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 150,000 ha throughout Australia. When combined with grass pasture, Leucaena is now recognised as one of the most productive and sustainable tropical free-grazing cattle forage systems in the tropics.
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 subsp. 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. This variety, often referred to as ‘common Leucaena’ has been naturalised in coastal and urban areas of northernAustralia for more than 100 years and is typically found in peri-urban, disturbed and roadside areas.
It was not until the early 1950’s that Australian scientists recognized the potential for the cultivation of L.leucocephala subspecies glabrata in extensive grazed systems for tropical Australia. L.leucocephala subspecies glabrata 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. 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 over 150,000 ha today.
Five cultivars of Leucaena are now available for sowing by graziers. These include Peru, Cunningham, Tarramba, Wondergraze and Redlands. Each cultivar has specific attributes that provide benefits for individual locations (climate) which impacts on establishment, grazing, height, and insect management requirements.
Traditionally, Leucaena was grown in rows 6 - 10 m apart with an adapted companion grass between. Current research has highlighted the need to determine the most suitable row spacing for individual sites based on soil capabilities, climate, location and grazing systems.
Leucaena pastures are grazed directly by cattle to provide superior weight gains. Leucaena can be rain-grown or irrigated where water is available.