Trichanthera gigantea

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Scientific name

Trichanthera gigantea  Nees


Ruellia gigantea Bonpl.


Family: Acanthaceae subfamily: Acanthoideae tribe: Trichanthereae.

Common names

aro blanco, nacedero, rompebarriga, nacedero (Tolima), quiebrabarrigo (Antioquia), cajeto (Ocana), fune, madre de agua (Villavicencio) (Colombia);  suiban, cenicero, (Bolivia);  tuno (Guatemala);  naranjillo (Venezuela);  palo de agua (Panama);  beque, pau santo (Brasil);  trichanthera (English).

Morphological description

A shrub or small tree to 5 m, occasionally up to 15 m, with a rounded crown.  Branches are quadrate with rounded angles, the tips covered with minute brown hairs.  Leaves ovate to oblong, narrowing at both ends and concave approaching the apex, 26 x 14 cm;  hairless or pubescent along the venation;  petioles 1-5 cm long.  Inflorescence is a compact terminal panicle 5-15 cm long, Flowers have small triangular bracts to 3 mm;  the calyx is 10-12 mm long with segments 10 x 5 mm and rounded at the apex.  Corolla is red and hairless near the axis, and yellowish with short silky hairs furthest from the axis, 3-4 cm long.  Fruits contain 35-40 seeds each and there are 4,000,000 seeds/kg.
Wood is light, with pith large and septate.  In common with other acanthaceous plants, Trichanthera gigantea has small mineral concretions called cystoliths, appearing as minute short lines on the upper surface of the leaf blades, the upper portions of the stems, on the branches of the inflorescence and on the calyx .


Native to:
Streams and swampy areas and wet forests of Central America and northern countries of South America.  Occurs from Costa Rica and Panama in Central America, east through Colombia and western Venezuela, and south through Ecuador and Peru.


In agriculture, trichanthera is used as a forage, living fence and shade tree .  It is also used to protect water springs from degradation through stream bank erosion.
Farmers in Colombia have used trichanthera as an indigenous medicinal plant to treat conditions in humans and domestic animals.  In humans, it is used as a blood tonic, to treat nephritis and as a lactogenic drink for nursing mothers.  In domestic animals, it is used to treat colic and hernia in horses, and retained placenta in cows.  Sprouts are used for human consumption in maize porridge.


Soil requirements

Well adapted to acid-infertile soils of pH down to 4.5.


Adapted to 1,500-3,000 mm annual rainfall environments with outer limits of 1,000 mm and over 5,000 mm.  Although common to stream banks, it requires well-drained soils.  Will drop its leaves during dry periods, but leaves regrow rapidly following rain.


A lowland species from the humid tropics, trichanthera performs best at mean temperatures of approximately 30°C.  It does not tolerate frost.


Has considerable shade tolerance.  In Vietnam, produced 34% higher yield under shade of bananas planted at 5 m x 5 m spacing, compared with sun-grown plants.  Advantage has been made of shade tolerance by growing trichanthera under leucaena (Leucaena spp.) and other agroforestry species.
Stem cuttings will readily form roots in full sun or in light shade.

Reproductive development

Obligate outcrossing species pollinated by bats, birds, ants and large bees.  Germination percentage is very low, at 0-2%.  Propagation is generally by stem cuttings.


Tolerant of regular defoliation by cutting.  No information on direct grazing was cited.


No information available.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Generally established from stem cuttings that strike roots easily.  Cuttings 2.2-2.8 mm in diameter, 20 cm long and with at least 2 leaf buds were most effective in striking roots (92% of cuttings).  Larger and longer cuttings were less successful.  Cuttings should be selected from the basal part of young stems.  Strike rate has been improved by storing cuttings in a shaded place for one day prior to planting into a nursery bed.  Cuttings produce shoots in about one month and can be planted into the field after about 50 days.  Spacings vary from 0.5 to 1.0 m apart and can be planted in a block or as a twin-hedgerow along fence lines.


Responds well to fertilizer application despite being adapted to acid-infertile soils.  In Vietnam, DM yield increased from 5 to 9 t/ha when manure application was increased from 15 to 30 t/ha.  In low fertility soils, produces an almost linear response to N fertiliser up to 240 kg/ha, with an optimum return on costs at 160 kg/ha N.
The vigorous regrowth of trichanthera under heavy cutting regimes has led to speculation that N-fixation may occur through the action of mychorrhiza or other organisms.

Compatibility (with other species)

Not grown as a forage for direct grazing.

Companion species

Can be grown in association with a range of over-story agroforestry species due to its shade tolerance.  Has been grown underneath bananas, Leucaena and Gliricidia.

Pests and diseases

None reported in the literature.

Ability to spread

Stems that contact the ground, either through bending or breakage, will root at the nodes to form new plants.  Spread is very slow and will not occur under regular cutting.

Weed potential

Weed potential is unknown, but is likely to be very limited due to the poor germinability of seed and the slow spread from stems.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

Moderate to high nutritive quality depending on provenance.  Contains high concentrations of water-soluble carbohydrates and starch, and low NDF.  CP content ranges from 12-22%, IVDMD ranges from 45-60% and 24 hr in sacco DMD ranges from 50-70%.  Contains comparatively high ash and calcium concentrations at 16-20% and 2.4-3.8% of DM, respectively.  The high ash and Ca concentrations may be related to the presence of cystoliths, small mineral concretions on the leaves and stems.  Suitable as a feed for non-ruminants.


Well accepted by a range of domestic animals, including pigs and other monogastrics, after a period of familiarisation.  Palatability may change with provenance .


None reported.  Contains no saponins or condensed tannins, but contains varying concentrations of steroids and other phenolic compounds, possibly including hydrolysable tannins.  Concentrations depend on provenance .

Production potential

Dry matter

Produces 3-6 t/ha DM in acid-infertile soils at spacings of 10,000-40,000 plants/ha.  Yields of up to 12 t/ha/year DM have been reported in environments more conducive to growth.  As a living fence planted as a twin hedgerow at 1 x 1 m spacing, trichanthera has produced approximately 0.7 t/linear km/month DM.

Animal production

No reports of ruminant production from trichanthera were cited.  Reasonable LWGs for 35-day old New Zealand rabbits were obtained by replacing 30% of concentrate feed with trichanthera.  Although the feed conversion ratio was poorer using trichanthera (4.3 compared with 3.5 for concentrate feed), the LWG remained constant at 32 g/day.
For the feeding of pregnant pigs, replacement of up to 30% soybean meal produced an economic benefit without affecting reproductive performance.  Results with growing pigs were poor, with LWGs decreasing and conversion ratios increasing as soybean meal was increasingly replaced with trichanthera leaf.


A study of 22 provenances of T. gigantea identified considerable variation in DM production and forage quality.  Provenances from Cauca Valley in Colombia had high IVDMD and low biomass production, whereas those from Venezuela had low IVDMD and high biomass production.

Seed production

Seed is very small (4,000,000/kg) and is produced in small fruits weighing about 0.9 g each and containing 35-40 seeds.  Seed germination is very poor at 0-2%.  Propagation is almost exclusively by stem cuttings.

Herbicide effects

No information available.



Other comments

Trichanthera is a relatively new forage in terms of international evaluation.  There are conflicting anecdotes regarding its palatability to ruminant livestock, but this may simply be an issue of familiarisation.  Considerably more work is required to determine best provenances for forage production.

Selected references

Rosales, M. (1997) Trichanthera gigantea (Humboldt & Bonpland.) Nees: A Review. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 9, 4.

Internet links



Country/date released


None released to date.      

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



Cauca Valley, Colombia provenances.    These provenances had high IVDMD and low biomass production.
Venezuelan provenances.    Low IVDMD and high biomass production.