Gliricidia sepium

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Terminally branching clusters of inflorescences (racemes) arising from new wood..

Flowers - inflorescences (racemes) arising from old wood.

Pods and seeds.

Pinnate leaves.

Regrowth from pruned trees in Indonesia.

Living fence in Aceh, Indonesia.

Heavily pruned living fence.

Young Gliricidia hedgerow with Brachiaria decumbens cv. Basilisk.

Feeding cattle  with cut Gliricidia.

Feeding goats with cut Gliricidia .

From:‘t Mannetje, L. and Jones, R.M. (1992) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 4. Forages. (Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands). © Prosea Foundation.

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Scientific name

Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Kunth ex Walp.


Robinia sepium Jacq.


Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Robinieae. Also placed in: Papilionaceae.

Common names

gliricidia, Nicaraguan cocoa shade, quick-stick, cacahuananche, madre de cacao, madriado, madricacao, mata ratÓn, mataratÓn, madera negro.

Morphological description

Small to medium-sized, thornless, leguminous tree up to 10-12 m high.  Branching frequently from the base with basal diameters reaching 50-70 cm.  Bark is smooth, varying in colour from whitish grey to deep red-brown.  Trees display spreading crowns.  Leaves are odd pinnate, usually alternate, sub-opposite or opposite, to approximately 30 cm long;  leaflets 5-20, ovate or elliptic, 2-7 cm long, 1-3 cm wide.  Leaflet midrib and rachis are occasionally striped red.  Inflorescences appear as clustered racemes on distal parts on new and old wood, 5-15 cm long, flowers borne singly with 20-40 per raceme.  Flowers bright pink to lilac, tinged with white, usually with a diffuse pale yellow spot at the base of the standard petal, calyx glabrous, green, often tinged red.  Standard petal round and nearly erect, approximately 20 mm long;  keel petals 15-20 mm long, 4-7 mm wide.  Fruit green, sometimes tinged reddish-purple when unripe, light yellow-brown when mature, narrow, 10-18 cm long, 2 cm wide, valves twisting in dehiscence;  seeds 4-10, yellow-brown to brown, nearly round.


Native to:
Seasonal dry forest areas of Mexico and Central America, viz. Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.


Living fences/hedges, cut and carry feed for ruminants, alley farming, protein banks, green manure , support, shade, honey, rodenticide, medicinal, firewood, pigmentation of eggs.


Soil requirements

Adapted to a wide range of well-drained soils.  In its native range, often found on highly eroded soils of volcanic origin with pH 4.5-6.2, but is also found on sands, heavy clays and slightly alkaline, calcareous limestone soils.  Work in Peru suggests that gliricidia is suitable for acid, infertile soils.  However, in Indonesia, there was poor survival of plants on soils with a high Al saturation.  In Australia, the tree is thought to be suitable for low-calcium soils.  Gliricidia does not grow well on wet or waterlogged soils.


Drought tolerant and adapted to an annual rainfall regime of 650-3,500 mm.  Largely deciduous where dry seasons are moderate to severe, but evergreen where there is sufficient moisture throughout the year.


Mean annual temperatures across the native range vary considerably, from 21-29ºC.  Leaves abscise when night temperatures fall below 15ºC.  Grows to an altitude of 1,200 m asl in its native range, possibly to as high as 1,600 m asl .


Does not tolerate medium to heavy shade.

Reproductive development

Strongly self-incompatible despite having hermaphrodite flowers pollinated by insects.  Flowering begins at the start of the dry season at about 6-8 months of age, and can continue into March in some native populations.  Trees at lower coastal sites flower well before those at higher altitudes.  A tree can produce vast numbers of flowers (up to 30,000) that attract a wide variety of insects.  Pod ripening takes 45-60 days.  In very wet areas, plants may flower but produce little if any fruit.


Gliricidia tolerates repeated cutting.  For forage, first cut 8-12 months after sowing at 0.5-1.0 m above soil level, and thereafter every 2-4 months depending on rainfall and temperature .
Gliricidia is largely deciduous in the dry season.  To prevent leaf loss at this time, cut at the end of the rains and again at 8 weeks into the dry season.  A final cut at 16 weeks into the dry season may be possible.  Gliricidia is normally used as a cut-and-carry forage and is rarely directly grazed.  Goats accustomed to gliricidia will eat the bark as well as leaves and small stems and may kill young trees.


Tolerates fire well, and the trees re-sprout when the rains arrive.  May dominate secondary vegetation where regular, low-intensity fires occur.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Sowing depth for seeding into the field or nursery beds is 2 cm.  Scarification is unnecessary, and germination rates of >90% are typical.  Seedlings establish rapidly, generally reaching a height of 3 m before flowering at 6-8 months of age.
Trees can also be established rapidly from cuttings, using stakes of 5-6 months of age, 1.5 m long and with a diameter of 3.5-4.0 cm.  If the moisture is adequate, foliage will appear in four weeks.  For living fences, use stakes 1.5-2.5 m long with diameters of 5-10 cm, planted 1.5-5.0 m apart to 20 cm depth.  For densely planted protein banks, use stakes 50 cm long and six months of age.  Various planting patterns can be used e.g. double rows or triangular.  Plant populations range from 4,000-10,000 trees/ha.  Very high densities are used in small protein banks.  The direction of planting should be east to west to maximise sunlight interception.


As green manure, 15 t/ha/year of leaf biomass can provide the equivalent of 40 kg/ha/year N to companion crops and pastures.  Tolerant of low soil fertility , but will respond to lime on soils with high Al saturation.

Compatibility (with other species)

Compatible with shade tolerant grasses such as Stenotaphrum secundatum and Paspalum notatum .

Companion species

Generally planted as a living fence, as a protein bank, in hedgerows with crops or pastures in the inter-row, or as scattered individual trees in smallholder forage and open-plantation systems.

Pests and diseases

Despite being widely grown throughout the tropics, G. sepium has remained relatively free of serious diseases.  The lack of diseases is thought to be due to the tendency of the species to be leafless for periods of the year, thus reducing the likelihood of epidemics.  Several incidences of insect problems have been noted in exotic environments.  For example, aphids, mealy bugs and scale insects occasionally attack trees in Indonesia and the Caribbean.

Ability to spread

Will not spread under grazing as recruiting seedlings will not compete strongly with established grasses and are easily killed by grazing livestock.

Weed potential

Aggressive pioneer species following slash and burn agriculture in native range.  Limited seed production in exotic locations due to lack of pollinators and unsuitable environments for seed set may limit weed risk.  Severe weed in Jamaica, but not reported as a weed elsewhere.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

High nutritive value.  Crude protein content 18-30% and in vitro digestibility of 60-65%.  With the exception of palatability , variability in nutritive quality among provenances has not been assessed.


Some palatability problems occur with ruminants depending on prior experience.  Naïve animals seem to refuse leaves on the basis of smell, often rejecting them without tasting, suggesting that the problem lies with volatile compounds released from the leaf surface.  However, no palatability problems are reported in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Colombia or Guatemala where successive generations of ruminants have been fed gliricidia.  Wilting leaves for 12-24 hours before feeding increases intake.  Prior experience is the most important attribute of palatability , so that local landraces are most preferred.  While naïve animals are used, provenances from Mexico tend to be less palatable compared to those from Costa Rica and Colombia.


Toxicity well known in Central America, where the leaves or the ground bark, mixed with cooked maize, are used as a rodenticide.  This toxicity is thought to be due to the conversion by bacteria of coumarin to dicoumerol during fermentation.  May be toxic or inhibit growth of monogastric animals such as rabbits and poultry if fed as a sufficiently high component of the diet.  Little evidence of toxic effects with ruminants fed either fresh or wilted leaves.
HCN concentrations of up to 4 mg/kg and cyanogens may be present.  High levels of nitrates (during the rainy season) are suspected of causing `cattle fall syndrome' in Colombia, but levels declined to negligible in winter.  Gliricidia may be a `nitrate accumulator'.  Unidentified alkaloids and tannins have also been reported.
Evidence of toxicity under practical feeding conditions is limited.  The balance of evidence suggests that the plant may be toxic to non-ruminants but conclusive evidence of toxicity to ruminants under normal feeding is lacking.

Production potential

Dry matter

Annual leaf DM production varies from 2-20 t/ha/year, depending on a wide range of factors.  In fodder plots, annual yields of 5-16 t/ha of leaf DM, or up to 43 t/ha fresh leaves have been obtained.  In Nigeria, gliricidia hedgerows interplanted with 4 rows of Panicum grasses yielded 20 t/ha/year of total DM (grass and gliricidia).
Severe leaf fall occurs following flowering in seasonally dry environments.  Harvesting of leaf in the early dry season will delay flowering, prevent or limit losses from leaf fall, and maximise regrowth.  In West Timor, Indonesia, highest levels of dry season (March-November) forage yields were obtained from harvesting in April and again in June and August.

Animal production

Gliricidia is normally used as a green forage, protein supplement to low-quality tropical forages and by-products for cattle, sheep and goats.  It may be used as the sole feed in the dry season.  Feeding levels have been 1-3% of body weight for cattle and goats, indicating a supplementation level of 30-100%, although a 20-40% level is more common.  Increases in liveweight gains of approximately 25% have been reported for steers grazing gliricidia-grass pastures, compared with steers grazing grass alone.  Results from experiments with dairy cows and buffaloes reported similar or slightly increased milk yield and milk fat yield when concentrates were replaced by gliricidia forage up to about 25% of intake.
The effects of gliricidia forage on reproducing ruminants have been variable.  In one trial, ewes supplemented with gliricidia produced a higher lamb crop, better lamb weights and had reduced ewe weight loss compared with those not fed gliricidia.  In an unrelated trial, lambing results were poorer when gliricidia was fed, due to lower feed intake, possibly as a result of insufficient adaptation to the forage .
Laying chickens fed sun-cured gliricidia at 4.5% of total diet gave good egg production, egg weight and yolk colour.  Yellow yolk colour can be achieved by feeding milled leaves at 2-4% of the ration.  Diets containing up to 10% gliricidia can be fed to growing chicks without affecting performance and survival, but higher rates may have anti-nutritive effects.


There are no breeding programs involving gliricidia.  The Oxford Forestry Institute evaluated 28 provenances of gliricidia in multi-location trials.  See notes below on promising accessions.  There appears to be only small gains achievable from recurrent selection for leaf biomass (8% from a single cycle of selection).

Seed production

Produces abundant seed.  Seeds are shed from pods through explosive dehiscence with seed dispersal distances of up to 40 m.  Seed production varies with provenance, ranging from 75 kg/ha for Belen Rivas up to 180 kg/ha for Monterrico, based on 7 seeds/pod and a seed weight of 8,000 seeds/kg.

Herbicide effects

Unknown.  Likely to be similar to Leucaena leucocephala .



Other comments


Selected references

Stewart, J.L., Allison, G.E. and Simons, A.J. (1996) Gliricidia sepium : Genetic resources for farmers. Oxford Forestry Institute, University of Oxford, UK.
Wiersum, K.F. and Nitis, I.M. Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Kunth ex Walp. In: 't Mannetje, L. and Jones, R.M. (eds) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 4. Forages. pp. 133-137. (Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands).


Internet links



Country/date released


None released to date.          

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



Retalhuleu OFI, UK From Retalhuleu, Guatemala.  Outstanding provenance for both leaf and wood production in multi-location trials.
Belan Rivas OFI, UK From Belan Rivas, Nicaragua.  After Retalhuleu, next best provenance for both leaf and wood production in multi-location trials.
Monterrico OFI, UK From Monterrico, Guatemala.  Produced very high leaf yields but relatively low stem yields in multi-location trials.