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Striga bilabiata MS4167.jpg
Scientific classification
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Not to be confused with Strigoi.
Striga bilabiata MS4167.jpg
Scientific classification

Striga, commonly known as witchweed or witches weed, is a genus of parasitic plants that occur naturally in parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia. It is in the family Orobanchaceae. Some species are serious pathogens of crop cereals, with the greatest effects being in savanna agriculture in Africa. It also causes considerable crop losses in other regions, including other tropical and subtropical crops in its native range and in the Americas.


Witchweeds are characterized by bright-green stems and leaves and small, brightly colored and attractive flowers.[1] They are obligate hemiparasites of roots and require a living host for germination and initial development, though they can then survive on their own.[2]

The genus is classified in the family Orobanchaceae,[3] although older classifications place it in the Scrophulariaceae.[4]

The number of species is not certain, but exceeds 40 by some counts.[2][5]

Hosts and symptoms[edit]

Although most species of Striga are not pathogens that affect human agriculture, some species have devastating effects upon crops, particularly those planted by subsistence farmers.[6] Crops most commonly affected are corn, sorghum, rice and sugarcane.[1][7] Three species cause the most damage: Striga asiatica, S. gesnerioides, and S. hermonthica.

Witchweed parasitizes corn, millet, sorghum, sugarcane, rice, legumes, and a range of weedy grasses.[8] It is capable of significantly reducing yields, in some cases wiping out the entire crop.[1]

Host plant symptoms, such as stunting, wilting, and chlorosis, are similar to those seen from severe drought damage, nutrient deficiency, and vascular disease.[1][8][9]


Photo of plant roots with connected Striga plant

Each plant is capable of producing up to 500,000 seeds, which may remain viable in the soil for over 10 years.[10] An annual plant, witchweed overwinters in the seed stage.[1] Its seeds germinate in the presence of host root exudate, and develop haustoria which penetrate host root cells.[1] Host root exudate contain strigolactones, signaling molecules that promote striga seed germination.[11] A bell-like swell forms where the parasitic roots attach to the roots of the host.[8] The pathogen colonizes underground, where it may spend the next four to seven weeks before emergence, when it rapidly flowers and produces seeds.[8] Witchweed seeds spread easily by wind, water, and soil via animal vectors.[8] The chief means of dispersal, however, is through human interaction, by means of machinery, tools, and clothing.[8][10]


Temperatures ranging from 30 to 35 °C (86 to 95 °F) in a moist environment are ideal for germination.[8] Witchweed will not develop in temperatures below 20 °C (68 °F). Agricultural land with light soil and low nitrogen levels tend to favor its development.[12] Still, witchweed has demonstrated a wide tolerance for soil types if soil temperatures are favorably high.[1] Seeds have been shown to survive in frozen soil of temperatures as low as −15 °C (5 °F), attesting to their aptitude as overwintering structures.[1]

Soil temperature, air temperature, photoperiod, soil type, and soil nutrient and moisture levels do not greatly deter the development of witchweed.[1] These findings suggest, though it has been limited to the Carolinas in the United States, that the pathogen would successfully infect the massive corn crops of the Midwest.[1]


Management of witchweed is difficult because the majority of its life cycle takes place below ground. If it is not detected before emergence, it is too late to reduce crop loss.[8] To prevent witchweed from spreading it is necessary to plant uncontaminated seeds and clean soil and plant debris off of machinery, shoes, clothing, and tools before entering fields.[8][12] If populations are low, hand weeding before seeds are produced is an option.

Striga in the United States has been controlled through the use of several management strategies, including quarantines imposed on affected areas, control of movement of farm equipment between infected and uninfected areas, herbicide application, and imposed "suicidal germination". For the latter, in fields not yet planted in crops, seeds present in the soil are induced to germinate by injecting ethylene gas, which mimics the natural physiological response tied to host recognition. Because no host roots are available, the seedlings die. Unfortunately, each Striga plant can produce tens of thousands of tiny seeds, which can remain dormant in the soil for many years.[13] Thus, such treatments do not remove all seeds from the soil. Moreover, this method is expensive and not generally available to many farmers in developing nations of Africa and Asia.

Another method called trap cropping involves planting a species in an infested field that will induce the Striga seeds to germinate but will not support attachment of the parasite. This method has been used in sorghum plantations by planting Celosia argentea between the sorghum.[14] Planting silverleaf (Desmodium uncinatum) inhibits striga seed germination and has worked effectively intercropped with maize.[15][16] Cotton, sunflower, linseed, and witchweed-resistant maize are also effective trap crops.[8]

Increasing nitrogen levels in the soil, growing tolerant varieties,and trap-cropping, and planting susceptible crops harvested before witchweed seed is produced, can also be used.[12] Coating maize seeds with fungi or a herbicide also appears to be a promising approach.

Several sorghum varieties have high levels of resistance in local conditions, including 'N-13', 'Framida', and 'Serena'.[17][18] 'Buruma', 'Shibe', 'Okoa' and 'Serere 17' millet cultivars are considered to be resistant in Tanzania.[18] Some corn varieties show partial resistance to witchweed, including 'Katumani' in Kenya.[18] In a number of rice cultivars, including some cultivars of NERICA (New Rice for Africa), effective pre- and post- attachment resistance mechanisms have been identified.[19][20] Some crop cultivars, especially corn, are resistant to herbicides that kill witchweed when the haustoria attach to the crop.[21] 'Strigaway' maize has been shown to reduce the seed bank of striga by 30% in two seasons.[21]


Corn, sorghum, and sugarcane crops affected by witchweed in the United States have an estimated value well over $20 billion.[1] Furthermore, witchweed is capable of wiping out an entire crop.[8] In fact, it is so prolific that in 1957 Congress allocated money in an attempt to eradicate witchweed. Thus, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture established a research station and control methods.[10] Through infestation mapping, quarantine, and control activities such as contaminated seed destruction, the acreage parasitized by witchweed has been reduced 99% since its discovery in the United States.[10] APHIS has even offered cash rewards for those identify and report the weed, and encourages landowners to check their own acreage.[10]

Parasitizing important economic plants, witchweed is one of the most destructive pathogens in Africa.[9] In fact, witchweed affects 40% of Africa’s arable savanna region, resulting in up to $13 billion lost every year.[18] Striga affects 40 million hectares (98,842,153 acres) of crops in sub-Saharan Africa alone.[21] The witchweed infestation is so bad in parts of Africa, some farmers have to relocate every few years.[22] Furthermore, the majority of crops in Africa are grown by subsistence farmers who cannot afford expensive witchweed controls, who therefore suffer much as a result of this pathogen.[22]

Common species[edit]

Photo of a striga plant (witchweed)
Striga bilabiata


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sand, Paul, Robert Eplee, and Randy Westbrooks.Witchweed Research and Control in the United States. Champaign, IL: Weed Science Society of America, 1990.[page needed]
  2. ^ a b Witchweeds - beautiful but deadly, in The Horticulturalist, Vol. 21-4, October 2012[page needed]
  3. ^ Young, Nelson D.; Steiner, Kim E.; dePamphilis, Claude W. (Autumn 1999). "The Evolution of Parasitism in Scrophulariaceae/Orobanchaceae: Plastid Gene Sequences Refute an Evolutionary Transition Series". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 86 (4): 876–93. doi:10.2307/2666173. JSTOR 2666173. 
  4. ^ For example, Integrated Taxonomic Information System as of 16 Sep 2007
  5. ^ Mohamed, Kamal I.; Musselman, Lytton John; Riches, Charles R. (Winter 2001). "The Genus Striga (Scrophulariaceae) in Africa". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 88 (1): 60–103. doi:10.2307/2666132. JSTOR 2666132. 
  6. ^ Nickrent, D. L.; Musselman, L. J. (2004). "Introduction to Parasitic Flowering Plants". The Plant Health Instructor. doi:10.1094/PHI-I-2004-0330-01. 
  7. ^ Rodenburg, Jonne; Riches, Charles R.; Kayeke, Juma M. (2010). "Addressing current and future problems of parasitic weeds in rice". Crop Protection 29 (3): 210. doi:10.1016/j.cropro.2009.10.015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Johnson, Annie. New South Wales. Witchweed. 2005.
  9. ^ a b Agrios, George N. Plant Pathology. 5th ed. London: Elsevier Academic Press, 2005.[page needed]
  10. ^ a b c d e United States. Witchweed: A Parasitic Pest. District of Columbia: USDA, 2003.[page needed]
  11. ^ Matusova, Radoslava; Rani, Kumkum; Verstappen, Francel W.A.; Franssen, Maurice C.R.; Beale, Michael H.; Bouwmeester, Harro J. (2005). "The Strigolactone Germination Stimulants of the Plant-Parasitic Striga and Orobanche spp. Are Derived from the Carotenoid Pathway". Plant Physiology 139 (2): 920–34. doi:10.1104/pp.105.061382. PMC 1256006. PMID 16183851. 
  12. ^ a b c California Department of Food and Agriculture. Witchweed.
  13. ^ van Mourik, Thomas A (2007). Striga hermonthica seed bank dynamics process quantification and modelling (PhD thesis). Wageningen University. ISBN 978-90-8504-692-9. [page needed]
  14. ^ Olupot, J.R; Osiru, D.S.O; Oryokot, J; Gebrekidan, B (2003). "The effectiveness of Celosia argentia (Striga 'chaser') to control Striga on Sorghum in Uganda". Crop Protection 22 (3): 463–8. doi:10.1016/S0261-2194(02)00181-3. 
  15. ^ Khan, Zeyaur R.; Hassanali, Ahmed; Overholt, William; Khamis, Tsanuo M.; Hooper, Antony M.; Pickett, John A.; Wadhams, Lester J.; Woodcock, Christine M. (2002). "Control of witchweed Striga hermonthica by intercropping with Desmodium spp., and the mechanism defined as allelopathic". Journal of Chemical Ecology 28 (9): 1871–85. doi:10.1023/A:1020525521180. PMID 12449513. 
  16. ^ Radford, Tim (September 18, 2003). "Perfect maize, in three simple steps". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  17. ^ Rodenburg, J.; Bastiaans, L.; Weltzien, E.; Hess, D.E. (2005). "How can field selection for Striga resistance and tolerance in sorghum be improved?". Field Crops Research 93 (1): 34–50. doi:10.1016/j.fcr.2004.09.004. 
  18. ^ a b c d "Purple Witchweed." Infonet-biovision. N.p., 14 Sep 2009. Web. 7 Dec 2010. <>.
  19. ^ Jamil, Muhammad; Rodenburg, Jonne; Charnikhova, Tatsiana; Bouwmeester, Harro J. (2011). "Pre-attachment Striga hermonthica resistance of New Rice for Africa (NERICA) cultivars based on low strigolactone production". New Phytologist 192 (4): 964–75. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03850.x. PMID 21883233. 
  20. ^ Cissoko, Mamadou; Boisnard, Arnaud; Rodenburg, Jonne; Press, Malcolm C.; Scholes, Julie D. (2011). "New Rice for Africa (NERICA) cultivars exhibit different levels of post-attachment resistance against the parasitic weeds Striga hermonthica and Striga asiatica". New Phytologist 192 (4): 952–63. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03846.x. PMID 21883232. 
  21. ^ a b c "Controlling Witchweed in Sub-saharan Africa." Web. 7 Dec 2010. <>
  22. ^ a b Samarrai, Fariss. "U.Va. Scientists Identify Gene for Resistance to Parasitic 'Witchweed'." UVaToday. N.p., 27 Aug 2009. Web. 7 Dec 2010. <>

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]