The Leucaena Network

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history of leucaena

The beginnings of a tree forage system

In 1890 a little-known legume tree (Leucaena leucocephala) arrived in northern Australia and a tree legume forage system began. At that time no one was to realize that over 100 years later selected L. leucocephala ssp. glabrata cultivars would be established for pasture in more than 200,000 ha in Queensland. Smaller commercial stands have also been established in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia. When combined with grass pasture, leucaena is now recognized as one of the most productive and sustainable tropical free-grazing cattle forage systems in the tropics.


Leucaena pastures are being established in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales in areas previously thought to be too cold for this tropical species.


Trees and shrubs of the Leucaena genus originate in the tropics of Mexico and Central and South America.


Leucaena has been used for many centuries for a multitude of purposes (animal feed, human vegetable, green manure, timber, fuel wood, shade and charcoal).  History suggests that L. leucocephala spread throughout South-east Asia and the Pacific on sailing ships as early as 400 years ago from where it reached Australia in the late 1800s.


It was not until the early 1950’s that Australian scientists recognized the potential for its cultivation in extensive grazed systems for tropical Australia. Leucaena material was introduced to Queensland for evaluation by CSIRO from 1954 from Central America, Mexico and Hawaii. The first cultivars Peru and El Salvador were released for use in 1962. They all belonged to the L. leucocephala subspecies glabrata.


Since this humble beginning, intensive research, development and promotion over the following decades has seen the establishment and refinement of one of the most productive and sustainable grazing systems for the tropics and has expanded its use from less than 400 ha in 1979 to some over 200,000 ha today. The most widely used leucaena cultivars today are Cunningham, Tarramba and Peru.


In Australia leucaena is grown in rows 6-10 m apart with an adapted companion grass between. These pastures are grazed directly by cattle to manage seed set and maintain a leafy hedgerow form accessible to cattle.  It can be rain-grown or irrigated where water is available.