"Promoting the responsible establishment and management of
 combined leucaena grass pastures."




What is Leucaena ? ...

Tree Legume Forage System Takes Off

About 1890 a little-known legume tree (Leucaena leucocephala) arrived unannounced in northern Australia.

By the 1920’s this leucaena, now referred to as ‘common’ leucaena (L leucocephala ssp. leucocephala) had colonised pockets of ungrazed, non-agricultural land along urban and coastal locations in northern Australia. 

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’s in Western Australia .  When combined with grass pasture leucaena is now recognized as one of the most productive and sustainable tropical free-grazing cattle forage system.

Now 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.

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

It 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 .

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, Cunningham in 1976 and Tarramba in 1994. 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 .  Leucaena is a nitrogen-fixing, multi-stemmed legume shrub that can grow into a tree if not ‘pruned’ or grazed.  

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.


So why is it so good?  

The exceptional value of the leucaena grazing system in adapted environments is due to a combination of factors:

·         The edible material has very high nutritive value (digestibility, crude protein and essential nutrients) compared to other tropical forages.  This imparts much faster cattle weight gains and turn-off rates that lead to greater profitability and flexibility in marketing beef cattle.

·         It is a long-lived system.  While it is costly to establish it can remain productive for 30-40 years with minimal maintenance.

·         A deep root system allows the tree to provide green forage longer into the dry season and drought than conventional grass grazing systems. The current drought has highlighted how leucaena can reduce the cost of drought supplements.

But that is not all. Leucaena has some very important environment benefits.

·         It ‘fixes’ nitrogen that improves soil fertility and promotes better grass growth.

·         Leucaena grown in association with a vigorous and adapted grass (e.g. buffel, Rhodes , green panic) will prevent soil erosion.

·         The deep rooting habit of leucaena reduces the potential for deep drainage and the movement of saline soil water that causes dryland salinity.

·         As a woody-stemmed tree, leucaena acts as a carbon sink by sequestering significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere in its woody frame and in additional soil organic matter.

·         Similarly, methane emissions from cattle grazing leucaena are substantially lower than for tropical grasses, probably due to the high digestibility and condensed tannin content of leucaena forage.

There is one important environment precaution to take.

Leucaena can cause weed problems in ungrazed and disturbed areas.  The 'common' leucaena (i.e. L. leucocephala ssp. leucocephala) that arrived here over 120 years ago has shown this.  The cultivated ssp. glabrata cultivars will also colonise ungrazed and disturbed areas if they are allowed to escape from grazed plantations and precautions should be taken to prevent this.

The Leucaena Network of growers (formed in 2000) have recognized this and prepared, adopted and released a CODE OF PRACTICE in August 2000 that is promoted widely among growers.  The CODE OF PRACTICE highlights the need to manage leucaena to minimize the risk of escape and to control any plants that move from the planted area.  This CODE is consistent with the Queensland Government’s Policy to Reduce the Weed Threat of Leucaena adopted four years later in November 2004.


Anyone interested in growing leucaena for cattle forage should read and adopt the CODE OF PRACTICE. It is neither difficult nor expensive and the management strategies advocated optimize pasture productivity and profitability. 

If you want more details on the role of leucaena in Queensland , its suitability to your conditions and its establishment and management, obtain a copy of the book "Leucaena: Establishment and Management" or you can consult your local Forage Extension Officer.

The Leucaena Network    MARCH 2010

Leucaena for Profitable & Sustainable Beef Production 

Leucaena - Friend or Foe?


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