Alysicarpus vaginalis

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From:‘t Mannetje, L. and Jones, R.M. (1992) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 4. Forages. (Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands). © Prosea Foundation.

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Scientific name

Alysicarpus vaginalis (L.) DC.


Alysicarpus rupicola Edgew.
Alysicarpus nummularifolius (L.) DC.
Alysicarpus nummularifolius sensu auct.
Alysicarpus nummularifolius (L.) DC. var. angustatus Ohwi
Alysicarpus vaginalis (L.) DC. var. diversifolius Chun
Hedysarum cylindricum Poiret
Hedysarum vaginale L.


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Desmodieae subtribe: Desmodiinae. Also placed in Papilionaceae.

Common names

Alyce clover; buffalo clover; one-leaf clover; trebol Alicia.

Morphological description

Low growing annual or short-lived perennial, extremely variable in habit, leaf shape and flower colour.  Stems numerous, 10–100 cm long, emanating from the rootstock;  variable in hairiness, moderately branched and leafy;  with single simple oval-shaped leaves on a short petiole 10 mm long with prominent pointed stipules.  Leaves 5–65 x 3–25 mm, but generally 10 x 20 mm.  Flowers, 6 mm long, reddish yellow or pale purple, borne in racemes up to 13 cm long and comprised of 6–12 flowers each.  The seeds, dark red, oval or oblong , 1–1.5 mm long.  Seed weight is approximately 625 seeds/g for cultivar ‘FL5’ and higher for cultivar ‘FL3’.
Ungrazed plants can be more erect , growing to 1 m in height in dense swards.


Native to:
Africa: Angola, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Africa (Natal), Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Transvaal, Uganda, Yemen (Socotra), Zaire, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Western Indian Ocean: Mauritius, Reunion.
Arabian Peninsula: Oman, Yemen.
Eastern Asia: Japan - Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan.
Indian Subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka.
Indo-China: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam.
Malesia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines.
Australia: Northern Territory, Queensland.

Widely naturalised in the neo-tropics.


A. vaginalis is a useful component of native pastures, especially under heavier grazing.  It is cultivated for pasture, hay (in the United States), and forage.  It is also used for soil improvement and conservation , and provides effective erosion control on newly established terraces.


Soil requirements

A. vaginalis grows on a wide range of soil types from coralline sands to moderately acid clays.  It has moderate fertility requirements and will respond to P and K fertilisers when growing on infertile soils.  Its susceptibility to nematodes can limit productive growth to heavier soils, including black clays.  Low salinity tolerance.


It will grow in the humid, sub-humid tropical and subtropical lowlands, under rainfall from 900–2,000 mm.  Under wetter conditions, it behaves as a perennial.  It can stand dry seasons of up to 6 months but may behave as an annual in more arid regions.  It does not like waterlogged conditions but can tolerate short-term flooding.


Broad adaptation to temperature, from warm temperate regions to the tropics, and from sea level to 1,400 m asl in many tropical areas.  Leaves killed by light to moderate frosts.  A. vaginalis is killed by heavy frosts but generally regenerates strongly from seed in the following spring/summer.


Alyce clover grows well under moderate shade and is more vigorous under the canopy of shrubs rather than in the open.  Similar shade tolerance to Desmodium heterocarpon subsp. ovalifolium in a greenhouse study in Malaysia.

Reproductive development

A short-day plant producing relatively high seed yields in the first season of growth.  Seed requires an after-ripening period of approximately 16 weeks to overcome physiological dormancy.  Physical dormancy must also be overcome by abrasive scarification to break the seed coat.


Alyce clover is very tolerant of continuous, heavy grazing and regular mowing.  Under grazing conditions, single plants change from an erect form of growth to a small, flattened rosette.  It is likely that tall erect growth cut at a low level will not recover quickly due to the absence of growing points.


Fire is uncommon in the heavily grazed swards that favour Alyce clover.  A perennial accession of Alyce clover (IRFL 3240) persisted and spread following burning in Florida due to its deep, well-developed crown.  Very hot fires may kill the plant but the species will recover from seed.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Commercial seed of Alysicarpus vaginalis is seldom available.  It has been planted as a hay crop in Mississippi and Florida with seed rates of 10–15 kg/ha, sown into disced strips.  Seed for immediate germination should be scarified but does not require specific inoculant.  No longer commonly planted as an improved pasture or hay crop.


Alyce clover responds well to P, K and S on deficient soils in both native pastures and sown stands.

Compatibility (with other species)

Alyce clover declines under intense competition from vigorous tussock grasses, but combines well with native grasses controlled by heavy grazing.  It can combine well with creeping, sward -forming grasses under grazing and frequent cutting as in lawns.

Companion species

Grasses:  Stenotaphrum secundatum , Bothriochloa pertusa , Dichanthium caricosum .
Legumes:  Desmodium heterophyllum , Atylosia scarabaeoides (as a useful component of naturalised pastures on basaltic slopes at Sigatoka, Fiji).

Pests and diseases

Alysicarpus vaginalis is very susceptible to root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.).  As these are more severe on light soils, the legume often grows best on heavier soils.  Leaves are often severely affected by leaf-mining caterpillars.

Ability to spread

Alyce clover spreads naturally under grazing probably aided by spread of seed in dung.  It becomes more prevalent under grazing.

Weed potential

Common weed of lawns and golf fairways where A. vaginalis persists under regular mowing.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

Crude protein content 16–18%, and IVDMD of 67–73%.


Well eaten by cattle and horses.  Similar palatability to lucerne (Medicago sativa ) and Aechynomene americana under grazing by sheep in a cafeteria trial.


Reported not to cause bloat in cows, presumably due to the presence of condensed tannins in the forage .

Production potential

Dry matter

Yields of hay in southern USA have been 4–6 t/ha.  As a naturalised component of perennial grazed pastures, contributions to total DM yields are low.

Animal production

Steers fed A. vaginalis hay with 0.45 kg/head/day of cottonseed meal gained 0.97 kg/head/day over a 74-day period, in comparison to those fed lucerne (M. sativa ), and bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon ) hay and cottonseed meal, which gained 1.27 and 0.76 kg/head/day respectively.  Steers grazing A. vaginalis pastures during late summer gained an average 0.6 kg/head/day over a 4-year period.


Evaluation of germplasm collections in Florida and Australia has identified both annual and perennial types.

Seed production

Alysicarpus seeds freely and yields of up to 300 kg/ha have been recorded when harvested by combine harvester, or mown and threshed.

Herbicide effects

Severely damaged by acifluorofen, chloramben, paraquat and MSMA.  Tolerant of dinoseb (1.1–3.3 kg/ha), 2,4-DB (0.5 kg/ha), naptalam (0.5 kg/ha) and bentazone (0.8–2.2 kg/ha).  Repeat applications of bentazone at the highest rate caused severe damage.



Selected references

Bagley C.P., Valencia I.M. and Sanders D.E. (1985) Alysceclover – a summer legume for grazing. Louisiana Agriculture, 28, 16–17.
Gramshaw, D., Pengelly, B.C., Muller, F.W., Harding, W.A.T. and Williams, R.J. (1987) Classification of a collection of the legume Alysicarpus using morphological and preliminary agronomic attributes. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 38, 355–372.
Halim, R.A. and Pengelly, B.C. (1992) Alysicarpus vaginalis (L.) DC. In: 't Mannetje, L. and Jones, R.M. (eds) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 4. Forages. pp. 42-44. (Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands).
Kretschmer, A.E. (Jnr) (1970) Production of annual and perennial tropical legumes in mixtures with pangola grass and other grasses in Florida. Proceedings of XI International Grassland Congress, Surfers Paradise, Australia, 1970. pp. 149–153.
Martin, T.J. and Torssell, B.W.R. (1974) Buffalo clover (Alysicarpus vaginalis (L) DC.): a pasture legume in northern Australia. Journal of Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, 40, 232–234.
Muir J.P. and Pitman W.D. (1991) Grazing tolerance of warm-season legumes in peninsular Florida. Agronomy Journal, 83, 297–302.
Partridge I.J. (1979) Improvement of Nadi blue grass (Dichanthium caricosum ) pastures on hill land in Fiji with superphosphate and Siratro: Effects of stocking rate on beef production and botanical composition. Tropical Grasslands, 13, 157–164.

Internet links



Country/date released


‘FL3’ Florida, USA 1989 Developed from PI 538329 for summer hay production in south-eastern USA.  More tolerant or resistant to root-knot nematodes, with the exception of Meloidogyne incognita Race 3.  Seedling vigour and nematode resistance greater than ‘FL5’.  Later maturing than ‘FL5’.
‘FL5’ Florida, USA An early maturing accession developed from PI 217904 for summer hay production in south-eastern USA.  Slightly less susceptible to root-knot nematodes than common A. vaginalis .

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



CPI 60169 Queensland, Australia

Origin Uganda.  Perennial with moderate yield and persistence in experimental plantings in central Queensland, Australia.

CPI 97094 Queensland, Australia Origin Papua New Guinea.  Annual accession with highest yields of all Alysicarpus evaluated in experimental sowings in central Queensland, Australia.  Potential in leys.
CIAT 17360 South America Accession increased in grazed pangola (D. eriantha ) pasture that was occasionally cut for hay in Paraguay.