Clitoria fairchildiana

Family : Leguminosae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


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Clitoria fairchildiana, at home in Brazil, is a tree reaching 12 m of height © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to Brazil (Amapá, Maranhao and Pará) where it grows in the Amazonian pluvial forest in areas characterized by an annual rainfall between 1500 and 3000 mm and temperatures from 15 to 38 °C.

The name of the genus comes from the Greek substantive “κλειτορίς” (kleitoris) = clitoris, with reference to the look of the flower; the species is honoured to the American botanist David Grandison Fairchild (1869-1954).

Common names: Fairchild pigeonwings, tree clitoria, tree butterfly pea (English); arvore-da-sombra, clitoria-do-amazonas, clitoria-das estradas, faveira, palheteira, sobreiro, sombra-de-vaca, sombreiro (Portuguese–Brazil); barbasco, bohio, carauta, paraguas, sombrero (Spanish).

The Clitoria fairchildiana R.A.Howard (1967) is a deciduous, up to about 12 m tall erect tree, with trunk of 30-50 cm of diameter with wrinkly greyish bark and ample and dense canopy with horizontal or drooping branches; the roots, superficial, present a high number of nodules fixing the atmospheric nitrogen, thus rendering it available also for other plants.

The leaves, on a 3-7 cm long petiole, are alternate, compound, trifoliate, with elliptic-lanceolate to oblong-elliptic leaflets with long pointed apex and entire margin, 8-20 cm long and 3-7 cm broad, coriaceous, glabrous and of glossy intense green colour above, opaque pale green and pubescent below.

Inflorescences racemose axillar or terminal drooping, 8-40 cm long, with numerous fragrant papilionaceous flowers, about 5 cm long and 3 cm broad, of lilac colour with purple longitudinal lines on the standard. The fruit is a brown, woody and flattened legume, 12-30 cm long and 2-3 cm broad, dehiscent when ripe in explosive way, containing 5-10 lenticular black seeds, of 1-1,6 cm of diameter and 1-2 mm of thickness, that are thrown far away.

It reproduces by seed that, if fresh, easily germinates in 2-3 weeks at the temperature of 24-26 °C, otherwise is to be previously scarified and immersed in water for one day in order to accelerate its germination; it can reproduce also by cutting utilizing 30-50 cm long portions, but with a rather low rooting percentage. Fast growing species and easy to cultivate, is utilized, besides Brazil, in various tropical and humid subtropical countries as ornamental and as shade tree in parks and gardens and as road tree; requires an exposition preferably in full sun and draining, fertile, acidic or neutral soils, maintained humid.

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Axillar racemose or drooping terminal inflorescences, 8-40 cm long, with several fragrant papilionaceous flowers, about 5 cm long and 3 cm broad. Medicinal virtues © Giuseppe Mazza

It is widely utilized, due to its characteristics, also in the reforestation programs of degraded areas and for the consolidation of the soils; it has also good potentialities as fodder plant. The wood, moderately heavy and easy to work, is employed in the constructions for frames, ceilings and interior trims, not having a long duration if exposed to the bad weather, and of common use objects. Laboratory researches have evidenced the presence of bioactive compounds with anti-inflammatory properties in the roots and antioxidant in the legumes and seeds of possible use in the phamaceutical industry.

Synonyms: Clitoria racemosa Benth. (1837); Ternatea racemosa (G. Don) Kuntze (1891).


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