Tithonia diversifolia

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Related Links
Wild sunflower planted in hedgerows near Kisumu, W. Kenya.
© Griffee P.
Close-up of flowers
© Anthony Simons

Local names:
English (Tree marigold,tithonia,Mexican sunflower), Indonesian (kembang mbulan,harsaga), Javanese (kembang mbulan), Spanish (jalacate,Guasmara), Thai (thantawan-nu,daoruang-yipun,benchamat-nam)

Tithonia diversifolia is a woody herb or succulent (scandent) shrub 1.2-3 m tall.

Leaves opposite or alternate 3- (max. 5) lobed, base attenuate or decurrent, apex acute or acuminate, margin crenate, 5-17 x 3.5-12 cm, densely pubescent beneath; venation palmate; occasionally the upper leaves unlobed.

Florets yellow, rays 3-6 cm x 5-18 mm. Heads solitary on a peduncle 6-13 cm long. Each mature stem may bear several flowers at the top of the branches.

The specific name ‘diversifolia’ means ‘separated leaves’, from the Latin ‘diversus’ (divergent) and ‘folium’ (leaf).


T. diversifolia is a composite shrub common on field boundaries in eastern Africa. In Kenya it is found in Western and Central Provinces as well as in coastal regions and parts of the Rift Valley. It is moderately resistant to drought.

Native range
Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, United States of America, Zanzibar

Tree management

Tithonia is a fast-growing species.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; the oldest collection is 8 years old.

T. diversifolia is a composite shrub common on field boundaries in eastern Africa. In Kenya it is found in Western and Central Provinces as well as in coastal regions and parts of the Rift Valley. It is moderately resistant to drought.

T. diversifolia is easily propagated by direct seeding. However, the seeds do not germinate if planted too deep and are washed away if sown superficially. The best method is to make a furrow and cover the seeds lightly with sandy soil. Then apply mulch to prevent the seeds from being washed away and to retain soil moisture. 

It can also be established by cuttings. For successful propagation, make cuttings 20-30 cm long from the mature plant. Avoid split cuttings, as they do not sprout. Also suitable are bare-root seedlings from nurseries, or wildings.

Fodder: A suitable species for fodder for cows and goats. The leaves, soft branches and even the plant’s yellow flowers are eaten. T. diversifolia has a high nutritive-quality index. 

Tithonia provides farmers with firewood.

Medicine: An infusion of leaves is used as a medicine for constipation, stomach pains, indigestion, sore throat and liver pains. The leaves should be ground into small pieces, mixed with water, and then drunk. 

Ornamental: In Kenya, 1st planted as an ornamental plant.

Tithonia is used for live fencing and boundary demarcation.

Soil improver: Crops such as maize respond well when leaves and cuttings are applied at the rate of 1 t/ha, but best results are obtained with 5 t/ha of leafy dry matter. This is equivalent to about 159 kg N, 15 kg P, 161 kg K, 100 kg Ca and 15 kg Mn per hectare. Yields of kale, French beans, tomatoes and Napier grass all increased when these crops were planted with T. diversifolia.

Intercropping: Tithonia has a positive effect on crop yields.