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Monday, 2 March 2009

Plant of the Week

This week the plant of the week is...........

Leucaena leucocephala (Wild Tamarind)

Leucaena leucocephala is a native tree of the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico. It is an upright, leggy tree that can grow up to a height of 18 m. It has grey bark and bipinnate leaves of up to 35 cm in length. It produces numerous cream-coloured flowers in globose (spherical) heads.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Leucaena was known as the ‘miracle tree’ because of its worldwide success as a long-lived and highly nutritious forage tree, and its great variety of other uses.

Leucaena is in the Fabaceae family, and is a leguminous tree which forms associations with nitrogen fixing mycorrhizae, and so improves the fertility of the soil it grows on. It is a fast growing tree and can be used as a fuel-wood and to make high quality charcoal. It is excellent fodder for ruminant livestock, and parts of it can be eaten by people as well (young seed pods and young shoots). It is also the most frequently used tree in alley-planting systems, and has proven to be highly compatible with many grass crops.

Alley-planting is an inter-cropping system where hedgerows of trees are created along the contour line of a slope, providing wind-break, erosion control, soil enhancement (in the case of leguminous trees) and shade. Crops are planted in between the hedgerows.

Leucaena is a drought tolerant tree and can survive up to 7 consecutive dry months in the year. It does best in precipitation zones of over 600 mm per year, but has become naturalized in areas with rainfall as low as 300 mm per year. It prefers calcerous, neutral to alkaline soils and is somewhat sensitive to frost damage.

It is very well suited to the temperatures and soil type at Bustan Qaraaqa, but will probably require a small amount of irrigation in the late autumn and early spring.

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