Canavalia brasiliensis

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Inflorescences (axillary racemes), and foliage.

Pods and seeds.

First flower emerging from new inflorescence.

Twining foliage and trifoliolate leaves.

Growing on trellis.

Short-lived sprawling perennial.

Early stage of growth.

Suitable as a groundcover and green manure crop.

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Scientific name

Canavalia brasiliensis Mart. ex Benth.


Canavalia anomala Piper
Canavalia caribaea Urb.
Canavalia fendleri Piper
Canavalia leptophylla Piper
Canavalia mexicana Piper
Canavalia panamensis Piper
Canavalia paraguayensis Piper
Canavalia prolifica Piper ex Ricker


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

Common names

Brazilian jackbean, Feijão bravo do Ceará (Brazil).

Morphological description

Weakly perennial, prostrate to twining herbaceous legume.  Leaves are trifoliolate, leaflets ovate with acute apex, 12-15 cm long and 8-11 cm wide, almost glabrous.  Inflorescences are axillary racemes, 12-26 cm long, with purple flowers, 2-2.5 cm long.  Pods are glabrous, 12-20 cm long and approx.  1 cm wide, of brown to dark-brown color, dehiscent with an average of 12 seeds.  Seeds are light brown to brown, approx. 11 mm long and 8 mm wide, with a black hilum, 6 mm long.  1,000-seed weight is 590-730 g.  There is a high level of hardseededness .


Native to:
A New World species with a very wide natural distribution that extends from north of the Tropic of Cancer in Sinaloa, Mexico to 27°S in northeast Argentina.  There are three major distribution centres in (a) Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, (b) Paraguay, northeast Argentina and southern Brazil, and (c) northeast Brazil.


Mainly as green manure, fallow and erosion control.  In view of its ample and deep root system, the species can contribute to amelioration of soil structure, to stabilization of erosion prone sites and to nutrient cycling.
Because of the medium decomposition and N mineralization rates of the biomass, nutrient release synchronizes well with the nutrient demand of annual crops such as maize and rice, when the green manure biomass is incorporated before sowing of the succeeding crop.  As a result, N recovery is higher than for most other green manure plants and can reach N recovery rates of mineral N fertilizer.
C. brasiliensis is also used to improve the value of stubble grazing during the dry season.  In poor regions of northeast Brazil, seed is used as food in times of low food availability.


Soil requirements

Grows well on a wide range of soils, from very acid (pH 4.3) to alkaline (pH 8.0) and is adapted to low fertility conditions.  Root growth and biomass production are affected by soil compaction, though less than in the case of C. ensiformis.  There are indications of salinity tolerance, however the information available is not conclusive.


It survives and can stay green during 5-6 months of dry period and is highly productive under favorable conditions.  It regrows quickly at the onset of the rains and as a result can suppress weeds.


No information available.


No information available.

Reproductive development

Good seed producer.


No information available.


No information available.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Scarification of seeds before sowing is necessary to break hardseededness and to subsequently obtain even establishment.  With 75 minutes sulphuric acid or 30 minutes hot water (80°C) treatment, germination rates of 80% and 50%, respectively, can be achieved.
C. brasiliensis is sown in rows 40-50 cm apart and with 20 cm distance between plants in the row, equivalent to 50 kg/ha seed.  For seed production, seeds are sown in rows 1 m apart and 20 cm between-plant distance, equivalent to 20-30 kg/ha of seed.  Seed is sown at a depth of 2-5 cm.


Though C. brasiliensis is adapted to low fertility soils, superphosphate fertilization will enhance establishment and growth.

Compatibility (with other species)

No information available.

Companion species


Pests and diseases

No information available.

Ability to spread

No information available.

Weed potential

No information available.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

There is little information on herbage quality of C. brasiliensis and no feeding trials are reported.  According to one study, the biomass contains 44.5% C; 3.71% N; 33.5% ADF; 44.1% NDF; 10.6% hemicellulose; 6.52% lignin; 8.42% polyphenols; in vitro dry matter digestibility is 69.6%.  C/N ratio is 12-16.  Seeds contain 31.9-41.6% crude protein, 52.3% carbohydrates, 12.3% crude fibre, 2.8% ash and 1.2% oil.  In recent studies at CIAT analyzing 8-week-old material of 47 accessions of C. brasiliensis , N values ranged between 3.07 and 4.03%, and IVDMD  between 76.6 and 84.6%.  Limiting amino acids are methionin, cystein and tryptophan.  C. brasiliensis has high lysine content and could be used as a component in concentrates for poultry and swine.


In Central America, cattle readily use crop residues improved with C. brasiliensis in the dry season.  There is a report from Nicaragua that herbage is well accepted by sheep and goats.


About 35% of total nitrogen is non-protein nitrogen, with the toxic amino acid canavanin contributing the major part.  The main storage protein is analogous to the canavalin found in C. ensiformis.  The concentration of the toxic amino acid canavanin in the seed is about 5% of DM.  The mechanism of its antinutritional effect is not yet clear;  however it is assumed that canavanin acts as an anti- metabolite to arginin.  Other antinutritive components include the trypsin inhibitors, concanavalin Br, canavanin and canatoxin.  The lectin concanavalin Br forms about 20% of total protein.  It has a similar amino acid sequence to lectin ConA found in C. ensiformis, but has a higher reactivity and led to higher biological reactions in trials with rats;  the lectin itself is indigestible and reduces through legation with carbohydrates also their digestibility.  Through inhibition of digestive enzymes and attachment to glycolipids and glycoproteins of the mucus membrane of the digestive tract, it affects digestibility in general, including protein digestibility.  Moreover, the lectin affects the immune system, the protein metabolism and hormone regulation.
In a feeding trial with rats, untreated seed led to a pronounced reduction of intake, protein digestibility and protein utilization;  bodyweight was reduced and protein deficiency and direct effects of canavanin resulted in hypertrophy of inner organs.  To inactivate the antinutritional compounds, seeds need to be broken, soaked in water for 48 hours and subsequently cooked for one hour.  In Brazil, toxicity of herbage to ruminants is reported;  however, under crop residue grazing in Central America with C. brasiliensis contributing with less than 20% to the diet, no negative effects on cattle were observed.

Production potential

Dry matter

5-10 t/ha/year.

Animal production

No information available.


2n = 22.

Seed production

No information available.

Herbicide effects

No information available.



Other comments


Selected references

Alvarenga, R.C., Costa, L.M. da, Moura Filho, W. and Regazzi, A.J. (1995) Caracteristicas de alguns adubos verdes de interesse para a conservação e recuperação de solos. Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira, 30, 175-185.
Alvarenga, R.C., Costa, L.M. da, Moura Filho, W. and Regazzi, A.J. (1996) Crescimento de raizes de leguminosas em camadas de solo compactadas artificialmente. Revista-Brasileira de Ciência do Solo, 20, 319-326.
Alvarenga, R.C., Costa, L.M. da, Moura Filho, W. and Regazzi, A.J. (1997) Produção de materia seca e absorção de nutrientes por leguminosas, em resposta a compactação do solo. Revista Ceres, 44(254), 421-431.
Barcellos, G.B.S., Almeida, L.M., Moreira, R.A., Cavada, B.S., Oliveira, J.T.A. de and Carlini, C.R. (1993) Canatoxin-, concanavalin A- and canavalin-cross-reactive materials during maturation of Canavalia brasiliensis (Mart.) seeds. Planta, 18 , 397-402.
Burle, M.L., Suhet, A.R., Pereira, J., Resck, D.V.S., Peres, J.R.K., Cravo, M.S., Bowen, W.T., Bouldin, D.R. and Lathwell, D.J. (1992) Legume green manures. Dry season survival and the effect on succeeding maize crops. Soil Mgmt CRSP Bull . 92-04.
Burle, M.L., Lathwell, D.J., Suhet, A.R., Bouldin, D.R., Bowen, W.T. and Resck, D.V.S. (1999) Legume survival during the dry season and its effect on the succeeding maize yield in acid savannah tropical soils. Trop. Agric. (Trinidad), 76 , 217-221.
Carlini, C.R. and Udedibie, A.B. (1997) Comparative Effects of Processing Methods on Hemagglutinating and Antitryptic Activities of Canavalia ensiformis and Canavalia braziliensis Seeds. J. Agric. Food Chem., 45 , 4372-4377.
Carvalho, A.M. de and Sodre Filho, J. (2000) Uso de adubos verdes como cobertura do solo. Boletim de Pesquisa - Embrapa Cerrados No.11. Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA) Cerrados, Planaltina, Brazil.
Cobo, J.G., Barrios, E., Kass, D.C.L. and Thomas, R. (2002) Nitrogen mineralization and crop uptake from surface-applied leaves of green manure species on a tropical volcanic-ash soil. Biol. Fertil. Soils, 36 , 87-92.
Cobo, J.G., Barrios, E., Kass, D.C.L. and Thomas, R. (2002) Decomposition and nutrient release by green manures in a tropical hillside agroecosystem. Plant and Soil, 240 , 331-342.
Cruz, M.S.D., Perez Urria, E., Martin, L., Avalos, A. and Vicente, C. (1995) Factors affecting germination of Canavalia brasiliensis , Leucaena leucocephala , Clitoria ternatea and Calopogonium mucunoides seeds. Seed Science and Technology, 23 , 447-454.
Grangeiro, T.B., Schriefer, A., Calvete, J.J., Raida, M., Urbanke, C., Barral-Netto, M. and Cavada, B.S. (1997) Molecular cloning and characterization of ConBr, the lectin of Canavalia brasiliensis seeds. European Journal of Biochemistry, 248 , 43-48.
Lathwell, D.J. (1990) Legume Green Manures, Principles for Management based on recent research. TropSoils Bulletin No. 90-01 , Raleigh, NC.
Moreira, R. de A., Silva, L.M. de A., Horta, A.C.G., Oliveira, J.T.A. and Cavada, B.S. (1993) Lectin from Canavalia brasiliensis Mart. Behaviour during maturation and detection of a lectin precursor. Revista Brasileira de Fisiologia Vegetal., 5 , 133-138.
Sauer, J. (1964) Revision of Canavalia. Brittonia, 16 , 106-181.
Vidal, M. de F., Romero, R. E. and Oliveira, T. S. de (2000) Imobilização de nutrientes e produção de materia seca em condiçoes de salinidade e sodicidade crescentes no solo. Revista Ceres, 47 (272), 363-373.

Internet links



Country/date released


None released to date.



Promising accessions

Promising accessions



CIAT 17009 Nicaragua, Colombia, Honduras.
A collection of 53 accessions is currently (2004) under evaluation at CIAT.