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African stylo (Stylosanthes fruticosa)


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Common names 

African stylo, ladinala, wal-nanu, wild lucerne, shrubby pencilflower


Arachis fruticosa Retz., Hedysarum hamatum Burm. f., Stylosanthes bojeri Vogel, Stylosanthes flavicans Baker, Stylosanthes mucronata Willd

Taxonomic information 

Stylosanthes fruticosa and the South American species Stylosanthes scabra are very similar morphologically and it has been suggested that they are the same species (Mannetje, 1984). However, molecular-based phylogenetic studies show them to be related but different species (Stappen et al., 1999).

Feed categories 

The African stylo (Stylosanthes fruticosa (Retz.) Alston) is a woody herbaceous perennial legume, reaching 0.5 m to 1 m. In harsh conditions it may behave as an annual. It bears many pubescent branches. Its leaflets are elliptic or lanceolate, 5-33 mm long, 1-9 mm wide, nearly glabrous. Cream to yellow flowers are borne in dense terminal heads. Pods are 4-9 mm long.

Stylosanthes fruticosa is used in mixed pastures with perennial grasses such as Andropogon gayanus, Heteropogon contortus, Hyparrhenia spp., Brachiaria humidicola, Cenchrus ciliaris, Cynodon dactylon, or intercropped with millet in dry areas. It is much sought after by all classes of livestock and is heavily grazed by livestock in native pastures in Africa (FAO, 2010; Ecocrop, 2010; Cook et al., 2005). Whilst its drought-resistance makes it a valuable fodder, its agronomic performance has been held insufficient to promote its cultivation (Toutain et al., 1994).


Native to the African tropics, Stylosanthes fruticosa is also found in Western and Southern Asia and in Australia. It grows well in grassland, woodland and scrub. It is also a weed of old cultivations (Cook et al., 2005; Ecocrop, 2010). It grows from sea level up to an altitude of 2000 m. Optimal growth conditions are 350 mm to 1500 mm annual rainfall, temperatures around 25-30°C, on sandy, well-drained alkaline soils with pH 4-8. It can bear light shade, light frosts and short cool periods, but not heavy frosts. It cannot withstand heavy grazing or fires (Cook et al., 2005). The African stylo is tolerant of acid soils and low P content. It can survive in very low rainfall areas (300 mm per year), with a dry season up to 6 months (Cook et al., 2005; Adjolohoun et al., 2008).

Forage management 

Fodder production under South Sahelian and North Sudanian conditions may be expected to reach 3 to 6 t DM/ha/year (FAO, 2010). Stylosanthes fruticosa has been widely studied in Australia. In Queensland, small plots yielded 6 t DM/ha/year with a composition in leaves, stems and inflorescence of 19%, 38% and 42% respectively. In Northern Queensland, higher DM production was variable with monthly averages of 870 kg DM/ha (500 to 7580), and average percentages of leaves and stems of 69 and 75% respectively, which did not vary significantly between wet and dry seasons (Gardener et al., 1982). Among 25 species and strains studied in three humid Australian localities, Stylosanthes fruticosa had the highest yields and was the most persistent (similar to Stylosanthes viscosa) (CSIRO, 1976).

Environmental impact 

Stylosanthes fruticosa is used to improve soil fertility through leaf dropping and nitrogen fixation, notably in fallow areas. The seeds are hard-coated and fire-resistant, allowing the plants to establish rapidly after a fire (Cook et al., 2005; Shetty et al., 1995). It shows high coverage (Adjolohoun et al., 2008). Stylosanthes fruticosa is helpful in erosion control as it can contribute to the stabilization and sustainable use of degraded lands, as reported in dry places (annual rainfall up to 900 m) and in coastal areas (Chandra et al., 2006). Prostrate forms can be promoted to protect against soil erosion (Hakiza et al., 1987).

Nutritional aspects

Stylosanthes fruticosa is regarded as an excellent forage legume in regions of Africa that have a single dry season (Cook et al., 2005) and it is valued by nomadic pastoralists (Göhl, 1982). Its deep and strong taproot system makes it resistant to grazing (Hakiza et al., 1987). It is reported to have a relatively high DM digestibility (66%) and to allow a high DM intake (75 g/kg W0.75), indicating that the species could have reasonable potential for livestock production (Cook et al., 2005). Its crude protein content is in the 7-17% DM range (Feedipedia, 2013).

No study concerning the use of Stylosanthes fruticosa as the single fodder source has been done (2011). In a comparison between Stylosanthes fruticosa and six other Stylosanthes species (S. humilisS. guianensisS. scabraS. subsericeaS. hamata and S. viscosa), the differences in quality between species at a given time were small compared to the overall seasonal effect on the distribution of DM and it was recommended to graze those species (except Stylosanthes subsericea and Stylosanthes guianensis) similarly (Gardener et al., 1982). In Zimbabwe, grazing cattle on a pasture (veld) seeded with a mixture of five different legumes, including Stylosanthes fruticosa, reported higher growth than on the non-reinforced veld (161 vs. 118 kg/head/year) (Clatworthy et al., 1986).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

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

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 30.8 6.0 23.6 40.7 16
Crude protein % DM 14.5 3.7 11.4 27.8 18
Crude fibre % DM 34.0 8.0 6.9 41.5 18
NDF % DM 48.2 1
ADF % DM 46.1 1
Lignin % DM 9.1 1
Ether extract % DM 1.9 0.5 0.8 2.7 17
Ash % DM 8.7 2.6 5.3 16.0 18
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.5 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 15.0 4.4 0.3 22.6 17
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.4 0.3 0.9 1.9 17
Potassium g/kg DM 15.6 4.4 10.3 25.7 17
Sodium g/kg DM 0.1 1
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.8 0.5 1.6 3.5 17
Manganese mg/kg DM 89 1
Zinc mg/kg DM 29 1
Copper mg/kg DM 7 1
Iron mg/kg DM 125 1
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 0.0 1
Tannins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 0.0 1
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 61.2 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 58.5 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.8 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.6 *

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


Adjolohoun, 2008; CIRAD, 1991; Göhl, 1982

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:34

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Boval M., 2016. African stylo (Stylosanthes fruticosa). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/252 Last updated on March 16, 2016, 12:09

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