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Cratylia (Cratylia argentea)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Cratylia [English]; camaratuba, copada, cipó-prata [Portuguese]


Cratylia floribunda Benth., Dioclea argentea Desv.

Feed categories 
Related feed(s) 

Cratylia (Cratylia argentea (Desv.) Kuntze) is a shruby perennial tropical legume that provides good quality fodder and is used as protein bank. It can be grazed or cut for cut-and-carry systems and to make silage. It is particularly suited to acidic, aluminium-saturated soils of tropical lowlands with dry periods of up to 6-7 months. Cratylia is a valuable windshelter and erosion controller.


Cratylia argentea is a shruby, many-branched legume. It has a deep root, down to a depth of 2 m. It branches from the base and can produce up to 11 branches, about 1.5-3 m in height (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005; Argel et al., 1998). It has a variable habit: some trees may reach 6 m while others are prostrate. Association with taller plants may result in voluble habit. Cratylia leaves are trifoliolate. The leaflets are broadly ovate, silvery pubescent at the lower face, glabrous at the upper one. The inflorescence is a many-noded pseudoraceme, up to 30 cm long, bearing 6-9 flowers per node. The size of the flowers ranges from 1.5-3 cm (length and width), and petals are lilac or, very exceptionally, white. Fruits are straight, flat, dehiscent, up to 20 cm long pods that contain 4-8 oval to almost circular seeds of about 1.5 cm diameter. Seeds are dark yellow to brown, and dark brown when maturing under high-humidity conditions. Thousand seed weight is about 220 g (4,500 seeds/kg) (Cook et al., 2005).


Cratylia is a good source of fodder and forage with a good protein content, constituting valuable protein banks (Cook et al., 2005; Argel et al., 1998). When sown in pure or mixed stands, it can be grazed by livestock. It can be grown to make fodder banks and can be cut for cut-and-carry systems and silage. Cratylia has oustanding regrowth after grazing or cutting. It provides living fence and erosion control (Argel et al., 1998). Cratylia is thus particularly suited to agropastoral systems and for the reclamation of degraded areas (Marques et al., 2014).


Cratylia argentea originated from the Amazon Basin, in central Brazil, parts of Peru and Bolivia, and north-eastern Argentina (Argel et al., 1998). It is naturally found in South America, from 4 to 18°S, from North-East Brazil to central and western Brazil, in Bolivia, Peru, and the east of the Andes (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005). It is cultivated in the latter area but also in Central America: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala (Argel et al., 1998).

Cratylia is a summer growing legume that does not withstand low temperatures but has a high tolerance for heat (Bystricky et al., 2010; Maass, 1995). It is found at altitudes between 180 and 800 (-930) m, from wet to dry tropics where annual rainfall ranges about 1,000-4,000 mm (FAO, 2017; Cook et al., 2005; Argel et al., 1998). However, cratylia has outstanding drought tolerance and stays green along prolonged dry seasons (up to 6-7 months) (Cook et al., 2005). Cratylia does well on acidic soils (pH 3.8-6.0) that are mostly well drained (Bystricky et al., 2010). It is tolerant of aluminium saturated soils (Argel et al., 1998). The initial development of Cratylia argentea in neutral or alkaline soils is very slow (Cook et al., 2005). Cratylia is tolerant of shade and survives fire (Cook et al., 2005; Oliveira et al., 2003).

Forage management 


The DM yield of Cratylia argentea depends on plant spacing, age at first harvest and cutting intervals (Argel et al., 1998). In Nicaragua, cratylia planted at a high density of 40,000 plants/ha gave the highest yields with 18.2 t DM/ha. DM yield increased with cutting intervals from 8.7 t DM/ha at 8 week interval to 18.2 t DM/ha at 16 week interval (Reyes Sanchez, 2006; Reyes Sanchez et al., 2007). In Brazil, DM yield was about 14.3 t 189 days after planting. Cratylia remained productive during drought periods and could provide 30-40% of overall DM yield during this period (Xavier et al., 1995; Xavier et al., 1996).

Stand management

Cratylia argentea can grow in pure stands or in mixed stands with grasses such as Brachiaria, or Megathyrsus maximus. Its propagation is mainly done through direct sowing or transplanting. The seeds are viable and germinate readily. They should be sown at the onset of the rainy season at less than 2 cm depth. A full range of sowing densities (from 2,000 to 40,000 plants/ha) have been assessed. In Nicaragua, it was reported that the high density of 40,000 plants/ha had the highest yield (Reyes Sanchez, 2006). An N-fixing legume, cratylia benefits from the inoculation of Bradyrhizobium strains, particularly in Al-saturated soils. 

Cratylia does not establish readily, and Ca fertilization with 1.5 t/ha lime, inoculation and early weeding are recommended. First harvest should not occur before 4-6 months and the plant should not be cut lower than 30 cm, though plants cut at ground level have been reported to grow extraordinarily (Cook et al., 2005). In Costa Rica, it has been recommended to harvest cratylia at the end of the rainy season so that regrowth occurs during drought and livestock can benefit from the green cratylia forage (Argel et al., 1998).

Grazing pasture

Cattle and sheep prefer mature cratylia foliage to young one. Due to this valuable trait, cratylia can be used as deferred feed during the dry season with success as it has a higher palatability (Argel et al., 2001; Argel et al., 1998).

Cut-and-carry systems

Cratylia argentea can be fed fresh to pen-fed animals but it is labour consuming and thus expensive (Plazas et al., 2005).

Hay and Silage

It is possible to make hay and silage from cratylia foliage only, or from cratylia foliage blended with another legume such as cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) (Bernal et al., 2008). For smallholders, it has been recommended to use cratylia in association with maize or sugarcane in order to prepare silage in plastic bags. Molasses (5%) can be added to a mixture of maize (55%) and cratylia (40%) to improve the ensiling process (Giraldo et al., 2003). Ensiling cratylia in plastic bags is easy to perform, and does not reduce forage palatability and nutritive value (Giraldo et al., 2003).

Environmental impact 

Cover crop and land revegetation

Cratylia provides good cover to the soil and could be used to reclaim degraded pastures as it improved soil N status and could bind the soil thanks to deep rooting (Xavier et al., 1995).

Shade provider, rain and wind shelter

Cratylia provides shade, and is a rain and wind shelter useful for livestock. It was reported to improve the drainage of savannas (Rodriguez et al., 2002). It can be used as living fence around pastures (Russo et al., 1996).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

The protein content of Cratylia argentea is variable but usually quite high, in the 20-30% DM range. However, fibre content is also high (ADF 23-49% and lignin 8-19% DM).

Potential constraints 

No toxicity was recorded for cratylia (Cook et al., 2005). Unlike other tropical legumes, cratylia is reported to have little to no condensed tannins (Bernal et al., 2008; Cook et al., 2005; Stürm et al., 2007).


With its high nutritional value, high protein and low tannin contents, cratylia is suitable for ruminant supplementation during the dry season (Andersson et al., 2007). It has been considered a reliable resource for silvopastoral systems during periods of scarcity in Mexico and in the Southern State of Anzoátegui in Venezuela (Valles-De la Mora et al., 2014; Rodriguez et al., 2002).


Early reports noted that Cratylia argentea was a palatable forage readily consumed by cattle (Göhl, 1982). Sheep given immature cratylia had higher intake rate when the forage was wilted and dried than when fed fresh. When sheep were given the choice of selecting fresh or dried cratylia, they consumed more dried forage, regardless of maturity, age of the animals and previous experience with the forage (Raaflaub et al., 1995).


The in vitro DM digestibility of cratylia is highly variable, ranging from 27% to more than 90% (Andersson et al., 2006). An OM digestibility value estimated by the gas method in goats was relatively low (42%, Zhou et al., 2011). In vitro experiments reported enhanced ruminal fermentation when cratylia was combined with tanniferous shrub legumes and low quality grasses (Stürm et al., 2007). Cratylia in vitro effect on rumen fermentation resulted from an increased provision of fermentable nitrogenous compounds (Hess et al., 2006). The addition of cratylia to Brachiaria dictyoneura in experiments with RUSITEC (artificial rumen) increased the release of methane by 3-4 times (compared to forage alone) and resulted in a further higher nutrient degradation and higher rumen ammonia concentration (Hess et al., 2003). Due to its limited tannin content, the addition of PEG to assess the adverse inhibitory effect of tannin has been less effective for Cratylia argentea than for other browse species richer in tannins (Osuga et al., 2005).


Dairy cattle

In Nicaragua, DM intake and milk production of dairy cows fed ad libitum on low quality diet of sorghum-silage were increased by the suplementation of cratylia (2-3 kg). Neither milk composition (milk fat, total solids, crude protein) nor organoleptic characteristics (smell, taste and colour) were altered (Sanchez et al., 2006). In Colombia, restricted grazing of mature and/or young cratylia by dairy cows did not significantly influence the production or composition of milk compared to grazing of Brachiaria decumbens alone. Only variation of urea levels in milk and blood were noticed, probably related to a rebalancing between the ammonium released in the rumen and the energy necessary for microbial synthesis (Aparicio et al., 2002). In Costa Rica, it has been shown that the form of presentation of cratylia influenced intake. Fresh foliage mixed with molasses increased the in vitro DM digestibility by 10%. Intake was 32% higher with foliage wilted alone and 43% higher with foliage mixed with molasses. The addition of cratylia compared to the addition of chicken litter had no effect on milk production. Milk composition was comparable in both cases (Ibrahim et al., 2001). In trials with milking cows, a mix of cratylia and sugarcane used as pasture supplementation resulted in a milk increase of 1.2-2.2 L/cow/day. The increase was positively related to cratylia proportion in the mix. Response to cratylia supplementation was limited when cows of minor production potential were utilised or when the basal grass diet had protein levels above 7%. Supplementation with cratylia silage increased milk production by 0.5-1 L/day (Cook et al., 2005).

Zebu cattle

In Colombia, in growing Zebu and crossbred Zebu x San Martinero bulls, supplementation with sugarcane and cratylia gave better weight gains when animals were grazing fertilized signal grass than when they were supplemented in a corral. Grazing animals also gave better results with supplementation than without (Rincon, 2005).


There may be some difference in feeding sheep with young or mature cratylia. While wilting or drying mature cratylia did not affect intake when sheep were fed mature cratylia, these conservation processes increased the rate of intake when cratylia was cut at early stages. Sheep consumed more readily cratylia in the dry form than in the fresh one, irrespective of their previous consumption experience and their age. In Colombia, adult African hair-type sheep fed with low-quality herbaceous hay supplemented with cratylia, increased their OM and protein intake by 21% and 19% respectively, as well as ruminal fluid ammonia N concentrations. By another way, supplementation with S. saponaria increased (P < 0.05) dietary OM intake by 14%, and appears as a beneficial way to improve ruminal VFA profile, microbial efficiency, and duodenal flow of microbial protein. Otherwise few interactions between legume and S. saponaria supplementations were observed. Thus supplementation of S. saponaria fruits is a beneficial way for improving microbial efficiency not only for diets based on grass alone, but also for grass-legume diets (Abreu et al., 2004). In Colombia as well, the addition of cratylia to a low quality diet of Brachiaria dictyoneura was assessed in order to dilute tannin levels in the diet of sheep and improve their N utilisation. The addition of cratylia resulted in an apparent higher N digestibility, but intake and N retention were not significantly altered. Therefore it is important to consider not only the tannin levels but also the digestibility of the legumes used (Fässler et al., 1995).


With its high protein content and promising lysine and methionine+cystine contents (14 g/kg DM and 7.1 g/kg respectively, wich is higher than alfalfa), cratylia showed good potential for pig feeding. It had moderate in vitro degradability which advocated for further in vivo digestibility evaluation (Heinritz et al., 2012).

In Colombia, cratylia could be made into silage after preliminary drying to 35% DM, chopping and addition of sucrose and Lactobacillus plantarum lactic bacteria. Silage of cratylia foliage has a higher DM content than fresh foliage and has a pleasant smell that makes it palatable to pigs. Cratylia silage could be fed to pigs as a supplement to a basal diet of maize and soybean meal without impairing DM intake/kg LW0.75 (Sarria et al., 2013).


No information on the use of Cratylia argentea in rabbit feeding seems available in the international literature (February 2017). Since cratylia does not seem toxic and is considered suitable to feed dairy cattle and small ruminants, as shown in the Ruminants section above, cratylia in green or dried form, should be suitable to feed rabbits. However, some feeding trials should be required before it can be used for rabbit feeding. From the composition, the digestible energy content can be estimated at 8.8 MJ/kg DM (Lebas, 2016), close to that of alfalfa.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 31.2 4.1 22 37.8 21  
Crude protein % DM 20.6 2.9 11.2 31.8 131  
Crude fibre % DM 26.1 4.9 21.8 33.8 5 *
Ether extract % DM 2.2 0.5 1.4 3 6  
Ash % DM 10.8 3.2 1.1 15.8 29  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 48.7 6.5 41.1 68.1 110  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 30.3 4.7 23.2 48.8 98  
Lignin % DM 12.7 3.6 7.9 18.6 11  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.3         *
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Lysine g/16g N 5.6          
Threonine g/16g N 3.8          
Methionine g/16g N 1.6          
Cystine g/16g N 1.1          
Tryptophan g/16g N 1.4          
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 11.7 5.7 2.4 24.8 35  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.7 0.9 1.2 3.8 31  
Magnesium g/kg DM 3 2.3 1.5 8.3 18  
Potassium g/kg DM 16.8 5.1 11.7 28.4 28  
Sulfur g/kg DM 2.9 1.5 1.5 5.4 8  
Copper mg/kg DM 7 4 4 13 8  
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 30   8 70 3  
Tanins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 0   0 0 2  
In vitro digestibility and solubility Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
In vitro DM digestibility (pepsin) % 62 7 27 69 92  
In vitro DM digestibility (pepsin-cellulase) % 63          
In vitro OM digestibility (pepsin-cellulase) % 59          
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.4         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 65         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 68         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.8         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.2         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 48         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 58         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Andersson et al., 2006; Barnes, 1998; Celis et al., 2004; CIRAD, 1991; Gama, 2008; Heinritz et al., 2012; Hess et al., 2006; Ibrahim et al., 2001; Meale et al., 2012; Omokanye et al., 2001; Osuga et al., 2005; Reyes Sanchez et al., 2007; Rincon, 2005; Rodriguez et al., 2002; Sanchez et al., 2006; Santana et al., 2005; Stürm et al., 2007; Suarez Salazar et al., 2008; Tiemann et al., 2009; Zhou et al., 2011

Last updated on 19/12/2017 16:07:38

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., Boval M., Lebas F., 2018. Cratylia (Cratylia argentea). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://feedipedia.org/node/17365 Last updated on March 23, 2018, 14:16