Codariocalyx motorius

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Telegraph plant
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Codariocalyx
Species: C. motorius
Binomial name
Codariocalyx motorius
(Houtt.) H. Ohashi
  • Codariocalyx gyrans (L. f.) Hassk.
  • Desmodium gyrans (L.) DC.
  • Desmodium gyrans (L. f.) DC.
  • Desmodium gyrans (L.) DC. var. roylei (Wight & Arn.)Baker
  • Desmodium motorium (Houtt.) Merr.
  • Desmodium roylei Wight & Arn.
  • Hedysarum gyrans L. f.
  • Hedysarum motorium Houtt.
  • Hedysarum motorius Houtt.
  • Meibomia gyrans (L. f.) Kuntze

Codariocalyx motorius (though often placed in Desmodium[1]), known as the telegraph plant or semaphore plant, is a tropical Asian shrub, one of a few plants capable of rapid movement; others include Mimosa pudica and the venus flytrap.

It is widely distributed throughout Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. It can even be found on the Society Islands, a remote chain of islands in the South Pacific. It produces small, purple flowers. This plant is famous for its movement of small, lateral leaflets at speeds rapid enough to be perceivable with the naked eye. This is possibly a strategy to maximise light by tracking the sun[citation needed]. Each leaf is equipped with a hinge that permits it to be moved to receive more sunlight, but the weight of these leaves means the plant must expend a lot of energy in moving it. To optimise its movement, each large leaf has two small leaflets at its base. These move constantly along an elliptical path, sampling the intensity of sunlight, and directing the large leaf to the area of most intensity. Another hypothesis has been offered that the rapid movements are intended to deter potential predators.[2]

The common name is due to the rotation of the leaflets with a period of about three to five minutes; this was likened to a semaphore telegraph, a structure with adjustable paddles that could be seen from a distance, the position of which conveyed a message in semaphore,[verification needed] hence the common names.

Branch during day (left) and night (right)

The Tamils call this plant ThozhukaNNi (Tamil: தொழுகண்ணி). The plant is known as Praanajeewa - ප්රාණජීව in Sri Lanka, due to its movements resembling that there is a life within the plant.[3]

The plant is described in detail in Charles Darwin's 1880 The Power of Movement in Plants.


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful Dai girl named Duoyi. She loved dancing very much and danced skillfully. In gaps between the farming periods, she often toured around villages of different ethnic groups to perform for the poor. She came to be known for her masterful performance. However, some time later a bad leader came and kidnapped Duoyi and forced her to dance for him only. Duoyi escaped and committed suicide by drowning in a nearby river. People from the village then salvaged her body and held a funeral. Over time, some beautiful grasses grew from Duoyi's grave, and they ‘dance’ whenever music starts. From then on, people called this plant the ‘Dancing-grass’, and they believes the grasses are the incarnation of Duoyi.


Due to its special feature that it can ‘dance’, the plant has been used as ornament in gardening, in which some are made as bonsais.

Apart from ornamental value, the plant also has medical value. Its leaves, stems[verification needed] and roots contains small amounts of tryptamine alkaloids, namely DMT and 5-MeO-DMT, thus the whole plant can be used as medicine, which has efficacy in removing blood stasis, opening up the blocked meridians, relieve lower back and chronic pain; it can also smooth and whiten the skin by soaking its leaves in water.


  1. ^ "Codariocalyx motorius". International Legume Database & Information Service. November 2005. Retrieved December 18, 2007. 
  2. ^ Simcha Lev-Yadun. "The enigmatic fast leaflet rotation in Desmodium motorium: Butterfly mimicry for defense?" Plant Signaling & Behavior, 2013. "[1]
  3. ^

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