Cleome gynandra 


Common names:
African cabbage, spider wisp (Eng.); oorpeultjie, snotterbelletjie (Afr.); Morotho (Northern Sotho); Muruthu (Venda)
picked leaves of African cabbage

African cabbage is among the herbs that are used as a vegetable to add important nutrients to the diet in rural areas of southern Africa. Analyses have shown that it is rich in minerals, vitamins and amino acids.

It is an erect, annual herb up to 250-600 mm tall, much branched and sometimes becoming woody with age. The stem is sticky with glandular hairs and marked with longitudinal parallel lines. Leaves are palmately compound, with 3-5 leaflets. The leaf stalk is 20-50 mm long with glandular hairs. The leaflets radiate from the tip of the leaf stalk, are 20-100 x 8-40 mm, smooth or with glands, and taper toward the base; on the undersurface, are smooth to finely glandular, and often with scattered multicellular hairs on the main nerves. The inflorescence is a terminal raceme, many-flowered, elongating in fruit; the bract is 3-foliolate to simple above, resembling the leaves but smaller and sessile. The flower stalk is 10-20 mm long with glandular hairs. Petals are white, sometimes fading to rose pink, 10-20 x 3-5 mm, rounded at the apex, abruptly narrowed to a basal claw. The capsule is linear, sub-erect to spreading, 30-150 x 2.5-5 mm; the persistent style is 2 mm long and the valve is thin-textured, glandular with hairs. The seeds are brown, circular in outline, 1.5 mm in diameter, with an obscurely netted surface.

Cleome gynandra is a common, widespread herb occurring in southern Africa extending from the Limpopo, the North-West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, the Northern Cape and Namibia. Being semicultivated as for instance, in the Kentani District of Eastern Cape, has probably extended its distribution. It is probably a native of Africa and now widely distributed in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. The cleome with the large pink or white flowers that is cultivated in flower gardens is C. hassleriana, native to tropical America.

They are pollinated by ants and are mostly adapted to shady places in disturbed areas and around pan edges. Seeds are wind-dispersed.

Use and cultural aspects
Fresh leaves are cooked and eaten as spinach or dried and stored for later use as a relish with porridge. They are rich in magnesium, iron and nicotinic acid.

Growing Cleome gynandra

Cleomes are cultivated from seed. They grow well in fertile and well-drained soil. Care must be taken as slugs and snails can eat whole seedlings. In rural areas it is known as a self-seeding herb of cultivated land and other disturbed areas, requiring little attention.

References and further reading

  • Codd, L.E. & Kers, L.E. 1970. Cleome. Flora of southern Africa 13. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
  • Everett, T.H. 1981. The New York Botanical Garden, vol. 3. Garland, New York & London.
  • Smith, A.W. & Stearn, W.T. 1972. A gardener's dictionary of plant names. Cassel, Sydney, Toronto.
  • Van Rooyen, N., Bezuidenhout, H. & De Kock, E. 2001. Flowering plants of the Kalahari dunes. Ekotrust, South Africa.
  • Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants. Briza Publications, Pretoria.

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