joined and leaf-opposed, striate; stipels present.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescences axillary or terminal, falsely racemose or paniculate rarely subumbellate, the flowers solitary or fasciculate on the rhachis; primary bracts striate, persistent or sometimes membranous and early deciduous; secondary bracts often present but bracteoles usually absent.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx 5-lobed, the lobes mostly ± 2-lipped or subequal; the upper lip entire or bidentate composed of 2 lobes joined together, the lower of 3 larger lobes, the central one the longest.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Corolla mostly small, yellow or red; standard oblong to round or transverse, narrowed into a short claw, sometimes with small callous appendages; wings ± attached to the keel; keel petals clawed, partly joined.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Stamens mostly diadelphous, the vexillary filament free or partly joined; anthers uniform.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Pistil
Ovary sessile, (1)2–many-ovuled; style inflexed or incurved, glabrous; stigma terminal, capitate or minute.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruits usually stipitate or sometimes sessile, well-exserted from the calyx, compressed, (1)2–many-jointed into articles (loments), indehiscent or at length splitting up, the articles 1-seeded, membranous or leathery, almost flat or more rarely inflated; or in a few cases fruits dehiscing and not or scarcely breaking into articles.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds oblong, reniform or subquadrangular, compressed; aril not developed.


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

Morphology General Habit
Herbs, subshrubs or shrubs, prostrate or scrambling to erect
Morphology Leaves
Leaves 1–3(–5)-foliolate; stipules various, free, or fused at least when young, somewhat oblique, striate and ciliate; petiole sulcate, usually exceeding leaf-rhachis; leaflets petiolulate, the lateral ones each subtended by 1 stipel, the terminal subtended by 2
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescences axillary or terminal, racemose or racemose-paniculate or, rarely, subumbellate; primary bracts striate and ciliate, each subtending 1 (pedicellate) flower or a fascicle of 2–several flowers; secondary bracts often present, similar or depauperate, each subtending a single pedicellate flower; bracteoles (present in only 1 species in Flora area) paired at the base of the calyx
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx 2-lipped, the upper lobe (entire to) bifid, the lower 3-toothed with the central tooth longer than the laterals, or the calyx almost equally 5-lobed
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Corolla exceeding calyx; standard slightly and wings somewhat clawed, the wings, at least in young flowers, attached to keel-petals by a small appendage; keel-petals long-clawed, partially fused above
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Vexillary stamen free or partially fused, or less often stamens all joined; anthers uniform
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Pistil
Ovary sessile or stipitate; ovules 2–many; style slender; stigma terminal
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruit transversely jointed, (1–)2-many-articled, usually stipitate, indehiscent, or tardily dehiscent, or rarely (but not in Flora species) the walls between the sutures falling away and leaving the sutures as a frame; articles variously shaped from almost circular in outline to essentially linear, sometimes folded on each other in accordion fashion, the surfaces glabrous to densely pubescent with straight or hooked hairs or these only on the sutures, 1-seeded
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds oblong or subquadrate.

Important livestock forage and cover crops (e.g., the tick clovers D. intortum (Mill.) Urb. and D. uncinatum (Jacq.) DC. ), also grown as intercropping insect repellents; widely used for medicine; cultivated as ornamentals (e.g., D. elegans DC.), and used for fibre

Native to:

Alabama, Angola, Argentina Northeast, Argentina Northwest, Arizona, Arkansas, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil North, Brazil Northeast, Brazil South, Brazil Southeast, Brazil West-Central, Burkina, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Cayman Is., Central American Pac, Chad, Chile North, Colombia, Connecticut, Costa Rica, Cuba, Delaware, District of Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Florida, French Guiana, Galápagos, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Jamaica, Kansas, Kentucky, Labrador, Leeward Is., Louisiana, Maine, Malawi, Mali, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nebraska, Netherlands Antilles, New Brunswick, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New South Wales, New York, Newfoundland, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Territory, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oman, Ontario, Panamá, Paraguay, Pennsylvania, Peru, Prince Edward I., Puerto Rico, Queensland, Québec, Rhode I., Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Carolina, South Dakota, Southwest Caribbean, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, Tennessee, Texas, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad-Tobago, Turks-Caicos Is., Uruguay, Venezuela, Venezuelan Antilles, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Windward Is., Wisconsin, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Introduced into:

Ascension, Bismarck Archipelago, Burundi, Cape Provinces, Caroline Is., Central African Repu, China South-Central, China Southeast, Comoros, Congo, Cook Is., Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Gilbert Is., Guinea, Hawaii, India, Ivory Coast, Jawa, Kenya, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesser Sunda Is., Liberia, Madagascar, Malaya, Maluku, Marianas, Marquesas, Marshall Is., Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexican Pacific Is., Nauru, Niue, Norfolk Is., Northern Provinces, Philippines, Pitcairn Is., Rodrigues, Rwanda, Réunion, Seychelles, Society Is., South China Sea, Sri Lanka, St.Helena, Taiwan, Tonga, Tubuai Is., Uganda, Wallis-Futuna Is., West Himalaya, Western Australia, Zaïre

Desmodium Desv. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status Has image?
Jan 1, 1986 Thomas, D.W. [2133], Cameroon K000087027 No
Nov 21, 1925 Armstrong [s.n.], Australia K000279025 Yes
Rico, L. [1600], Bolivia K000295213 No
Cunningham, A. [35], Australia K000279027 Yes
Rico, L. [1354b], Bolivia K000295496 Yes
Bauer [s.n.], Australia K000279030 Yes
Lindley [s.n.], Australia K000279029 Yes
s.coll. [Cat. no. s.n.], India K001132335 Yes
Bauer [s.n.], Australia K000279088 Yes
Brooks, R.R. [TMEX436], Brazil K000931721 Yes
Moore, C. [s.n.], Australia K000279024 Yes
Heringer, E.P. [4670], Brazil K000931722 Yes
Buchanan-Hamilton, F. [Cat. no. s.n.] K001132336 Yes
Cunningham, A. [41], Australia K000279023 Yes
Berçot, A.C.S. [19], Brazil K000931720 Yes
Rico, L. [1387], Bolivia K000295397 Yes
Silva, J.M. [5640], Brazil K000931723 Yes

First published in J. Bot. Agric. 1: 122 (1813)

Accepted by

  • Govaerts, R. (2000). World Checklist of Seed Plants Database in ACCESS D: 1-30141.
  • Pires Lima, L.C., de Queiroz, L.P., de Azevedo Tozzi, A.M.G & Lewis, G.P. (2014). A taxonomic revision of Desmodium (Leguminosae, Papilionoideae) in Brazil Phytotaxa 169: 1-119.


Flora of West Tropical Africa

  • —F.T.A. 2: 159.

Flora Zambesiaca

  • Verdcourt in Kirkia 9: 506 (1974).
  • in J. Bot. Agric. 1: 122, t. 5, fig. 15 (1813) nom. conserv.

Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Journ. de Bot., sér. 2, 1: 122, t. 5/15 (1813)
  • Schubert in F.C.B. 5: 180 (1954), nom. conserv.

  • Art and Illustrations in Digifolia

    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew

  • Flora Zambesiaca

    Flora Zambesiaca

  • 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