Centrosema molle

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Flowers (inflorescence is an axillary raceme).

Dehiscent pods (at various stages of maturity) and seeds.

Foliage and flowers.

Twining habit with mature and empty pods.

Twining habit with immature pods.

cv. Cardillo - a white flowered form.

Centrosema molle trial plots in northern Australia.

Suitable for cut and carry, as a groundcover and green manure crop.

Covering a fenceline in northern Australia.

With Panicum maximum.

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

Centrosema molle Mart. ex Benth.

This species has hitherto almost exclusively been referred to as Centrosema pubescens .  Its correct name, however, is C. molle .  Former C. schiedeanum (incl. Belalto centro) is now C. pubescens .


Centrosema pubescens  Benth.


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

Common names


Morphological description

Perennial, trailing-climbing-twining herb with strong taproot system;  under appropriate soil moisture conditions able to root at nodes of trailing stems.  Stems slightly hairy, becoming woody when old.  Leaves trifoliolate, leaflets elliptical, ovate-oblong or ovate-lanceolate, 1-7 cm long, 0.5-4.5 cm wide, rounded at the base and mostly acuminate at the apex, slightly hairy, especially on the lower surface;  petiole up to 5.5 cm long, stipules 2-4 mm long, persistent.  Inflorescence an axillary raceme with 3-5 papilionate flowers, light to dark lilac in colour, sometimes white;  each flower subtended by two striate bracteoles;  calyx campanulate with five unequal teeth;  standard orbicular, up to 3 cm in diameter, hairy on the outside, bright or pale lilac on either side of a median greenish-yellow band with numerous dark violet stripes or blotches;  wings and keel much smaller than the standard, directed upwards.  Pod linear, compressed, 4-17 cm long and 6-7 mm broad, straight to slightly bent and beaked, with prominent margins, dark brown when ripe and containing up to 20 seeds.  Seeds transversely oblong to squarish with rounded corners, 4-5 mm x 3-4 mm x 2 mm in size, brownish-black, mostly with dark mottles;  100-seed weight approx.  2.5 g (approx. 40,000 seeds/kg).


Native to subhumid and humid regions of the New World tropics distributed between 22ºN and 22ºS, particularly frequent in Central America and northern South America.

Now naturalized also in tropical Africa and Asia;  altitudinal range from sea level to 1,600 m asl .


As plantation ground cover, also in grazed pastures in mixture with grasses or as legume-only protein bank (but in the latter form not very persistent);  also as cut-and-carry forage, mainly for fresh consumption;  green manure .


Soil requirements

In general, well-drained soils of medium to high fertility but some germplasm is also adapted to acid soils of somewhat lower fertility;  some tolerance of water-logging.


Most productive under high rainfall conditions (>1,500 mm/year), but because of its taproot system, able to persist also under dry-subhumid conditions with 3-5 dry months.


Warm season growth only.


Shade-tolerant, can persist under 80% shade.

Reproductive development

An indeterminate legume, flowering is induced mainly by photoperiod (short days), but is also favoured by water stress.


Persists under proper grazing and fertilizer management, but is sensitive to overstocking.


Tolerates lenient fire when established;  plant population can also regenerate from soil seed bank.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


In spite of being promiscuous, inoculation of seed with an effective Bradyrhizobium strain is recommended in Australia to optimize establishment.  Seeding rate:  3-5 kg scarified seed/ha or (e.g. when broadcast) more;  full seedbed preparation recommended, sod-seeding also possible.  Slow to establish but on good soils, under appropriate moisture conditions and in pure stands, forming a 40-50 cm thick ground cover 4-8 months after sowing.


With effective Bradyrhizobium strains (e.g., CB 1923 and 2947), N2 fixation estimates 70-280 kg/ha/year in grazed mixtures with grasses;  sensitive to P, K, Ca, Mo deficiency.

Compatibility (with other species)

Quite compatible depending on management (i.e., proper fertilization and stocking);  e.g., persisted in the humid tropics of Australia for more than 11 years in mixture with Panicum maximum .

Companion species

Grasses:  The most suitable grass partner is Panicum maximum ;  other suitable tussock grasses are reported to be Melinis minutiflora , Chloris gayana , Pennisetum purpureum , Paspalum dilatatum , Andropogon gayanus , Hyparrhenia rufa.
Legumes:  As ground cover in southeast Asian plantation agriculture, often in a species mixture with Pueraria phaseoloides , Calopogonium mucunoides and C. caeruleum , also Desmodium ovalifolium

Pests and diseases

Relatively insensitive, but can be affected by Cercospora leaf spot, anthracnose, Rhizoctonia foliar blight, red-spider mites.

Ability to spread

Fairly good, by seed.

Weed potential

In some areas of West Africa considered a weed.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

High CP contents (17-26%), medium IVDMD (45-65%);  in common centro 3-month old leaf, means of 7 cuts:  26% CP, 52% IVDMD , 0.24% P, 0.86% Ca.


High to medium.


None detected so far.

Production potential

Dry matter

In pure stands, up to 12 t/ha/year DM possible;  in mixed pastures, 1-3 t/ha/year (humid tropics, Australia).

Animal production

260-600 kg/ha/year LWG reported for mixtures with a grass (e.g., Panicum maximum ;  humid tropics in Australia, SE Asia);  with daily LWG of 400-600 g/animal under proper grazing management, carrying capacity in the humid tropics can be 900-1000 kg/ha LW.


2n = 22;  considered to be self pollinated (cleistogamous ) but flower colour segregation can frequently be observed.  There have been intents of both intra- and interspecific breeding in Australia and South America, the widest-tested C. molle hybrid accession being CIAT 438.

Seed production

High seed production potential when grown on trellises (200->1000 kg/ha possible, depending on harvesting method);  hardseededness (up to >60%) is common.

Herbicide effects

There is some tolerance to low doses of 2,4-D.



Other comments

Large, quite variable germplasm collection is available at CIAT (Cali, Colombia) for screening for adaptation to particular environments/niches.

Selected references

Fantz, P.R. (1996) Taxonomic notes on the Centrosema pubescens Bentham complex in Central America (Leguminosae: Phaseoleae: Clitoriinae). SIDA, 17, 321-332.
Keller-Grein, G., Schultze-Kraft, R., Franco, L.H. and Ramírez, G. (2000) Multilocational agronomic evaluation of selected Centrosema pubescens germplasm on acid soils. Tropical Grasslands, 34, 65-77.
Schultze-Kraft, R. and Clements, R.J. (eds) (1990) Centrosema : Biology, Agronomy , and Utilization. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia.
Skerman, P.J., Cameron, D.G. and Riveros, F. (1988) Tropical forage legumes. 2nd edn. pp. 243-255. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy).
Teitzel, J.K. and Chen, C.P. (1992) Centrosema pubescens Benth. In: 't Mannetje, L. and Jones, R.M. (eds) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 4. Forages. pp. 86-88. (Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands).
Teitzel, J.K., Wilson, R.J. and Mellor, W. (1991) Productive and stable pasture systems of cattle fattening in the humid tropics. I. Field testing on a naturally fertile site. Agricultural Systems, 36, 251-265.

Internet links




Country/date released


Common centro Australia No formal release;  origin unknown.
Centrosema Comum Brazil No formal release;  origin unknown.
'El Porvenir' Honduras (1990) Origin:  Colombia.
'Villanueva' Cuba (1993) Origin not reported.
'Cardillo' Australia (1995) Origin:  Bolivia;  accession CPI 43197/Q 25261;  particular features:  stoloniferous growth habit ;  combines with Brachiaria decumbens .
'Barinas' Southeast Asia / second half of 1990s No formal release;  origin:  Venezuela;  accession CIAT 15160;  particular features:  good acid soil adaptation, wide adaptability and vigour across different soils and climates.

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



CIAT 5169, 5172, 5634, 15150, 15470, 15872 Tropical America Good acid-soil adaptation, wide adaptability and vigour across different soils and climates;  some with stoloniferous growth habit .