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Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea) is an important grain legume which grows in the semi-arid regions of Africa. Its ability to fix nitrogen and its resistance to high temperatures and drought makes it a valuable crop in areas where soils are too poor for other leguminous crops to grow. By burying its fruits in the soil it protects them from insect damage which can devastate other crops such as cowpea, common bean and soybean, whose tastiest parts are above ground.

[ILDIS]

International Legume Database and Information Service

Conservation
Not Threatened
Ecology
Africa: Cultivated, Sudanian woodland
Morphology General Habit
Annual, Not climbing, Herb
Vernacular
Bambara, Bambara Bean, Bambara Groundnut, Bambarra Groundnut, Mani Congo, Ouange, Pistache Malgache, Voanjabory, Voanjobory

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea) is an important grain legume which grows in the semi-arid regions of Africa. Its ability to fix nitrogen and its resistance to high temperatures and drought makes it a valuable crop in areas where soils are too poor for other leguminous crops to grow. By burying its fruits in the soil it protects them from insect damage which can devastate other crops such as cowpea, common bean and soybean, whose tastiest parts are above ground.

Bambara groundnut is very nutritious, boasting a 65% carbohydrate content and an 18% protein content, making it an important addition to the diets of people who cannot afford expensive animal protein. It is considered to be a complete food and people can survive exclusively on bambara groundnut for all of their nutritional needs.

Bambara groundnut is a lifesaver during the hungry season, the period that exists when the old crops have been eaten and the new crops have not yet been harvested. Despite all of these benefits it is a much underutilised and has the potential to be more than just a subsistence crop. Part of the problem is its stigma as a 'poor person's crop'. 

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Bambara groundnut most likely originated in north-eastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon, where it can still be found growing wild today. It is cultivated throughout tropical Africa and to a lesser extent in the tropical parts of the Americas, Asia and Australia. 

Habitat

Bambara groundnut grows best in dry areas with sandy soils. It is also well suited to upland areas such as the highlands of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Bambara groundnut can produce a reasonably good yield in humid regions, although the dampness makes it susceptible to fungal diseases and the plant needs careful handling. 

Description

Vigna subterranea is a leafy, annual, creeping legume with glabrous (hairless) leaves supported by a petiole 5-30 cm long. Each leaf is composed of three leaflets (trifoliolate) and can be up to 11 cm long. 

Yellow flowers are clustered 1-3 on an unbranched axis, known as a raceme. They are papilionaceous, typical of species belonging to the subfamily Papilionoideae, and resemble, for example, the pea flower. The peduncle (the stalk supporting the raceme) is up to 3 cm long, hairy and after flowering it expands and bends downwards so that the fruits develop underground.

The ovary, which develops into the seed pod, contains 1-4 ovules. Once mature the seeds, which can be of various colours, are almost spherical and are 8-15 mm in diameter. Bambara groundnut has a deep taproot surrounded by lateral roots bearing nitrogen-fixing nodules.

Threats and conservation

Vigna subterranea is not considered to be threatened in the wild and its conservation status is of least concern (LC). 

Uses

Bambara groundnut is cultivated mainly for its seeds which can be boiled, roasted or fried to make a delicious snack or mixed in with maize or plantains to serve as a meal. The seeds can be ground into flour after roasting and used to prepare porridge or they can be soaked, boiled and ground into a paste and used in fried or steamed dishes popularly eaten in Nigeria. The flour can also be used as a thickener in soups and stews and in Zambia it is commonly made into bread. Milk can be made from the seeds and fermented products similar to tempeh and dawadawa can be prepared.

Besides being a food crop, the seeds and leafy shoots of bambara groundnut, which are rich in protein and phosphorus make good fodder for pigs and poultry.

Bambara groundnut also has a number of medicinal uses. In Senegal: 

leaf preparations are applied as a poultice for infected wounds and abscessesleaf sap is applied to the eyes as a treatment for epilepsypounded seeds mixed with water are used to treat cataractsthe roots of the plant can be taken as an aphrodisiac

Evidence suggests that high fibre foods such as bambara groundnut can reduce the incidence of heart disease and help to prevent colon cancer.

Bambara groundnut improves the quality of the soil because of its ability to fix nitrogen from the air. It is therefore a good companion in crop rotations.

Crop wild relatives of bambara groundnut

The Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are engaged in a ten-year project, called 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change'. The project aims to protect, collect and prepare the wild relatives of 29 key food crops, including bambara groundnut, so that they are available to pre-breeders for the development of new varieties that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Its ability to fix nitrogen and its resistance to high temperatures and drought makes bambara groundnut a valuable crop with enormous potential to be grown on a larger scale, providing food security for many more people. 

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The  Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plants worldwide, focusing on those plants which are under threat and those which are of most use in the future. Once seeds have been collected they are dried, packaged and stored at -20°C in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank vault.

Description of seeds:  Average weight of 1,000 seeds = 585 g

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank:  One

Seed storage behaviour:  Orthodox (the seeds of this plant can be dried to a low moisture content without significantly reducing their viability. This means they are suitable for long-term frozen storage)

Germination testing:  Successful

This species at Kew

Pressed and dried specimens of bambara groundnut are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details and images of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

Distribution
Cameroon, Niger
Ecology
Bambara groundnut grows best in dry areas with sandy soils. More information below.
Conservation
Common in the wild and in cultivation and thus not globally threatened.

[FTEA]

Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

Morphology General Habit
Annual herb with short compact to long loose sparsely pubescent densely leafy creeping stems.
Morphology Leaves
Leaves held erect; leaflets elliptic, obovate or oblanceolate, 3–8 cm. long, 0·8–4 cm. wide, rounded or emarginate at the apex, cuneate at the base; petiole 2–30 cm. long; rhachis (0·1–)1–2·5 cm. long; petiolules 1–3 mm. long; stipules ovate, 3 mm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Racemes 1–3-flowered; peduncle 0·5–2 cm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx glabrous; tube ± 1 mm. long; lobes ±1 mm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Standard yellow, obovate, 4–7 mm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pods 1–2·2 cm. long, 1·2–1·8 cm. wide, glabrous.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds variously coloured white, yellow, red or blackish or variously mottled, longest dimension 8·5–15 mm., shorter dimension 6·5–10 mm.

[FWTA]

Papilionaceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:2. 1958

Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers usually in pairs on a peduncle, stigma lateral.

[ILDIS]
Use
Environmental, Food and Drink, Forage

[KSP]
Use
Food, fodder, medicine.

Native to:

Cameroon, Central African Repu, Chad, Nigeria, Sudan

Introduced into:

Angola, Benin, Burkina, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Ivory Coast, Jawa, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, New Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zaïre

English
Bambara groundnut

Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
Dalziel, J.M. [s.n.], Nigeria K000263432 syntype
Dalziel, J.M. [s.n.], Nigeria K000263433
Dalziel, J.M. [916], Nigeria Voandzeia subterranea 22192.000
Hepper, F.N. [2705] Voandzeia subterranea 773.000

First published in Kew Bull. 35: 474 (1980)

Accepted by

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006). Flore Analytique du Bénin: 1-1034. Backhuys Publishers.
  • Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali: 1-465. Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux.
  • Brunel, J.F., Hiepo, P. & Scholz, H. (eds.) (1984). Flore Analytique du Togo Phanérogames: 1-751. GTZ, Eschborn.
  • Catarino, L., Sampaio Martins, E., Pinto-Basto, M.F. & Diniz, M.A. (2006). Plantas Vasculares e Briófitos da Guiné-Bissau: 1-298. Instituto de investigação científica tropical, Instituto Português de apoio ao desenvolvimento.
  • Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015). The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan: 1-400. Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Du Puy, D.J., Labat, N.-N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J. (2002). The Leguminosae of Madagascar: 1-737. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Figueiredo, E. & Smith, G.F. (2008). Plants of Angola Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Kumar, S. & Sane, P.V. (2003). Legumes of South Asia. A Checklist: 1-536. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso: 1-341. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lock, J.M. & Ford, C.S. (2004). Legumes of Malesia a Check-List: 1-295. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lock, J.M. (1989). Legumes of Africa a check-list: 1-619. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Mackinder, B., Pasquet, R., Polhill, R. & Verdcourt, B. (2001). Flora Zambesiaca 3(5): 1-261. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • van der Maesen, L.J.G. & Sosef, M.S.M. (2016). Flore du Gabon 49: 1-407. Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

  • Beentje, H. (2010). The Kew Plant Glossary: an Illustrated Dictionary of Plant Terms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Brink, M. & Belay, G. (2006). Cereals and Pulses: Volume 1 of Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. PROTA.
  • Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. Third edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (2008). Seed Information Database (SID). Version 7.1.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006). Flore Analytique du Bénin: 1-1034. Backhuys Publishers.
  • Berhaut, J. (1976). Flore illustrée du Sénégal 5: 1-658. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du développement rural direction des eaux et forêta, Dakar.
  • Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali: 1-465. Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux.
  • Brunel, J.F., Hiepo, P. & Scholz, H. (eds.) (1984). Flore Analytique du Togo Phanérogames: 1-751. GTZ, Eschborn.
  • Catarino, L., Sampaio Martins, E., Pinto-Basto, M.F. & Diniz, M.A. (2006). Plantas Vasculares e Briófitos da Guiné-Bissau: 1-298. Instituto de investigação científica tropical, Instituto Português de apoio ao desenvolvimento.
  • Du Puy, D.J., Labat, N.-N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J. (2002). The Leguminosae of Madagascar: 1-737. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Figueiredo, E. & Smith, G.F. (2008). Plants of Angola Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Jones, M. (1991). A checklist of Gambian plants: 1-33. Michael Jones, The Gambia College.
  • Kumar, S. & Sane, P.V. (2003). Legumes of South Asia. A Checklist: 1-536. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lebrun, J.-P., Audru, J., Gaston, A. & Mosnier, M. (1972). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Tchad Méridional: 1-289. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso: 1-341. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lock, J.M. & Ford, C.S. (2004). Legumes of Malesia a Check-List: 1-295. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lock, J.M. (1989). Legumes of Africa a check-list: 1-619. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Mackinder, B., Pasquet, R., Polhill, R. & Verdcourt, B. (2001). Flora Zambesiaca 3(5): 1-261. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

International Legume Database and Information Service

  • Ambasta, S. P. (1986). The useful plants of India
  • Backer, C. A. (1963). Flora of Java. Groningen, The Netherlands
  • Dalziel, J. M. (1937). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa
  • Du Puy, D. J. et al. (2002). The Leguminosae of Madagascar. RBG Kew.
  • Hepper, F. N. (1958). Papilionoideae. In: Flora West Tropical Africa. Keay, R. W. J.
  • Hepper, F. N. (1963). Kew Bull. 16:395-403. Voandzeia & Kerstingiella.
  • Liogier, A. H. (1985). La Flore de la Espanola. III
  • Lock, J. M. (1985). Pers. obs.
  • Polhill, R, M. (1990). Legumineuses. In: Flore des Mascareignes, Vol 80. J. Bosser et a
  • Robertson, S. A. (1989). Flowering Plants of Seychelles. Kew
  • Terrell, E. E. (1977). Checklist of Names for 3, 000 Vas. Pl... Agric. Handbook No. 505
  • Verdcourt, B. (1979). A Manual of New Guinea Legumes. Office of Forests, Lae, PNG

Flora of Tropical East Africa
Flora of Tropical East Africa
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Flora of West Tropical Africa
Flora of West Tropical Africa
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Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

International Legume Database and Information Service
International Legume Database and Information Service (ILDIS) V10.39 Nov 2011
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
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