Chamaecrista absus

4-leafed cassia


Chamaecrista absus

(L.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby 1982

pronounced: kam-ay-KRISS-tuh ab-SUSS

(Fabaceae — the pea family)

subfamily: Caesalpinioiideae - the cassia subfamily

synonym — Cassia absus

L. 1753

pronounced: KASS-ee-uh ab-SUSS

common names: four-leafed cassia, tropical sensitive pea, pig's senna

native 4Chamaecrista is derived from two Latin words, chamæ-, ground, and crista, a tuft, crest; absus is from ab-, from and sus, a pig, hence one of the common names.

This is a pan-tropical plant that grows on waste ground, old farmland, along roadsides, in grassy savanna, open woodland, on granite outcrops and on sand dunes, from sea level to about 1700 m altitude. There is a great variableness in the plant, and indeed in all members of the genus, which is not surprising considering its wide distribution. It is an annual herb, usually growing up to 60 cm tall, although it may reach 100 cm. It is branched towards the top, with long rigid glandular hairs on all parts, and is lemon-scented.

The leaves are alternate, paripinnate, 3 – 7 cm long, with 2 pairs of leaflets; the stipules are linear, up to 8 mm long; the petiole does not have a large gland, but the rachis has a gland between each of the leaflet pairs; the leaflets are almost sessile, elliptical, up to about 4.5 cm by 3 cm, largest in the upper pair, the apex obtuse.

The inflorescence is a terminal or axillary raceme up to 13 cm long, with 4 to 6 flowers. These are bisexual, with petals 5 – 6 mm in length, yellow, orange, salmon or pinkish-red with reddish-brown veins. There are 5 stamens, sub-equal, with straight filaments.

The fruit is a flat pod, 3 – 6 cm long, splitting into 2 thin, slightly spiralling valves, containing 5 – 7 seeds. The seeds are obovate to slightly rhombic, about 5 mm long, glossy, dark brown to black. Propagation is by seed, or occasionally by root suckers.

The plant has long been used in natural medicine systems. Dried and powdered leaves, a leaf extract, or occasionally pounded ripe fruits are widely applied to eczema, ringworm, wounds, sores, abscesses, ulcers and venereal inflammations. A tea made from the leaves is considered to have a purifying and detoxifying action on the body. In many parts of Africa and Asia the powdered seed, or seed extracts, are sprinkled on the eye to cure eye diseases such as conjunctivitis. In Senegal the powdered seeds are also taken to treat diabetes and chlorosis, and the fresh plant is pounded and mixed with butter to make a suppository to treat hæmorrhoids. In Ghana a decoction of the roots, mixed with chillies and palm wine, is used as a vermifuge. An interesting use comes from the Congo: the leaves are mixed with those of Heterotis rotundifolia (Pink Lady), pulped and diluted with palm wine. Some of the mixture is taken as a draught, and the rest is rubbed on the lower abdomen. This is done to encourage conception in women.

Young plants are readily eaten by cattle, but old plants are sticky, and cattle seem to find them unpalatable. In some parts of Africa, silage is made from the plant.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2014
Page last updated 5th November 2018