Morphological Traits as Indicators of Bitterness in Traditional Vegetables: The Case of Spider Plant (Gynandropsis gynandra) in Kenya

Main Article Content

Ruth Adeka
Catherine Lukhoba
Judith Odhiambo
Patrick Maundu


Aims: The study set out to find the existence of variation in leaf bitterness of spider plant (Gynandropsis gynandra) in six (6) agro-ecological zones in Kenya and whether levels of leaf bitterness correlated with morphological characters; colour of main stem including colour of leaf blade, stem pubescence and leaf waxiness.

Study Design: Morphological characterization was done using purposive sampling method while organoleptic characterization was done using a ‘within participants’ method.

Place and Duration of Study: Coast, Eastern, Central, Rift Valley and Nyanza regions of Kenya representing agro-ecological zones; upper highlands, lower highlands, upper midlands, lower midlands, inland lowlands and coastal lowlands, sampled between 2016-2017.

Methodology: Morphological characterization for Gynandropsis gynandra was done using IPGRI descriptors in 18 sites selected on the basis of agro-ecological zones. Mature healthy seeds of spider plant were collected from the accessions characterized and grown at Nairobi Botanic Garden using a randomized block design. Organoleptic testing was done on 40 spider plant accessions which grew to maturity. Qualitative analysis performed on four (4) qualitative traits; colour of main stem, stem pubescence, leaf waxiness and colour of leaf blade was correlated to levels of bitterness using Pearson correlational analysis. Leaf bitterness and colour of leaf blade showed significant variation in six agro-ecological zones. Leaf bitterness levels were high in coastal lowlands and lower midlands and low in highlands. Colour of leaf blade strongly associated with leaf bitterness while others correlated weakly. Gynandropsis gynandra specimens were grouped into two (2) main clusters which were further divided into eight (8) clusters in the dendogram based on level of leaf bitterness.

Changes in agro-ecology had a significant effect on the level of bitterness while the colour of the leaf blade was a strong indicator of the level of leaf bitterness of spider plant. The colour of leaf blade was recommended for distinguishing non-bitter types from bitter types of spider plant.

Spider plant, variation, morphology, leaf bitterness.

Article Details

How to Cite
Adeka, R., Lukhoba, C., Odhiambo, J., & Maundu, P. (2019). Morphological Traits as Indicators of Bitterness in Traditional Vegetables: The Case of Spider Plant (Gynandropsis gynandra) in Kenya. Asian Journal of Research in Botany, 2(3), 1-15. Retrieved from
Original Research Article


Elffers R, Graham R, Dewolf P. Flora of Tropical East Africa; Capparaceae. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens; 1964.

Maundu P, Ngugi G Kabuye C. Traditional Food Plants of Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: KENRIK National Museums of Kenya; 1999.

Oluoch M, Pichop G, Silué D, Abukutsa-Onyango M, Diouf M. Production and harvesting systems for African indigenous vegetables. In: M. Shackleton, D. Pasquini, ed., African Indigenous Vegetables in Urban Agriculture. London, UK: Earthscan. 2009;145–175.

Omondi E, Debener T, Linde M, Abukutsa-Onyango M, Dinssa F, Winkelmann T. Molecular Markers for Genetic Diversity Studies in African Leafy Vegetables. Advances in Bioscience and Biotechno-logy. 2016;7(03):188–197.

Chweya J, Mnzava N. Cat‟s whiskers, Spider plant: Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. Rome, Italy: Institute of plant Genetics and crop plant Research, Gatersleben/International Plant Genetic Resources Institute; 1997.

Smith F, Eyzaguirre P. African leafy vegetables: Their role in the World Health Organization’s global fruit and vegetables initiative. Africa Journal of Food Agriculture and Development. 2007;1–8.

Schippers R. African indigenous vegetables: An overview of the cultivated species. Chatham, UK: Natural Resources Institute/ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation; 2000.

Bosire K. Effects of Chinsaga (Gynandropsis gynandra) Haematological profile and markers of iron metabolism in Kenyan breastfeeding women. PhD thesis. University of Nairobi; 2014.

Wasonga D, Ambuko J, Chemining’wa G, Odeny D, Cramptontre B. Morphological Characterization and Selection of Spider Plant (Gynandropsis gynandra) Accessions from Kenya and South Africa. Asian Journal of Agricultural Sciences; 2015.

Hassan S, Umar R, Maishanu H, Matazu I, Faruk U, Sani A. The effects of drying method on the nutrients and non-nutrients composition of leaves of Gynandropsis gynandra (Capparaceae). Asian Journal of Biochemistry. 2007;349-353.

Van Jaarsveld P. Nutrient content of eight African leafy vegetables and their potential contribution to dietary reference intakes. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 2014;33:77–84.

Sogbohossou D, Achigan-Dako E, Maundu P, Solberg S, Deguenon M, Mumm R, Hale I, Van Deynze A, Schranz M. A roadmap for breeding orphan leafy vegetable species: A case study of Gynandropsis gynandra (Cleomaceae). Journal: Horticulture Research. 2018;5(1).

Maundu P, Achigan-Dako E, Morimoto Y. Biodiversity of African vegetables. In: C. Shackleton, M. Pasquini and A. Drescher, ed. African Indigenous Vegetables in Urban Agriculture. London, UK: Earthscan. 2009;65–104.

Kutsukutsa R, Gasura E, Mabasa S, Ngadze E. Variability in condensed tannins and bitterness in spider plant genotypes. African Crop Science Journal. 2014; 22(4): 275–280.

Franziska B. Importance of tannins for responses of aspen to anthropogenic nitrogen enrichment. [ebook] Sweden: Umeå Plant Science Centre Fysiologisk Botanik, Umeå University; 2016.

Agbemafle R, Obodai E, Adukpo G, Amprako D. Effects of boiling time on the concentrations of vitamin c and beta-carotene in five selected green vegetables consumed in Ghana. Advances in Applied Science Research. 2012;3(5): 2815-2820.

Mathooko F, Imungi J. Ascorbic acid changes in three indigenous Kenyan leafy vegetables during traditional cooking. Ecology of Food and Nutrition. 1994;32: 239-245.

Mburu MWK. The effect of irrigation, fertilizer nitrogen and planting density on bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) yield under different weather conditions. Ph.D. Thesis University of Reading, Britain; 1996.

Jaetzold H, Schmidt H. Farm management handbook of Kenya Vol. II B. Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya cooperation with German Agricultural Team (GAT) Typo-druck printers, Rossdorf; 1983.

Agro-ecological zones map has been adapted from Agro-ecological zones in Kenya (National Environment Management Authority. 2010;112.

K’Opondo F. Morphological characteriza-tion of selected Gynandropsis gynandra types from western Kenya. Annals of Biology Research. 2011;54-64.

Schweitzer J, Madritch M, Bailey J, LeRoy C, Fischer D, Rehill B, Lindroth R, Hagerman A, Wooley S, Hart S, Whitham T. From Genes to Ecosystems: The Genetic Basis of Condensed Tannins and Their Role in Nutrient Regulation in a Populus Model System. Ecosystems; 2008.
[Accessed 10 Apr. 2019]

Maundu P. Mboga za watu wa Pwani. Bioversity International; 2011.

Chweya J, Eyzaguirre P. Biodiversity of African Leafy vegetables. Rome, Italy: IPGRI. 1999;51-83.

Lev-Yadun S, Gould K. Role of anthocyanins in plant defense. University of Haifa, Oranim; 2008.

Agati G. Multiple functional roles of flavonoids in photoprotection. New Phytologist. 2010;186:786-793.
[Accessed 22 July 2019]

Opole M, Chweya J, Imungi J. Indigenous vegetables of Kenya; indigenous knowledge, agronomy and nutritive value. Field and Laboratory Experience Report; 1995.

Payne W. A glossary of plant hair terminology. Brittonia. 1978;30(2):239- 255.

Reicosky D, Hanover J. Physiological effects of surface waxes. East Lansing, Michigan: Department of Forestry, Michigan State University; 1977.