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Kapok bush (Aerva javanica)


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Common names 

Kapok bush, pillow-weed, desert cotton [English]; الراء الجاوي [Arabic]; לובד המדבר [Hebrew]


Aerva persica (Burm. f.) Merr., Aerva tomentosa Forssk., Iresine javanica Burm. f., Iresine persica Burm. f.

Related feed(s) 

The kapok bush (Aerva javanica (Burm. f.) Juss. ex Schult.) is a perennial semi-shrubby plant growing in tropical and subtropical dry areas. It is both erect and spreading, grows up to a height of 1.5 m high, and is covered with densely matted hairs on stems and leaves. Aerva javanica is much-branched, with vigorous round stems that are woody at the base, and a dark stout taproot. It has numerous leaves, ovate to lanceolate, 10-20 x 40-75 mm, alternate and white to grey. The flowers are small and whitish and arranged in dense, woolly terminal panicles (Bartha, 1970Palmer et al., 2011).

Aerva javanica is used for grazing in dry rangelands (Burkill, 1985) and has been planted for forage in Australia, where it is regarded as a useful fodder (Queensland Government, 2011). In earlier times, the densely woolly parts of the inflorescence were used by Bedouins for stuffing saddle pads and cushions, hence the name "kapok bush" (Soliman, 2006). Aerva javanica has many uses in human and animal ethnomedicine. In Pakistan, it is used as a purgative, antidiarrheal and anthelmintic medicine in cattle (Khan, 2009; Qureshi et al., 2009). In India, boiled seeds are fed to animals suffering from foot and mouth disease (Mistry et al., 2003). In Ethiopia, roots are used to treat ophthalmic infection in goats (Giday et al., 2013). Aerva javanica contains secondary metabolites (flavonoids, alkaloids, tannins, sterols, etc.) that have been investigated in veterinary medicine (Khan et al., 1982; Chawla et al., 2012). In India, a paste made of green leaves, used for healing wounds and inflammation, was found to have antibacterial activity (Srinivas et al., 2012).


Aerva javanica is widespread in semi-arid and arid regions of the tropics and subtropics. It is found throughout much of mainland Africa, on the Cape Verde islands and in Madagascar, in the Arabian Peninsula and areas further eastwards in southern Asia and the Indian sub-continent (Queensland Government, 2011). It was introduced in the 1880s in Australia to help regenerate rangeland areas (Palmer et al., 2011Western Australian Herbarium, 2014). It is a weed of waste ground in arid localities (Burkill, 1985). In Australia, it is commonly found on roadsides and disturbed areas (Palmer et al., 2011). Aerva javanica is mostly found growing on sandy or calcareous soils (Queensland Government, 2011). It flowers from January to May in the Northern Hemisphere (Soliman, 2006), and from April to November in Australia (Palmer et al., 2011).

Forage management 

Aerva javanica reproduces by seeds, which are only produced on female plants. The small seeds are dispersed by animals, wind and vehicles (Queensland Government, 2011). Aerva javanica is mentioned in the literature only as a grazing species.

Environmental impact 

Land regeneration

Aerva javanica has been used for grassland regeneration in severely degraded areas due to excessive grazing. In North-West Australia, a reseeding programme using kapok bush as a colonising species began in 1960. It aimed to assist development of a favourable seedbed for native and sown species: buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) and birdwood grass (Cenchrus setiger) in ploughed contour bands. It was largely successful, with significant re-establishment of native grass species a few decades later (Novelly et al., 2007).


Aerva javanica has been regarded as a serious environmental weed in Australia since the 2000s, and has been rated highly invasive in Western Australia. However, there are conflicting opinions to its invasiveness and impact, as it is also a useful fodder in dry areas (Queensland Government, 2011).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

In Southern Egypt, Aerva javanica was found to have a moderate protein content (13% DM) in the winter season, which decreases to 4% in the dry season (Belal et al., 2009). Other sources report a poor protein content (7-10% DM) and a high fibre content (crude fibre more than 30% DM) (Bartha, 1970Hussain et al., 2011Abideen et al., 2011).


Information on the utilization of Aerva javanica by ruminants is scarce. In Africa, it was shown to provide grazing for livestock in Mauritania, the central Sahara region and Senegal, for sheep in Somalia, and for domestic livestock and game in Kenya (Burkill, 1985). In Southern Egypt, the Bedouins consider that it has a low grazing value but that the flowers are valuable for lactating ewes (Belal et al., 2009).


The palatability of Aerva javanica depends on the livestock species. In the Thal and Cholistan deserts of Punjab, Pakistan, it was observed that it was only grazed by sheep and goats, whereas camels, cattle and buffaloes did not eat it (Gulshan et al., 2012). Early reports from Africa showed that it was palatable to goats and sheep, while cattle would only make use of it as a dry season forage (Bartha, 1970). It was said to be unpalatable to cattle (Chad) and camels (Hoggar, Somalia). In the latter country, camels found it distasteful and took it only in default of better browsing (Burkill, 1985). In Kenya, Aerva javanica was grazed by eland (Taurotragus oryx) (Nge'the et al., 1976).

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  
Crude protein % DM 9.0   7.7 10.3 2  
Crude fibre % DM 36.6   31.5 41.7 2  
NDF % DM 35.3       1  
ADF % DM 19.7       1  
Lignin % DM 6.3       1  
Ether extract % DM 1.0   0.8 1.2 2  
Ash % DM 8.4       1  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.1         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 9.0       1  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.5       1  
Potassium g/kg DM 21.1       1  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.2       1  
Magnesium g/kg DM 4.6       1  

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


Abideen et al., 2011; Bartha, 1970; Hussain et al., 2011

Last updated on 29/10/2014 11:28:42

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Maxin G., 2016. Kapok bush (Aerva javanica). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/193 Last updated on February 17, 2016, 14:00

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)
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