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.
Mr. Cuthbert Makgakga
Pretoria National Botanical Institute