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Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia)


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Common names 

Mexican sunflower, tithonia, tree marigold, Japanese sunflower, Mexican tournesol, Bolivian sunflower, Nitobe chrysanthemum, shrub sunflower, wild sunflower [English]; tournesol mexicain [French]; fleur la fête des mères, petite fleur soleil [French créole]; árbol maravilla, falso girasol, guasmara, jalacate, árnica de la tierra, girasolillo, crisantemo de Nitobe, margarita gigante, tornasol mexicano, girasol mexicano, girasol japonés, margarita isleña, margaritona [Spanish]; margaridão-amarelo, girassol mexicano [Portuguese]; Mexikanische Sonnenblume [German]; harsaga, kembang mbulan [Indonesian]; dã quỳ [Vietnamese]; ニトベギク [Japanese]; காட்டுச் சூரியகாந்தி [Tamil]; บัวตอง [Thai]


Mirasolia diversifolia Hemsl

Related feed(s) 

Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia (Hemsl.) A. Gray) is a tropical herb or shrub cultivated in many countries of Africa, Asia, and South America for its multipurpose value. As fodder, it is rich in protein, valuable for ruminants and rabbits, but less for poultry and pigs, probably due to the presence of fibre and antinutritional factors.


Tithonia diversifolia is a woody herb or succulent shrub, stoloniferous, annual or perennial, that can reach a height of 2 to 3 m (Gualberto et al., 2011). It has a taproot with many fine secondary roots (Mwango et al., 2014). The herbaecous mass can develop from subterranean stolons. The leaves are alternate or opposite, sub-ovate, densely pubescent, 5-17 cm long x 3.5-12 cm broad. Each mature stem may bear several large yellow flowers, up to 12 cm in diameter (CABI, 2014; GISD, 2012; Orwa et al., 2009).


Mexican sunflower is used for a variety of purposes: ornamental, fuel, compost, land demarcation, soil erosion control, soil remediation, building materials and shelter for poultry (CABI, 2014Devide, 2013Olabode et al., 2007). It is considered to be a weed in some areas (GISD, 2012). Mexican sunflower is commonly used as fodder for ruminants and rabbits, who can eat the leaves, soft branches and flowers. Its potential has been tested in pigs and poultry (Gualberto et al., 2011Orwa et al., 2009) with mixed results.


Mexican sunflower is native from Mexico and Central America. It was introduced into tropical regions of Asia and Africa, into Australia and several Pacific islands, including Hawaii, French Polynesia and New Caledonia (USDA, 2014). It escaped from cultivation and is now growing wild in many tropical regions (CABI, 2014). In Kenya, Mexican sunflower is one of the most popular indigenous fodder tree species in the sub-humid highlands, where it is frequently coppiced and even uprooted (Roothaert et al., 1997).

Mexican sunflower is a fast-growing plant that tolerates heat and drought and can rapidly form large herbaceous shrubs (CABI, 2014). It is adaptable to most soils. It is found in disturbed areas, abandoned and waste lands, along roadsides and waterways and on cultivated farmlands (GISD, 2012; Olabode et al., 2007). It can be found from sea level up to an altitude of 1500 m (Sosef et al., 1997).

Forage management 

Establishment and yields

Mexican sunflower can be easily propagated by direct seeding or by planting of 20-30 cm long cuttings from green stems, at a spacing of 0.5-0.75 m x 0.75 m (Devide, 2013Orwa et al., 2009). It is easy to grow and does not require fertilizer or special attention (Devide, 2013). It tolerates regular heavy pruning (Sosef et al., 1997). Post-flowering cuttings result in higher yields than pre-flowering cuttings (Devide, 2013). In Côte d’Ivoire, annual biomass yields of 60 t/ha have been obtained at cutting intervals of 4 months (Sosef et al., 1997).

Environmental impact 

Weed control and invasiveness

Mexican sunflower is a pioneering species that grows quickly and produces significant amounts of seeds. It can grow from its subterranean stolons and forms dense stands that prevent the growth of young native plants (CABI, 2014). In Thailand, it was used successfully to control Echinochloa colona in rice fields, where it increased rice tillering, leaf area and rice biomass production (Abeysekara et al., 1993). However, Mexican sunflower is considered to be invasive in some parts of Africa and Australia, and in many Pacific islands (CABI, 2014GISD, 2012).

Crop and soil improver, soil erosion control and soil remediation

Mexican sunflower produces a nutrient-rich (N, K and P) biomass and its positive effect on subsequent rice and maize crops has been reported from Africa and Brazil (Devide, 2013; Olabode et al., 2007; Jama et al., 2000). Its abundance and adaptability, coupled with its rapid growth rate and very high vegetative matter turnover, makes it a candidate species for soil rejuvenation and improvement, as a green manure or as a major component of compost manure. Different practices have been reported: Mexican sunflower can be left to decompose on the field, or it can be turned into green manure (Olabode et al., 2007; Bot et al., 2001). In the latter case, leaves and soft twigs should be cut and chopped into small pieces before flowering and the resulting mixture evenly spread on the ground before being incorporated in the soil (Bot et al., 2001). In Kenya, Mexican sunflower green manure is profitable for high-value crops such as Brassica sp., French beans, tomatoes and Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) (Bot et al., 2001). In the Philippines, 1 to 2 tons of freshly chopped Mexican sunflower forage had a positive effect on a sweet potato crop (Pandosen, 1986). From the Philippines, it was also reported that Mexican sunflower could be a potential organic foliar fertilizer for rapeseed (Dela Pena et al., 2013). Mexican sunflower has a positive effect on crop yields when used in intercropping (Orwa et al., 2009).

Mexican sunflower was used to control soil erosion in the Usambara mountains of Tanzania, but it was not as effective as Napier grass or Guatemala grass (Tripsacum andersonii) (Mwango et al., 2014). In Brazil, Mexican sunflower was used for soil remediation along roadsides where heavy metals, and particularly lead, accumulate (Olivares, 2003).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Tithonia diversifolia foliage is rich in protein and comparable to forage legumes in that respect. However, variability is high with protein content ranging from 12% to more than 30% DM, depending on the stage of maturity and on the proportion of stems in the fodder. Likewise, fibre content is highly variable: ADF content varies from 23% to more than 40%. One study found that nutritive value was highest in the vegetative stage and decreased sharply during flowering (Navarro et al., 1990 cited by Perez et al., 2009), but another study reported very low protein values even at the pre-flowering stage (Gualberto et al., 2011). Stems were found to contain less than 10% DM of protein (Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008). Tithonia foliage is rich in minerals (10-16% DM), particularly calcium.

Potential constraints 

Antinutritional factors

Mexican sunflower contains limited amounts of secondary metabolites (tannins, flavonoids, esteroids, alkaloids, saponins, terpenoids and anthocyanidins) that can act as antinutritional factors (Delgado et al., 2010). Though these antinutritional factors are in much lower concentrations that in other tropical forages, such as Leucaena leucocephala, it can be useful to reduce their level through air-drying (Odedire et al., 2011Delgado et al., 2010). Decreases in white blood cell content have been observed in pigs and poultry fed increasing amounts of dried Tithonia diversifolia forage (Olayeni et al., 2006). This could be explained by the presence of terpenoids (sesquiterpene lactones) in the leaves (Dutta et al., 1986).


Mexican sunflower foliage is a valuable fodder for ruminants, due to its high protein content and relatively high digestibility and degradability (Gallego-Castro et al., 2014; Mahecha et al., 2005). However, the expression of this potential requires supplementation with fermentable carbohydrates to improve rumen microbial growth, and/or to increase the supply of bypass protein (Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008). Most studies of Mexican sunflower foliage have involved sheep and goats.


In Venezuela, a series of comparisons of the palatability for cattle, sheep and goats of 11 tropical fodders showed that Tithonia diversifolia had a moderate palatability, much lower than that of Chlorophora tinctoria and white mulberry (Morus alba) for all three livestock species. It was less palatable than Leucaena leucocephala but as palatable as Gliricidia sepium for cattle and sheep, though Leucaena and Gliricidia were more palatable to goats. These differences may be explained by the presence of secondary metabolites such as polyphenols, terpens and saponins (Garcia et al., 2008a; Garcia et al., 2008b; Garcia et al., 2008c; Garcia et al., 2009a; Garcia et al., 2009b).

Digestibility and degradability

Tithonia diversifolia foliage was found to have a high in sacco DM degradability with values well above 75% when harvested after 70 days of growth (Rosales, 1996; Mahecha et al., 2005; La O León et al., 2008Naranjo et al., 2011). The highest DM degradability was recorded between 70 and 90 days (La O León et al., 2008). A lower value for effective DM degradability was reported from Nigeria (63%), but this value was still comparable to that reported in the same paper for Gliricidia and higher than those of tropical grasses (Osuga et al., 2006). In vitro DM digestibility was also high (71-75%), with only a slight decrease between 60 and 120 days of growth (Verdecia et al., 2011). In vivo DM digestibility was variable, with reported values ranging from 57 to 74% (Nguyen Van Sao et al., 2010; Nguyen Thi Thu Hong et al., 2013; Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008). Methane production from a mixture of Tithonia diversifolia foliage with Cynodon nlemfuensis was lower than that of the grass alone (Delgado et al., 2012). The association of Tithonia diversifolia with Brachiaria brizantha at different levels had little effect on methane emissions, either at booting or pre-flowering stage (Mauricio et al., 2014).

The protein of Mexican sunflower foliage is both highly digestible and highly degradable. In vitro protein digestibility was found to be 77-79% (Verdecia et al., 2011). In vivo protein digestibility ranged from 68 to 84% (Nguyen Van Sao et al., 2010Nguyen Thi Thu Hong et al., 2013Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008). In sacco protein degradability of Mexican sunflower foliage was high (more than 80%, Mahecha et al., 2005; Naranjo et al., 2011). As a consequence, N excretion was higher and N retention was lower in growing goats fed withTithonia fed alone compared to Stylosanthes or jackfruit foliage fed alone (Nguyen Van Sao et al., 2010), or with Tithonia supplemented with cassava roots and/or mulberry foliage (Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008).

Dairy cattle

Mexican sunflower could be a potentially valuable forage for dairy cows though only one trial had been reported at the time of writing (December 2014). In Colombia, Tithonia diversifolia foliage replaced up to 35% (5.6 kg/d/head of fresh foliage) of the concentrate supplementation for grazing dairy cattle with no effect on milk production and quality (Mahecha et al., 2007).


Growing sheep

In Sri Lanka, in growing sheep fed rice straw supplemented with sun-dried Leucaena, Gliricidia or Tithonia diversifolia foliage (13 g DM/kg W0.75), Tithonia gave the best DM intake and OM diet digestibility but the lowest daily weight gain, though the gain was higher than that obtained with cassava foliage (Premaratne et al., 1997; Premaratne et al., 1998). In growing sheep fed a basal diet of rice straw and cassava, the inclusion of 30% Tithonia diversifolia increased DM intake, digestibilities of DM and OM, microbial protein efficiency and daily weight gain (Premaratne et al., 1998Premaratne et al., 1997). In Nigeria, in pre-weaned lambs fed a basal diet of Guinea grass (Megathyrsus maximus), Tithonia diversifolia foliage was included at 30% of the concentrate diet, partially replacing wheat bran (Ekeocha, 2012b).


In Nigeria, Tithonia diversifolia foliage was included at 30% of the diet to replace part of the wheat bran for pregnant ewes (Ekeocha et al., 2012bEkeocha et al., 2013), and lactating ewes (Ekeocha, 2012fEkeocha et al., 2012c) fed a basal diet of Guinea grass. In Cameroon, Mexican sunflower leaves replaced part or all of wheat bran in multinutrient blocks used to supplement Brachiaria ruziziensis straw. There was no effect of diet DM digestibility but there were negative effects on palatability, N digestibility and N retention (Zogang et al., 2012Zogang et al., 2013).


In Vietnam, several trials have assessed the potential of Tithonia diversifolia forage as a basal diet for growing goats. In one experiment, Tithonia fed alone led to a higher DM intake than when it was supplemented with Guinea grass, jackfruit foliage, banana leaves or Calliandra calothyrsus foliage, but N retention was lowest and N excretion was highest, indicating that supplementation is necessary (Nguyen Van Sao et al., 2010). In a later trial, jackfruit foliage and cassava foliage were found to give better DM intake and daily gain than Guinea grass and banana leaves when used to supplement Tithonia foliage (1% body weight, DM basis) (Ngo Hong Chin et al., 2012). Another trial found that supplementation of Tithonia with Sesbania sesban and/or Mimosa pigra increased DM intake and N retention when compared to Tithonia fed alone (Nguyen Thi Thu Hong et al., 2013). In Sri Lanka, DM intake and OM digestiblity were higher with fresh Tithonia diversifolia fed alone than with Tithonia hay. Supplementation of Tithonia hay with mulberry leaves and/or cassava chips increased N retention without affecting DM intake. Mulberry leaves were a better supplement than banana leaves, jackfruit leaves or Erythrina poeppigiana leaves (Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008).

In Kenya, two experiments assessed the potential of Tithonia diversifolia as a protein supplement for growing goats fed a basal diet of urea-treated maize stover. In the first experiment, Tithonia was found to be a good alternative to Calliandra calothyrsus and Sesbania sesban as a protein supplement, as it resulted in significantly higher daily gain than the other supplements (Wambui et al., 2006b). A second trial showed that Tithonia diversifolia could be included up to a level of 30% (DM basis) in the diet for optimal performance (Wambui et al., 2006b).

In Nigeria, Tithonia diversifolia leaf meal was included at up to 30% (fully replacing soybean meal) in the concentrate, fed to growing goats receiving a basal diet of Guinea grass, with no adverse effect on average daily gain and FCR, though protein digestibility and nitrogen retention were reduced when Tithonia leaf meal was included at more than 10% (Odedire et al., 2014).


Mexican sunflower leaf meal

Mexican sunflower leaf meal is rich in protein and, in Nigeria, has been assessed as a potential replacement for soybean meal in pig diets. A first trial found that Mexican sunflower leaf meal could be included in pig diets at up to 20% without significant adverse effects on performance (Olayeni et al., 2006). However, later trials showed that inclusion rates higher than 10% resulted in lower growth performance and N retention, and in poorer FCR (Fasuyi et al., 2013aFasuyi et al., 2013b; Fasuyi et al., 2011b). Including mexican sunflower at 10% had no effect on carcass weight but reduced chest width, leg length and back fat (Fasuyi et al., 2012). The inclusion of Mexican sunflower leaf meal negatively affected white blood cells and platelets and, when included at more than 20% in the diet, caused severe epithelial erosion and hemorrages (Fasuyi et al., 2013a; Olayeni et al., 2006).

Mexican sunflower silage

In Vietnam, a silage made of Mexican sunflower foliage and taro leaves (50:50 DM basis with 5% molasses) fed to 60-kg fattening pigs replaced up to 20% DM of a diet based on rice bran, broken rice, soybean meal and fish meal without hindering performance (Nguyen Thi Hong Nhan et al., 2011).


Mexican sunflower leaf meal is rich in protein but its high fibre content and potential toxicity limit its use in poultry, where it can serve essentially as a substitute for other fibre-rich sources such as cereal bran. Generally, it is not recommended to use Tithonia diversifolia leaf meal in poultry diets, since most feeding trials have reported a reduction in performance when it was included. Only low levels (e.g. 5%) may be used in situations if an economic benefit is required.

In broilers, a decrease in growth was observed at inclusion rates as low as 2.5%, and this effect was amplified at higher levels (Ekeocha, 2012a). Feed intake was also affected above 5% inclusion. Decreased performance and negative effects on reproductive organs were observed in male breeders fed more than 10% Tithonia leaf meal (Togun et al., 2006b). In layers, performance was affected above 10% of the diet, with a significant reduction in feed conversion (Odunsi et al., 1996). In trials with ducks, geese and turkeys, including more than 5-7% Tithonia leaf meal significantly depressed performance, and lower inclusion rates resulted in a level of performance below that obtained with control diets (Ekeocha, 2012c; Ekeocha, 2012d; Ekeocha, 2012e).


Fresh leaves

In several American and African tropical countries, Tithonia diversifolia is commonly used by smallholders as green forage for rabbits; examples are from Bolivia and Venezuela (Nieves et al., 2010; Hernández et al., 2014), Kenya and South-Western Nigeria (Ekeocha, 2012fLamidi et al., 2013Roothaert et al., 1997). Fresh leaves have been used with success as the sole feed for growing rabbits, and in other experiments as the control feed to compare the efficiency of other green forages as sole feeds (Omole et al., 2007). Used as a sole feed, the DM, protein and crude fibre digestibilities of Mexican sunflower foliage are 74, 68 and 63%, respectively, which demonstrates its value as an energy forage and as a source of digestible protein (digestible protein 11% DM). Fresh leaves were also used as a forage distributed with a concentrate in the control diet of studies about the nutritive value of other raw materials (Oluokun, 2005).

Dried leaf meal

Dried leaves of Tithonia diversifolia were used at up to 15-18% in compound diets for growing rabbits, without alteration of growth and slaughter characteristics (Adam, 2013; Nieves et al., 2010; Togun et al., 2006a). The estimated DM and protein digestibility (54% and 64%, respectively, Nieves et al., 2010) were slightly lower than those estimated for the fresh leaves reported above but higher than the average values accepted for dehydrated alfalfa. The calculated digestible energy in this study was 8.94 MJ/kg DM, i.e. about 8% higher than alfalfa (Nieves et al., 2010).

In Nigeria, dried Tithonia leaves were included in the diet of breeding does without alteration of fertility or prolificacy, but the highest tested level was 7.2% of the diet (Ayodele et al., 2014). Several trials in Nigeria have reported good results for growth and reproduction obtained with a 2:1 mixture of Mexican sunflower leaf meal and dried blood, mostly replacing oil meals. The inclusion of this mixture at up to 15% of the diet induced similar or slightly improved growth performance without alteration of serum parameters or reproductive aptitudes of males (Ajayi et al., 2007; Ajayi et al., 2009Ajayi et al., 2012Olabanji et al., 2007aOlabanji et al., 2007b). The addition of dried blood to Mexican sunflower leaf meal enhanced the already high concentration of lysine in the leaf protein but worsened the deficit in sulphur-containing amino acids. Generally, it is recommended to include other sources of sulphur-containing amino acids, such as cereals or cereal by-products, to obtain a balanced ration based on Tithonia leaves, particularly if blood meal is included in the diet.

Veterinary medicine

For rabbits suffering from scabies, a recurring skin problem of rabbits raised in tropical countries, a Tithonia leaf extract (300 g of leaves extracted in 100 ml of water) applied 4 times per day over a period of 5 days on the affected areas was as efficient as ivermectin to treat the condition (Vu Thi Thu Hang et al., 2012).

Nutritional tables

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Includes the leaves and variable amounts of stems and petioles

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 19.8 7.3 1.5 29.5 12  
Crude protein % DM 21.2 5.0 11.7 27.5 24  
Crude fibre % DM 20.2 10.1 12.0 33.5 8  
NDF % DM 44.7 5.8 33.3 55.9 18  
ADF % DM 35.3 6.5 24.1 47.6 17  
Lignin % DM 9.2 4.3 6.6 17.9 6  
Ether extract % DM 2.7 1.0 1.9 5.2 9  
Ash % DM 12.2 1.7 9.7 14.1 11  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.7         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 21.4 3.3 15.8 24.7 6  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.6 0.2 3.2 3.9 6  
Potassium g/kg DM 39.8       1  
Magnesium g/kg DM 0.6 0.1 0.5 0.7 5  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 71.8 12.3 58.5 82.9 3  
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 70.5         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.5         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.9         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 79.9 11.2 67.8 89.9 3  
a (N) % 35.6   35.6 35.6 2  
b (N) % 58.8   58.8 58.8 2  
c (N) h-1 0.240   0.240 0.240 2  
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 86   86 86 2 *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 83   83 83 2 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


CIRAD, 1991; FUSAGx/CRAW, 2009; Gualberto et al., 2011; Mauricio et al., 2014; Naranjo et al., 2011; Navarro et al., 1990; Ngo Hong Chin et al., 2012; Nguyen Thi Thu Hong et al., 2013; Nguyen Van Sao et al., 2010; Osuga et al., 2006; Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008; Verdecia et al., 2011

Last updated on 15/12/2014 16:52:12

Includes the leaves and variable amounts of stems and petioles

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 86.7 3.2 81.4 90.2 10  
Crude protein % DM 21.3 4.1 16.0 29.7 15  
Crude fibre % DM 14.9 4.0 10.0 21.8 10  
NDF % DM 39.4 15.7 26.5 63.2 7  
ADF % DM 31.7 10.3 23.1 43.3 5  
Lignin % DM 6.5 2.3 3.7 10.0 5  
Ether extract % DM 4.6 1.2 2.8 7.0 10  
Ash % DM 13.4 1.3 11.1 16.2 14  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.7         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 18.4       1  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 4.3       1  
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Alanine % protein 6.1       1  
Arginine % protein 6.2       1  
Aspartic acid % protein 13.3       1  
Cystine % protein 1.0       1  
Glutamic acid % protein 12.2       1  
Glycine % protein 5.1       1  
Histidine % protein 2.3       1  
Isoleucine % protein 4.3       1  
Leucine % protein 7.6       1  
Lysine % protein 5.4       1  
Methionine % protein 1.6       1  
Phenylalanine % protein 5.5       1  
Proline % protein 3.9       1  
Serine % protein 5.1       1  
Threonine % protein 4.3       1  
Tyrosine % protein 3.5       1  
Valine % protein 5.3       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 54.7   49.3 60.0 2  
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 53.7         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.5         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 7.6         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 75.3   64.1 86.4 2  

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Ajayi et al., 2007; CIRAD, 1991; Ekeocha et al., 2012; Fasuyi et al., 2011; Odedire et al., 2014; Olayeni et al., 2006; Osuga et al., 2012; Pathoummalangsy et al., 2008; Premaratne et al., 1998; Togun et al., 2006; Togun et al., 2006; Wambui et al., 2006; Zogang et al., 2013

Last updated on 15/12/2014 16:31:35

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Giger-Reverdin S., Lebas F., 2016. Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/15645 Last updated on February 22, 2016, 14:05

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)