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Sesbania grandiflora (L.) Pers.

Agati, Corkwood tree, West Indian pea

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


The tender leaves, green fruit, and flowers are eaten alone as a vegetable or mixed into curries or salads. Flowers may be dipped in batter and fried in butter. Tender portions serve as cattle fodder, (overeating is said to cause diarrhea). Ripe pods apparently are not eaten. The inner bark can serve as fiber and the white, soft wood not too durable, can be used for cork. The wood is used, like bamboo, in Asian construction. The tree is grown as an ornamental shade tree, and for reforestation. In Java, the tree is extensively used as a pulp source. A gum resembling kino (called katurai), fresh when red, nearly black after exposure, exudes from wounds. This astringent gum is partially soluble in water and in alcohol, but applied to fishing cord, it makes it more durable. Pepper vines (Piper nigrum) are sometimes grown on and in the shade of the agati. According to NAS (1980a), this small tree produces firewood, forage, pulp and paper, food, and green manure and appears to hold promise for reforesting eroded and grassy wastelands throughout the tropics. It combines well with agriculture (agroforestry) in areas where trees are not normally grown and becomes an important fuelwood source. Dried and powdered bark is used as a cosmetic in Java. Allen and Allen enumerated three undesirable features (1) short lived (2) shallow-rooted and subject to wind throw, and (3) prolific seeder, the pods often considered a litter. An aqueous extract of bark is said to be toxic to cockroaches.

Folk Medicine

Resorted to be aperient, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, laxative, and tonic, agati is a folk remedy for bruises, catarrh, dysentery, eyes, fevers, headaches, smallpox, sores, sorethroat, and stomatitis (Duke and Wain, 1981). Bark, leaves, gums, and flowers are considered medicinal. The astringent bark was used in treating smallpox and other eruptive fevers. The juice from the flowers is used to treat headache, head congestion, or stuffy nose. As a snuff, the juice is supposed to clear the nasal sinuses. Leaves are poulticed onto bruises. Rheumatic swellings are poulticed or rubbed with aqueous decoctions of the powdered roots of the red-flowered variant. In India the flowers are sacred to Siva, representing both the male and female sex organs; still I find no mention of their use as aphrodisiacs. Ayurvedics, believing the fruits to be alexeteric, laxative, and intellectually stimulating, prescribe them for anemia, bronchitis, fever, pain, thirst, and tumors; the flowers, apertif and refrigerant, for biliousness, bronchitis, gout, nyctalopia, ozoena, and quartan fever; the root for inflammation, the bark as astringent; leaves, alexeteric, anthelmintic, for epilepsy, gout, itch, leprosy, nyctalopia, and ophthalmia. Yunani consider the tonic leaves useful in biliousness, fever, and nyctalopia. Indians apply the roots in rheumatism, the juice of the leaves and flowers for headache and nasal catarrh. Mixed with stramonium and pasted, the root is poulticed onto painful swellings. In Amboina, flower juice is squeezed into the eye to correct dim vision. The bark is used in infusions for smallpox. Cambodians consider the flowers emollient and laxative, the bark for diarrhea, dysentery, and paludism. Malayans apply crushed leaves to sprains and contusions. They gargle with the leaf juice to cleanse the mouth and throat. In small doses, the bark is used for dysentery and sprue, in large doses, laxative, in still larger doses, emetic. Pounded bark is applied to scabies. Philippines use the pounded bark for hemoptysis. The powdered bark is also recommended for ulcers of the mouth and alimentary canal. In Java, the bark is used for thrush and infantile disorders of the stomach. Leaves are chewed to disinfect the mouth and throat.


Per 100 g, the leaf is reported to contain 73.1 g H2O, 8.4 g protein, 1.4 g fat, 11.8 g NFE, 2.2 g fiber, 3.1 g ash, 1,130 mg Ca, 80 mg P, 3.9 mg Fe, 9,000 IU vit. A, 0.21 mg thiamine, 0.09 mg riboflavin, 1.2 mg niacin, and 169 mg ascorbic acid. Leaves contain (ZMB) per 100 g, 321 calories, 36.3 g protein, 7.5 g fat, 47.1 g carbohydrate, 9.2 g fiber, 9.2 g ash, 1684 mg Ca, 258 mg P, 21 mg Na, 2,005 mg K, 25,679 mg b-carotene equivalent, 1.00 mg thiamine, 1.04 mg riboflavin, 9.17 mg niacin and 242 mg ascorbic acid. The flowers (ZMB) contain per 100 g, 345 calories, 14.5 g protein, 3.6 g fat, 77.3 g carbohydrate, 10.9 g fiber, 4.5 g ash, 145 mg Ca, 290 mg P, 5.4 mg Fe, 291 mg Na, 1,400 mg K, 636 mg b-carotene equivalent, 0.91 mg thiamine, 0.72 mg riboflavin, 14.54 mg niacin, and 473 mg ascorbic acid. Seeds (ZMB) contain 36.5% CP, 7.4% fat, 51.6% total carbohydrate, and 4.5% ash. The seed oil contains 12.3% palmitic, 5.2% stearic, 26.2% oleic, and 53.4% linoleic acids. The seed testa, which constitutes 20% of the seed, contains 5.2% moisture, 1.3% ash, 0.8% fat, 2.7% CF, 0.1% free reducing sugars, 1.4% sucrose, 2.8% nitrogen, 6.3% pentosans, and 65.4% carbohydrates. Yields of 33% galactomannans are reported for alkali extraction of the testae. Seeds allowed to germinate (sprouts) for 120 hours increased vit. C content from 17–166 mg/100 g. Extracellular invertase of Rhizobia japonicum and its role in free sugar metabolism in the developing root nodules was studied. The enzyme hydrolyzed sucrose extracellularly, and its release was substrate inducible. 0.1 m b-mercaptoethanol released the cell-bound form of this enzyme. The production of invertase was low when glucose, galactose, mannose, fructose, and farrinose were used as carbon sources in the growth medium. In the developing nodules sucrose was the major sugar. The content of fructose was low in comparison with that of glucose, suggesting that in the nodules the fructose is converted to glucose prior to its entry into the bacterial cell. The content of glucose synchronized with the pattern of change in the activity of invertase in the nodules (Singh et al, 1980).


A small erect quick-growing short-lived soft-wooded tree to 10 m tall, 25 cm DBH, sparsely branched. Bole straight and cylindrical, the wood white and soft. Bark light gray, corky, deeply furrowed. Leaves pinnate, 15–30 cm long, with 16–30 pairs of linear oblong leaflets. Racemes 2.5 cm long. Flowers 2–4, white to pink, pendulous the corolla 7–9 cm long. Pods 50–60 cm long.


Reported from the Indochina-Indonesia Center of Diversity, agati, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate drought, heavy soils, poor soil, and water-logging. Widely cultivated as ornamental or curio vegetable in tropical Asia. (2n = 14, 24).


Native to many Asian countries, e.g., India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines from sea level to 800 m, agati commonly grows on dikes between rice paddies, along roadsides, and in backyard vegetable gardens. It has been widely distributed in southern Florida and the West Indies and from southern Mexico through most countries of Central America down to South America. Cultivated in Mauritius (NAS, 1980a).


Apparently frost-sensitive, this species seems limited to the tropics. Ranging from Tropical Dry through Tropical Moist Forest Life Zones, agati is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 4.8 to 22.5 dm (mean of 11 cases = 15.1), annual temperature of 24.3 to 26.7°C (mean of 8 cases = 25.6), and pH of 6.6 to 8.5.


Propagated readily by seeding or cuttings, requiring little maintenance. It has been aerially seeded, apparently with success. For reforestation, Mendoza (1980) recommends spacing cuttings ca 1 m long at 4 x 4 m. The saplings could serve as a nurse crop for mahogany, Banquet pine, etc. Cuttings should be set out at the beginning of the rainy season. When grown as shade plant for coconut seedlings, agati is sown in India in June and July, putting 3–4 seed per hole in a narrow channel, 30 cm x 30 cm, ca 1 m from the coconut seedlings.


When cultivated for fodder, agati is usually cut when ca 1 m tall. Indonesian foresters, growing the species for fuelwood, harvest on a 5-year rotation. One hectare can yield three m3 of stacked fuelwood in a 2-year rotation. After the plant is harvested, shoots resprout with such vigor that they seem irrepressible. The tree's outstanding quality is its rapid growth rate, particularly during its first 3 or 4 years (NAS, 1980a).

Yields and Economics

Planted at 90 cm intervals, an agati plant yields 4.5–9.1 kg lvs/yr, which translates to ca 12,000 plants per hectare yielding 50–100 MT leaves per year per hectare (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976), about 75% of which is water, suggesting DM yields of 12–25 MTha. Javanese have obtained 55 MT green matter per ha in 6–7 months. On a black, poorly structured clay, pH 8.5, in Australia, agati outgrew all other species tested, attaining 4.3–5.5 (-8.3) m in one year's growth.


Long been used as firewood in Southeast Asia, has been planted in several areas in Indonesia to provide fuel and other products in "turinisation" projects (after turi, the indigenous name). However, the wood is white, soft, and has a rather low specific gravity of about 0.42, which is poor for fuelwood. Wood yields of 20–25 m3 per ha per year are commonly achieved in plantations in Indonesia. Even when planted only along the edges of agricultural fields, as in Java, yields of 3 m3 of stacked firewood per ha from 2-year rotation periods have been recorded. The wood weighs 512 kg m3. Charcoal is used for gunpowder (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). If 25 MT of dry leaves are available, then certainly there must be 5–10 MT stem as well, all of which could be diverted to energy.

Biotic Factors

Described as very susceptible to nematodes, agati is said to have been damaged by birds and grasshoppers in northern Australia. Colletotrichum capsici causes seedling blight, forming elongated or oblong cankers on the collar region of affected seedlings. The cankers, controlled with a Bordeaux spray, have black bristle-like tufts of setae. Nematodes include Heterodera trifolii and Meloidogyne sp. (Golden, p.c. 1984). Cercospora sesbaniae infects agathi. The Drosophilid fly Protostegana lateralis is a serious pest in Tamil Nadu. The maggots bore into the tender shoots of mature plants causing a gradual wilting of affected parts. The weevil Alcidodes buko causes serious damage to young crop both in adult and larval stage. It bites holes through leaves and bores the stem causing gall-like swellings DDT (0.05%) and BHC dust (5%) are cheap and effective; Product 1250 and Parathion are also effective against the grub. The larvae of Azygophleps scalaris tunnel through the stem and eat the contents leaving only the epidermis. The plant becomes weak and breaks off at the slightest jerk. Uprooting the stumps immediately after harvesting and burning them may prove effective means of control. Otinotus oneratus, the common 'tree hopper' infests agati from July to February (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). Sesbania seedlings are highly receptive to infection by their homologous rhizobia, but different species have restricted susceptibility profiles. Sesbania rhizobia have a rather restricted host range. Rhizobia from alfalfa, clover, lupines, peas, soybeans failed to nodulate Sesbania species and vice versa.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw