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Desmodium heterocarpon at Kadavoor.jpg
Desmodium heterocarpon
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Tribe: Desmodieae
Subtribe: Desmodiinae
Genus: Desmodium

Many, see text

  • Catenaria Benth.
  • Desmofischera Holthuis
  • Desmodium DC.
  • Dollinera Endl.
  • Grona Lour.
  • Hanslia Schindl.
  • Hegnera Schindl.
  • Holtzea Schindl.
  • Hylodesmum H. Ohashi & R. R. Mill
  • Meibomia Heist. ex Fabr.
  • Monarthrocarpus Merr.
  • Murtonia Craib
  • Nephromeria (Benth.) Schindl.
  • Nicolsonia DC.
  • Ohwia H. Ohashi
  • Ougeinia Benth.
  • Papilionopsis Steenis
  • Pleurolobus J. St.-Hil.
  • Podocarpium (Benth.) Y. C. Yang & P. H. Huang

Desmodium is a genus in the flowering plant family Fabaceae, sometimes called tick-trefoil, tick clover, hitch hikers or beggar lice. There are dozens of species and the delimitation of the genus has shifted much over time.

These are mostly inconspicuous legumes; few have bright or large flowers. Though some can become sizeable plants, most are herbs or small shrubs. Their fruit are loments, meaning each seed is dispersed individually enclosed in its segment. This makes them tenacious plants and some species are considered weeds in places. They have a variety of uses, as well.


Several Desmodium species contain potent secondary metabolites. They are used aggressively in agriculture in push-pull technology. Tick-trefoils produce high amounts of antixenotic allomones - chemicals which repel many insect pests - and allelopathic compounds which kill weeds. For example, D. intortum and D. uncinatum are employed as groundcover in maize and sorghum fields to repel Chilo partellus, a stem-boring grass moth. They also suppress witchweeds such as Asiatic witchweed (Striga asiatica) and purple witchweed (S. hermonthica).[1]

Tick-trefoils are generally useful as living mulch and as green manure, as they are able to improve soil fertility via nitrogen fixation. Most also make good fodder for animals including bobwhite, turkey, grouse and deer.[1][2][3]

Some Desmodium species have been shown to contain high amounts of tryptamine alkaloids, though many tryptamine-containing Desmodium species have been transferred to other genera.[1]

The caterpillars of the lesser grass blue (Zizina otis) and the two-barred flasher (Astraptes fulgerator) feed on tick-trefoils. Deer also appear to rely on some species in certain areas, particularly during the more stressful summer months.

Use in traditional medicine[edit]

Some Desmodium species are used in traditional African medicine,[citation needed] and are also used in Western alternative medicine.[medical citation needed]

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

Beggar lice seeds readily stick to many objects, such as this shoe

The taxonomy and systematics of the many dozens of Desmodium species are confusing and unresolved. Related genera such as Codariocalyx, Hylodesmum, Lespedeza, Ohwia, and Phyllodium were and sometimes still are included in Desmodium.[4]

Taxonomic authorities commonly disagree about the naming and placement of species. For example, Desmodium spirale as described by August Grisebach might refer to a distinct species, but its validity is doubtful. The "Desmodium spirale" of other authorities may refer to D. neomexicanum, D. ospriostreblum, or D. procumbens. Similarly, the plant originally described as D. podocarpum by A. P. de Candolle is Hylodesmum podocarpum today, but "Desmodium podocarpum" might also refer to D. hookerianum or Hylodesmum laxum, depending on the taxonomic authority.[4]


This is an incomplete list:[4][5]

Desmodium oojeinense parts drawing. Dietrich Brandis (1874): Illustrations of the Forest Flora of North-West and Central India.

Formerly placed here[4][edit]

  • Codariocalyx motorius – telegraph plant (as D. gyrans, D. motorium, D. roylei)
  • Hylodesmum laxum (as D. laxum DC.)
    Lespedeza thunbergii was formerly known as Desmodium formosum and Desmodium thunbergii
    • Hylodesmum laxum ssp. laxum (as D. austro-japonense, D. bambusetorum, D. gardneri auct. non Benth., D. laxiflorum sensu Miq., D. laxum var. kiusianum, D. laxum ssp. laxum, D. podocarpum auct. non DC. non Hook. & Arn., D. podocarpum DC. var. gardneri sensu Bedd., D. podocarpum DC. var. laxum)
  • Hylodesmum leptopus (as D. gardneri Benth., D. laxum auct. non DC., D. laxum ssp. leptopus, D. leptopus, D. tashiroi)
  • Hylodesmum podocarpum (as D. podocarpum DC., D. podocarpum DC. var. indicum, D. podocarpum DC. var. japonicum)
    • Hylodesmum podocarpum ssp. oxyphyllum (as D. fallax var. mandshuricum, D. japonicum, D. mandshuricum, D. oxyphyllum DC., D. podocarpum DC. var. mandshuricum, D. podocarpum DC. ssp./var. oxyphyllum, D. podocarpum DC. var. polyphyllum, D. podocarpum DC. var. typicum, D. racemosum)
  • Lespedeza thunbergii (as D. formosum, D. thunbergii)
    • Lespedeza thunbergii var. thunbergii (as D. penduliflorum Oudem.)
  • Ohwia caudata (as D. caudatum)
  • Phyllodium pulchellum (as D. pulchellum)
  • Dendrolobium umbellatum (as D. umbellatum (L.) Benth.
  • Dendrolobium triangulare (as D. Desmodium umbellatum Moritz.

and many more


  • International Legume Database & Information Service (ILDIS) (2005): Genus Desmodium. Version 10.01, November 2005. Retrieved 2007-DEC-17.
  1. ^ a b c "The Plant Encyclopedia - Desmodium". The Plant Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "Plants Profile for Desmodium (ticktrefoil)". 
  3. ^ "Know Your Deer Plants: Beggar’s Lice - Quality Deer Management Association". 25 January 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d ILDIS (2005)
  5. ^ Pires Lima LC, de Queiroz LP, de Azevedo Tozzi AMG, Lewis GP. (2014). "A Taxonomic Revision of Desmodium (Leguminosae, Papilionoideae) in Brazil". Phytotaxa. 169 (1): 1–119. doi:10.11646/phytotaxa.169.1.1. 
  6. ^ See discussion at Desmodium incanum

External links[edit]