Animal feed resources information system

Cratylia (Cratylia argentea)

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).


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Common names 

Cratylia [English]; camaratuba, copada, cipó-prata [Portuguese]


Cratylia floribunda Benth., Dioclea argentea Desv.

Feed categories 
Related feed(s) 

Cratylia (Cratylia argentea) is a shruby perennial tropical legume particularly suited to acidic, aluminium-saturated soils of tropical lowlands with dry periods of up to 6-7 months. Cratylia provides good quality fodder and is used as protein bank. It can be grazed or cut for cut-and-carry systems and to make silage. Cratylia is a valuable windshelter and erosion controller.


Cratylia (Cratylia argentea) is a shruby, many-branched legume. It has a deep root, down to a depth of 2 m. It branches from the base and can produce up to 11 branches, about 1.5-3 m in height (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005; Argel et al., 1998). Its has variable habit: some trees may reach 6 m while other are prostrate. Association with taller plants may result in voluble habit. Cratylia leaves are trifoliolate. The leaflets are broadly ovate, silvery pubescent at the lower face, glabrous at the upper one. The inflorescence is a many-noded pseudoraceme, up to 30 cm long, bearing 6-9 flowers per node. The size of the flowers ranges from 1.5-3 cm (length and width), and petals are lilac or, very exceptionally, white. Fruits are straight, flat, dehiscent, up to 20 cm long pods that contain 4-8 oval to almost circular seeds of about 1.5 cm diameter. Seeds are dark yellow to brown, and dark brown when maturing under high-humidity conditions. A thousand seed weight is about 220 g, there are thus about 4,500 seeds/kg (Cook et al., 2005).


Cratylia is a good source of fodder and forage with a good protein content, constituting valuable protein banks (Cook et al., 2005; Argel et al., 1998). When sown in pure or mixed stands, it can be grazed by livestock. It can be grown to make fodder banks and can be cut for cut-and-carry systems and silage. Cratylia has oustanding regrowth after grazing or cutting. It provides living fence and erosion control (Argel et al., 1998). Cratylia is thus particularly suited to agropastoral systems and for the reclamation of degraded areas (Marques et al., 2014).


Cratylia (Cratylia argentea) originated from the Amazon Basin, in central Brazil, parts of Peru and Bolivia, and north-eastern Argentina (Argel et al., 1998). It is naturally found in South America, from 4 to 18°S, from North-East Brazil to central and western Brazil, in Bolivia, Peru, and the east of the Andes (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005). It is cultivated in the latter area but also in Central America: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala (Argel et al., 1998).

Cratylia is a summer growing legume that does not withstand low temperatures but has a high tolerance of heat (Bystricky et al., 2010; Maass, 1995). It is found at altitudes between 180 and 800 (-930) m, from wet to dry tropics where annual rainfall ranges about 1,000-4,000 mm (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005; Argel et al., 1998). However, cratylia has outstanding drought tolerance and stays green along prolonged dry seasons (up to 6-7 months) (Cook et al., 2005).

Cratylia does well on acidic soils (pH 3.8-6.0) that are mostly well drained (Bystricky et al., 2010). It is tolerant of aluminium saturated soils (Argel et al., 1998). Though apparently also adapted to higher pH soils, initial development of Cratylia argentea in neutral or alkaline soils is very slow. Reasons are not yet well understood (Cook et al., 2005). Cratylia is tolerant of shade and survives fire (Cook et al., 2005; Oliveira et al., 2003).

Forage management 


Cratylia DM yield mainly depends on plant spacing, age at first harvest and cutting intervals (Argel et al., 1998). In Nicaragua, cratylia planted at a high density of 40,000 plants/ha gave the highest yields with 18.2 t DM/ha (Reyes Sanchez, 2006). DM yield increases with cutting intervals from 8.7 t DM/ha at 8 week interval to 18.2 t DM/ha at 16 week interval (Reyes Sanchez et al., 2007). In Brazil, 189 days after planting, DM yield was about 14.3 t (Xavier et al., 1995). Cratylia remained productive during drought periods and could provide 30-40% of overall DM yield during this period (Xavier et al., 1996).

Stand management

Cratylia can grow in pure stands or in mixed stands with grasses such as Brachiaria spp., or Megathyrsus maximus. Its propagation is mainly done through direct sowing  or transplanting. The seeds are viable and germinate readily. They should be sown at the onset of the rainy season at less than 2 cm depth. A full range of sowing densities (from 2,000 to 40,000 plants/ha) have been assessed. In Nicaragua, for example, it was reported that the high density of 40,000 plants/ha had the highest yield (Reyes Sanchez, 2006). An N-fixing legume, cratylia benefits from the inoculation of Bradyrhizobium strains, particularly in Al-saturated soils. 

Cratylia does not establish readily, thus Ca fertilization with 1.5 t/ha lime, inoculation and early weeding are recommended. First harvest should not occur before 4-6 months and the plant should not be cut lower than 30 cm though plants cut at ground level have been reported to grow extraodinarily (Cook et al., 2005). In Costa Rica, it has been recommended to harvest cratylia at the end of the rainy season so that regrowth occurs during drought and livestock can benefit from the green cratylia forage (Argel et al., 1998).

Grazing pasture

It has been reported that cattle and sheep prefer mature cratylia foliage to young one. This is a valuable trait of cratylia that can be used as deferred feed during the dry season with success as it has a higher palatability (Argel et al., 2001; Argel et al., 1998).

Cut-and-carry systems

Cratylia can be fed fresh to pen-fed animals but it is labour consuming and thus expensive (Plazas et al., 2005).

Hay and Silage

It is possible to make hay and silage from cratylia foliage only, or from cratylia foliage blended with an other legume such as cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) (Bernal et al., 2008). For smallholders, it has been recommended to use cratylia in association with maize or sugarcane in order to prepare silage in plastic bags. Molasses (5%) can be added to a mixture of maize (55%) and cratylia (40%) to improve the ensiling process (Giraldo et al., 2003). Ensiling cratylia in plastic bags is easy to perform, and does not reduce forage palatability and nutritive value (Giraldo et al., 2003).

Environmental impact 

Cover crop and land revegetation

Cratylia provides good cover to the soil and could be used to reclaim degraded pastures as it improved soil N status and could bind the soil thanks to deep rooting (Xavier et al., 1995).

Shade provider, rain and wind shelter

Cratylia provides shade, and is a rain and wild shelter useful for livestock. It was reported to improve the drainage of savannas (Rodriguez et al., 2002). It can be used as living fence around pastures (Russo et al., 1996).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

The nutritive value of Cratylia argentea is among the highest reported for shrub legumes adapted to acid soils. Crude protein ranges between 18% and 30% of DM. In vitro dry matter digestibility can reach 60-65%.

Potential constraints 

No toxicity was recorded for cratylia (Cook et al., 2005). In contrast to other tropical legumes, cratylia is reported to have no tannins, or only traces of it (Bernal et al., 2008; Cook et al., 2005).


Cratylia (Cratylia argentea) is a palatable forage readily consumed by cattle. However, immature forage intake is low in sheep (Göhl, 1982). With its high nutritional value, high CP and low tannin contents, cratylia is suitable for ruminant supplementation during the dry season (Andersson et al., 2007). It was considered a reliable resource for silvopastoral systems during periods of scarcity in Mexico and in the Southern State of Anzoategui in Colombia (Valles-De la Mora et al., 2014; Rodriguez et al., 2002).

Palatability and digestibility

There is no mention of limited palatability in the literature. In vitro experiments reported enhanced ruminal fermentation when cratylia was combined with tanniferous shrub legumes and low quality grasses (Stürm et al., 2007).

Cratylia in vitro effect on rumen fermentation resulted from an increased provision of fermentable nitrogenous compounds (Hess et al., 2006). The addition of cratylia to Brachiaria dictyoneura in experiments with RUSITEC also increased the release of methane by 3-4 times (compared to forage alone) and resulted in a further higher nutrient degradation and higher rumen ammonia concentration (Hess et al., 2003).

The IVDMD of different varieties of cratylia assessed in Colombia, has ranged from 589-690 g/kg, the crude protein content from 184 237 g/kg and NDF and ADF contents from 403-528 g/kg and 240-335 g/kg (Andersson et al., 2006). Varieties CIAT 18674 and CIAT 22406 were identified as being superior to the commercial cultivar in terms of dry matter (DM) production, particularly in the dry season (Andersson et al., 2006).

In the Columbian southern Anzoategui State, the average protein content was 18.5%, varying between seasons, like P and Ca levels, contrary to the K and Mg levels, which showed no variation (Rodriguez et al., 2002).

The nutritional value of cratylia is characterised by its high CP content and its low content of total tannins, estimated to be around 18% and 0,78 % respectively in China (Zhou et al., 2011) compared to other tropical leguminous species (Leucaena leucocephala, Flemingia macrophylla, Cajanus cajan, Dendrolobium triangulare, Cassia didymobotrya, Cassia bicapsularis and Acacia farnesiana). The levels of ADF and NDF have varied for the various species between 20.7-48.6% and 21.1-55.3%, while the OMD has ranged from 36.9% to 79.3%.

Also in Kenya, cratylia had high CP and NDF contents of 155 g/kg DM and 479 g/kg DM respectively, and a moderate content of total extractable tannins of 44 mg/g DM (Osuga et al., 2005), compared to ten other browse species (Bauhinia alba, B. variegata, Bridelia micrantha, Calliandra calothyrsus, Carissa edulis, Gliricidia sepium, Lantana camara, Maerua angolensis, Sesbania macrantha and S. sesban). Therefore, the addition of PEG to assess the adverse inhibitory effect of tannin for some shrub species (on rumen microbial fermentation as indicated by the gas production) has been then more effective on the other browse species richer in tannins than Cratylia argentea.

Cratylia would have also high level in most minerals (Tiemann et al., 2009) compared to other shrub legumes, as studied in Columbia on two tropical soils receiving in rainy or in dry seasons, fertiliser applications with P, K, Ca, Mg and S. Comparison of several varieties of Cratylia argentea in the southern Anzoategui state of Columbia during 3 years, showed that the average protein content of 18.5% varied between seasons, such as P and Ca levels (Rodriguez et al., 2002). In contrast, the K and Mg levels do not vary between seasons.


Dairy cattle

In Nicaragua, DM intake and milk production of dairy cows fed on low quality diet of sorghum-silage ad libitum, increased by the suplementation of cratylia (2-3 kg). Neither milk composition (milk fat, total solids, crude protein) nor organoleptic characteristics (smell, taste and colour) were altered (Sanchez et al., 2006).

In Colombia, restricted grazing of mature and/or young cratylia by dairy cows did not significantly influence the production or composition of milk compared to grazing of Brachiaria decumbens alone. Only variation of urea levels in milk and blood were noticed, probably related to a rebalancing between the ammonium released in the rumen and the energy necessary for microbial synthesis (Aparicio et al., 2002).

In Costa Rica, it has been shown that the form of presentation of cratylia influenced intake (Ibrahim et al., 2001). Fresh foliage mixed with molasses increased the IVDMD by 10%. Intake was 32% higher with foliage wilted alone and 43% higher with foliage mixed with molasses. The addition of cratylia compared to the addition of chicken litter had no effect on milk production. Milk compositions were comparable in both these cases (Ibrahim et al., 2001).

In trials with milking cows, a mix of cratylia and sugarcane used as pasture supplementation resulted in a milk increase of 1.2-2.2 L/cow/day. The increase was positively related to cratylia proportion in the mix. Response to cratylia supplementation was limited when cows of minor production potential were utilised or when the basal grass diet had protein levels above 7%. Supplementation with cratylia silage increased milk production by 0.5-1 L/day (Cook et al., 2005).

Zebu cattle

In Columbia, in growing Zebu and crossbred (Zebu x San Martinero) bulls, supplementation with sugarcane and cratylia gave better weight gains when animals were grazing fertilized signal grass than when they were supplemented in a corral. Grazing animals also gave better results with supplementation than without (Rincon, 2005).


There may be some difference in feeding sheep with young or mature cratylia. While wilting or drying mature cratylia did not affect intake when sheep were fed mature cratylia, these conservation processes increased the rate of intake when cratylia was cut at early stages. Sheep consumed more readily cratylia in the dry form than in the fresh one, irrespective of their previous consumption experience and their age.

In Columbia, adult African hair-type sheep fed with low-quality herbaceous hay supplemented with cratylia, increased their OM and CP intake by 21% and 19% respectively, as well as ruminal fluid ammonia N concentrations (Abreu et al., 2004).

By another way, supplementation with S. saponaria increased (P < 0.05) dietary OM intake by 14%, and appears as a beneficial way to improve ruminal VFA profile, microbial efficiency, and duodenal flow of microbial protein. Otherwise few interactions between legume and S. saponaria supplementations were observed. Thus supplementation of S. saponaria fruits is a beneficial way for improving microbial efficiency not only for diets based on grass alone, but also for grass-legume diets.

In Colombia as well, the addition of cratylia to a low quality diet of Brachiaria dictyoneura was assessed in order to dilute tannin levels in the diet of sheep and improve their N utilisation (Fässler et al., 1995). The addition of cratylia resulted in an apparent higher N digestibility, but intake and N retention were not significantly altered. Therefore it is important to consider not only the tannin levels but also the digestibility of the legumes used (Fässler et al., 1995).


No information on the use of Cratylia argentea in rabbit feeding seems available in the international literature (February 2017). Nevertheless this legume shrub is able to produce a forage devoid of any known toxicity (Cook et al., 2005) and is considered suitable to feed dairy cattle (Gama, 2008; Ibrahim et al., 2001) or small ruminants (Raaflaub et al., 1995). Thus, this forage, either in green or dried form, should be most probably also suitable to feed rabbits. However, some direct experiment is necessary before its recommendation as normal forage for rabbits. For such studies, the main characteristics of cratylia forage are to be taken in account: a relatively high content in protein (16-25%), fibre rich in lignin, about 50% NDF and 10-11% ADL (Osuga et al., 2005; Zhou et al., 2011), and a calculated digestible energy content of about 8.7 MJ/kg DM (Lebas, 2016), close to that of alfalfa.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 
Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/17365 Last updated on June 19, 2017, 18:01