Vigna trilobata

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Foliage with variation in leaf shape.

Prostrate, trailing habit.

Foliage, pods and seeds.

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Scientific name

Vigna trilobata (L.) Verdc.


Dolichos trilobatus L.
Phaseolus trilobatus (L.) Schreb.


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

Common names

african gram, three-lobe-leaf cowpea, jungle mat bean (English);  arak [ark?] moth, jangli (jungli) moth, mugun, mungan, pillipesara, phillipesara (India);  mukni (Pakistan).

Morphological description

Primarily a regenerating annual (occasionally perennial) herb, with (often) reddish, glabrous or rarely pubescent stems, prostrate, trailing (rarely weakly twining) to c. 50 cm.  Leaves trifoliolate, on petioles 1-11 cm long, with leaflets ovate in outline, 0.8-4.5 cm long, 0.6-4 cm wide;  glabrous to sub-glabrous, usually shiny;  margins entire to deeply lobed (lobes distinctly widened above and oblong obtuse or subacute);  stipules peltate, sometimes spurred, ovate, 4-15 mm long.  Inflorescence a few-flowered raceme, with peduncle 2-22.5 cm long;  pedicels 1-2.5 mm long;  calyx 2.5 mm long, glabrous, teeth minute;  corolla yellow, 5-7 mm long.  Pods cylindrical, 1.5-5 cm long, 2.5-3 mm wide, glabrous to sparingly pubescent with short adpressed hairs, black when ripe;  6-12-seeds/pod ;  80,000-130,000 seeds/kg.
Vigna trilobata can be distinguished from the morphologically similar V. aconitifolia by virtue of large oval stipules, the latter having small, linear-lanceolate stipules, and from Vigna radiata var. sublobata in having smaller flowers, pods and seeds and a very long peduncle .


Native to:
Asia:  Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Vietnam.
Africa:  Ghana, Senegal, Sudan.
Australia:  Western Australia.
Indian Ocean:  Madagascar, Mauritius.
South America:  Peru.
Occurs in grassland, on road verges, irrigated land, drain edges and banks of irrigation channels.


V. trilobata is sown in India, Pakistan and the Sudan as a short-term pasture and green manure crop.  During the fallow season, it is allowed to grow for 45-50 days before it is incorporated into the soil.  Sometimes, the green manure is grazed, and allowed to regrow for about a month before being incorporated.  It is also provides human food, the pods being eaten as a vegetable, and seeds cooked.


Soil requirements

Vigna trilobata is largely found on well-drained, alkaline, dark, cracking clay soils, but also on sandy and loamy soils of similar reaction (pH 6.5-9).  Moderately tolerant of salinity, producing 50% maximum growth in soil with electrical conductivity (saturated extract, ECe) of 9.7 dS/m.


Annual rainfall at collection sites ranges from (520-) 700-900 (-1440) mm, with a 5-7 month dry season.  Sometimes found on poorly drained soils.


The species is native to a largely tropical area extending from 24ºN in India to 9ºS in Indonesia, and from near sea level to >700 m asl, mostly equating to average annual temperatures around 25-27ºC.


No information available.

Reproductive development

In Australia, V. trilobata usually flowers within 30 days of sowing.  Under well-watered conditions, flowering and seed set is continuous but sparse. However under moisture stress, plants respond with more dense flowering, far greater seed production and a reduction in vegetative growth.


Tolerant of regular or constant heavy grazing, but not of infrequent heavy grazing, when a bulk of foliage is rapidly removed.


Regenerates from seed.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Although V. trilobata is best sown into a well prepared seedbed, it and other green manures such as Vigna radiata and Tephrosia purpurea are often relay sown into standing rice crops 7-10 days before harvest.


Responds to applications of phosphorus in low P soils.

Compatibility (with other species)

No information available.

Companion species

Grasses:  Panicum coloratum , Panicum maximum , Setaria incrassata .
Legumes:  Clitoria ternatea , Desmanthus spp., Stylosanthes seabrana .

Pests and diseases

No information available.

Ability to spread

It has become weakly naturalised in areas with similar climate and soils to those found in its native distribution.  Populations and yields generally decline following the year of sowing, due largely to competition from weeds and perennial grasses.  Soil seed levels under sown stands have been measured at 200 kg/ha in the first year, declining to about 25 kg/ha in subsequent years.

Weed potential

Not an aggressive species.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

Mean CP level across three sites of about 13% and P level of 0.22%.


A very palatable species, with palatability > Clitoria ternatea , Lablab purpureus , Macroptilium bracteatum , Macrotyloma daltonii and Stylosanthes seabrana .


No suspicion of toxicity.

Production potential

Dry matter

Dry matter yields of the order of about 3 t/ha/yr are achievable, but may be considerably less, depending on rainfall and competition from other species.

Animal production

In the sub-humid subtropics, with a stocking rate of 1.25 ha/steer, V. trilobata provided 104-194 animal grazing days/ha/yr, producing average liveweight gains of 0.55-0.79 kg /steer/day.


V. trilobata can cross with V. aconitifolia, V. radiata and V. mungo when used as the pollen parent, suggesting close affiliations with these species.  It has been proposed as a wild ancestor of moth bean (V.aconitifolia).  2n = 22.

Seed production

No information available.

Herbicide effects

No information available.



Selected references

Armstrong, R.D., McCosker, K.J., Millar, G.R., Walsh, K., Johnson, S. and Probert, M.E. (1997) Improved nitrogen supply to cereals in Central Queensland following short legume leys. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 37, 359-368.
Clem, R.L. and Hall, T.J. (1994) Persistence and productivity of tropical pasture legumes on three cracking clay soils (vertisols) in north-eastern Queensland. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 34, 161-171.
Clem, R.L. (2004) Animal production from legume-based ley pastures in southeastern Queensland. In: Whitbread, A.M. and Pengelly, B.C. (eds) Tropical forage and ley legumes for sustainable farming systems in southern Africa and Australia. ACIAR Proceedings No. 115. pp. 136-144.
Gowda, C.L.L., Ramakrishna, A., Rupela, O.P. and Wani, S.P. (eds) (2001) Legumes in Rice-based Cropping Systems in Tropical Asia Constraints and Opportunities. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancheru 502 324, Andhra Pradesh, India.
Hacker, J.B., Williams, R.J. and Pengelly, B.C. (1996) A characterisation study of the genus Vigna with regard to potential as a forage .  Genetic Resources Communication No 22. CSIRO Division of Tropical Pastures, St Lucia, Qld, Australia.
Jain, H.K. and Mehra, K.L. (1980) Evaluation, adaptation, relationship and cases of the species of Vigna cultivation in Asia. In: Summerfield, R.J. and Bunting, A.H. (eds) Advances in Legume Science. pp. 459-468. (Royal Botanical Garden, Kew).
Keating, B.A., Strickland, R.W. and Fisher, M.J. (1986). Salt tolerance of some tropical pasture legumes with potential adaptation to cracking clay soils. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 26, 181-186.
Leach, G.J., Rees, M.C. and Charles-Edwards, D.A. (1986) Relations between summer crops and ground cover legumes in a subtropical environment. I. Effects of Vigna trilobata ground cover on growth and yield of sorghum and sunflower. Field Crops Research, 15, 17-37.
Marechal,R., Mascherpa, J.M.and Stainer, F. (1978) Étude taxonomique d'un groupe complexe d'espèces des genres Phaseolus et Vigna (Papilionaceae) sur la base de donnees morphologiques et polliniques, traitees par l'analyse informatique. Boissiera, 28, 1-273.
Pengelly, B.C., Blamey, F.P.C. and Muchow, R.C. (1999) Radiation interception and the accumulation of biomass and nitrogen by soybean and three tropical annual forage legumes. Field Crops Research, 63, 99-112.
Tateishi,Y. (1996) Systematics of the species of Vigna subgenus Ceratotropis. In: Mungbean Germplasm : Collection, Evaluation and Utilization for Breeding Program. JIRCAS Working Report No.2. pp. 9-24. (Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Science (JIRCAS), Japan).
Whitbread, A.M. and Clem, B. (2004) Grain sorghum production and soil nitrogen dynamics following ley pastures on a vertosol soil in Queensland, Australia. In: Whitbread, A.M. and Pengelly, B.C. (eds) Tropical forage and ley legumes for sustainable farming systems in southern Africa and Australia. ACIAR Proceedings No. 115. pp. 115-125.

Internet links



Country/date released


None released to date.      

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



CPI 13671 Queensland, Australia Introduced as Phaseolus trilobus from India.  Most vigorous of a limited set of accessions, producing higher vegetative and seed yields than others tested.