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Weed Alert!

Sesbania punicea
(syn. "Sesbania tripetii", "Daubentonia punicea")
(Rattlebox, Chinese Wisteria)

Summary: known invaders sighted in new areas
We have found Sesbania punicea spreading into native vegetation along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. This is the first report of this species in North America, west of the Rockies. There is an undocumented report that it occurs in marshes around Suisun Marsh in the California Delta. Recently, we have been told of an infestation on the north shore of the North Forebay of Oroville Dam, Butte County (Dempsey, 2001). S. punicea is widely used as an ornamental plant because of its attractive compound leaves, bright sprays of red flowers and persistent winged fruit. Unfortunately, it has escaped from cultivation in several countries.

(Click on thumbnail images for a closer view)


Flowering ranch

Small tree


Fruiting tree
Sesbania punicea is a deciduous shrub or small tree, up to 4 meters tall. It has 10-20 cm long compound leaves each with 10-40 small dark-green leaflets in opposite pairs. Each leaflet is oblong and ends in a tiny pointed tip. The showy coral or red flowers appear in spring and early summer in dense sprays (up to 25 cm long) that droop or project outwards. The 2-3 cm long flowers are shaped like pea flowers. A characteristic feature are the seed pods, which are longitudinally 4-winged, oblong, 6-8 cm long, 1 cm broad, borne on short 1.5 cm stalks and may be dispersed by water. The tip of the pod is sharply pointed. The 4-10 seeds are separated by partitions and are freed only when the pod eventually breaks open.
The legume genus Sesbania includes a number of annual and woody species, many of commercial value.

Scientific and Common Names:
The name "Sesbania tripetii" Hort. ex F.T. Hubbard may be a synonym name of Sesbania punicea (Cav.) Benth. The genus name "Daubentonia" is occasionally used. The specific name "punicea" is the Latin word for crimson and refers to the brilliantly colored flowers. The common name "Rattlebox" is derived from the woody seed pods which loosely hold their seeds.

1)It is a serious weed in South Africa, and has also been reported in Lesotho and Zimbabwe. In southern Africa it is invading native vegetation where it forms dense thickets, especially in damp areas.
2)It is a problematic weed in wetlands in Florida, Texas and Georgia.
3)It produces abundant seed, can reproduce rapidly, and since it may grow along watercourses its bouyant pods may spread great distances.

Native Range:
Sesbania punicea is native to South America (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay). In Argentina it is common on the islands of the lower Parana Delta, along the Rio de la Planta and on the island of Martin Garcia.

Range As An Invader:
In the USA, it occurs from northern Florida and south Georgia to eastern Texas, and now in the central valley of California. In southern Africa it is a serious weed in South Africa, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa it has invaded the Natal, Transvaal, and Cape Provinces. It is especially troublesome along rivers and streams.
This plant may invade moist areas where there are long, hot summers. It can survive a hard freeze, but probably not ones of more than a few days. It is most likely to spread to wildlands adjacent to or downstream from ornamental plantings of S. punicea.

Young plants of Sesbania punicea can be pulled by hand or with a weed wrench. The root system is not very large, especially in waterlogged situations, so pulling is relatively easy. Larger trees can be cut, and the stumps should be treated with triclopyr. Flooding is not effective, but trees standing in water could be cut below the water line (without an herbicide application). Glyphosate has been used unsuccessfully in Florida when used alone (1%, as a foliar spray) and with triclopyr (1% Glyphosate, 1% triclopyr). Trees in California sprayed with glyphosate have responded with yellowed leaves, but the overall efficacy of this method has not yet been determined (Dempsey, 2001). Three biocontrol agents are used against S. punicea in South Africa.

1)Henderson, L. 1995, Plant Invaders of Southern Africa, Plant Protection Research Institute, Agricultural Research Council (South Africa). Pretoria, South Africa.
2)Jacono, C. 1998, personal communication.
3)Shapiro, A. 1998, personal communication.
4)Stirton, C.H. 1980, Plant Invaders: Beautiful But Dangerous, Department of Nature and Environmental Conservation of the Cape Provincial Administration, Cape Town, South Africa.
5)Weimer, J. 1998, personal communication.
6)Dempsey, J. 2001, personal communication.

--Barry Rice/Wildland Invasive Species Team; October 1998

Updated January 2005
©The Nature Conservancy, 1998