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Leucaena leucocephala - (Lam.) De Wit.

Common Name Leucaena, Lead Tree, White Tamarind
Family Fabaceae
USDA hardiness 9-12
Known Hazards The leaves of most forms of this plant contain the unusual amino acid mimosene[301 ]. In large quantities this can be harmful[301 ]. There are low-mimosene cultivars[301 ].
Habitats Dry coastal regions, waste ground[307 ].
Range Central America, north to Mexico.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Leucaena leucocephala Leucaena, Lead Tree, White Tamarind

Leucaena leucocephala Leucaena, Lead Tree, White Tamarind


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Leucaena leucocephala or commonly known as Leucaena, Lead Tree, or White Tamarind is a fast-growing, evergreen shrub or tree with a height of up to 20m. A native to southern Mexico and northern Central America, it has an open, rounded crown and short bole of up to 50 cm in diameter. It is highly tolerant to drought mainly because of its extensive root system. It is also planted to prevent soil erosion and as a shade plant for plantation crops. The fine divided leaves of some cultivars may contain mimosene, an amino acid that may be harmful if consumed at large quantity. Young leaves, pods, and flower buds are edible and usually eaten raw, steamed or mixed in soups or with rice. The seeds can also be eaten either raw or cooked, or dried then used as coffee substitute. The plant also yields edible gum used in sauces. Roasted seeds can moisturize skin while decoction of bark and root may cause abortion. The wood is commonly used for its fiber, mainly to make paper. It also makes an excellent firewood and charcoal. Aside from the above mentioned uses of Leucaena, it also makes great animal feed especially for ruminants. It has also been considered for biomass production.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Leucaena leucocephala is an evergreen Tree growing to 10 m (32ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The plant is self-fertile.
It can fix Nitrogen.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid, very alkaline and saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Acacia glauca Willd. Acacia leucocephala (Lam.) Link Leucaena glauca Benth. Leucaena glabra Benth. L

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Leaves  Seed  Seedpod
Edible Uses: Coffee  Drink  Gum

Young leaves, pods and flower buds - raw, steamed, in soups, with rice or mixed with chillies and other spices[301 ]. Some caution is advised - see the notes above on toxicity[303 ]. Seeds - raw or cooked. The unripe seeds are mixed with grated coconut, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked[301 ]. The mature, but not dried, seeds are eaten raw or cooked as a delicacy[301 ]. Dried seeds are fermented into tempeh lamtoro and dageh lamtoro[301 ]. The dried seed can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute[272 , 301 ]. An edible gum obtained from the plant is used in sauces[301 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Abortifacient  Emollient

The roasted seeds are emollient[272 ]. A decoction of the root and bark is abortifacient[272 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Biomass  Dye  Fencing  Fibre  Fodder  Fuel  Furniture  Gum  Hedge  Paper  Plant support  Shelterbelt  Wood

Other Uses Gum arises from the stems under ill-defined conditions of injury and disease or from sterile hybrids, especially Leucaena leucocephala x Leucaena esculenta. The gum has been analysed and found similar to gum arabic, and of potential commercial value[303 ]. Red, brown and black dyes are extracted from the pods, leaves and bark[303 ]. The dried seeds are widely used for ornamentation[303 ]. The heartwoos is a ight reddish-brown; the sapwood pale yellow. It is medium textured, close grained. The wood is strong, hard and heavy (about 800 kg/m), of medium density. It is easily workable for a wide variety of carpentry purposes and dries without splitting or checking. Sawn timber, mine props, furniture and parquet flooring are among increasingly popular uses. However, the use of L. Leucocephala for sawn timber is greatly limited by its generally small dimensions (usually not greater than 30cm diameter), its branchiness, which limits lengths of clear bole available and means wood is often knotty, and its high proportion of juvenile wood. Nevertheless, there is growing use of small-dimension sawn wood in a number of industries such as flooring, which might include L. Leucocephala in the future. Poles are used to prop bananas and as a support for yams, pepper and other vines. Use of short-rotation L. Leucocephala for poles is limited by their lack of durability and susceptibility to attack by termites and woodborers[303 ]. The wood is commonly pulped for its fibre, used to make paper[303 ]. The fibre values are similar to those of other tropical hardwoods, and it produces paper with good printability but low tearing and folding strength; the wood-pulp strength is greater than that of most hardwoods, with almost 50% greater ring crush. Its pulping properties are suitable for both paper and rayon production. Also used for particleboard production[303 ]. An excellent firewood species with a specific gravity of 0.45-0.55 and a high calorific value of 4600 cal/kg[303 ]. The wood burns steadily with little smoke, few sparks and produces less than 1% ash. The tree makes excellent charcoal with a heating value of 29 mJ/kg and good recovery values (25-30%)[303 ]. Addition of the ground wood to fuel oil for diesel engines was found to involve no harmful agents in the ash[303 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Coppice  Food Forest  Hedge  Nitrogen Fixer

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Alley crop  Agroforestry Services: Contour hedgerow  Agroforestry Services: Crop shade  Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Agroforestry Services: Living trellis  Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Agroforestry Services: Windbreak  Fodder: Bank  Fodder: Intensive Silvopasture  Industrial Crop: Biomass  Management: Coppice  Management: Standard  Minor Global Crop

A plant of the tropics, succeed at altitudes up to 1,500 metres, occasionally to as high as 2,100 metres[303 ]. It grows best with a mean annual temperature in the range 25 - 30°c and a mean annual rainfall of 650 - 3,000mm[303 ]. For optimal growth it is limited to areas 15 - 25° north or south of the equator[303 ]. It grows well only in subhumid or humid climates with moderate dry seasons of up to 6 - 7 months[303 ]. Prefers a well-drained soil in full sun[307 ]. Tolerant of a range of soils, including limestone, wet and dry soils, soils of volcanic origin and those with moderate levels of salt[200 , 303 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 7.7, tolerating 5 - 8.5[418 ]. Plants are very tolerant of drought and of salt-laden winds[307 ]. L. Leucocephala ssp leucocephala is an aggressive colonizer of ruderal sites and secondary or disturbed vegetation[303 ]. This has been attributed to its precocious year-round flowering and fruiting, abundant seed production, self-fertility, hard seed coat, and ability to resprout after fire or cutting. It is now naturalized and weedy in many areas such as open (often coastal) habitats, semi-natural, disturbed, degraded habitats, other ruderal sites, and occasionally, agricultural land where it has been planted as a shade tree over cacao[303 ]. Plants are deep-rooted[303 ]. Plants respond well to coppicing, soon producing dense regrowth[200 ]. Tolerates fast fires and can regrow after being burned to the crown by slower fires[303 ]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200 ]. Flowering Time: Blooms all year. Bloom Color: Cream/Tan. Spacing: 12-15 ft. (3.6-4.7 m).

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Alley crop  Integrates annual crops with rows of perennials.
  • Agroforestry Services: Contour hedgerow  Alley cropping systems on the contour of slopes.
  • Agroforestry Services: Crop shade  Plants providing crop shade especially trees.
  • Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Simply managed rows of shrubs and trees.
  • Agroforestry Services: Living trellis  Plants to physically support other crops.
  • Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae.
  • Agroforestry Services: Windbreak  Linear plantings of trees and shrubs designed to enhance crop production, protect people and livestock and benefit soil and water conservation.
  • Fodder: Bank  Fodder banks are plantings of high-quality fodder species. Their goal is to maintain healthy productive animals. They can be utilized all year, but are designed to bridge the forage scarcity of annual dry seasons. Fodder bank plants are usually trees or shrubs, and often legumes. The relatively deep roots of these woody perennials allow them to reach soil nutrients and moisture not available to grasses and herbaceous plants.
  • Fodder: Intensive Silvopasture  Combines improved pasture with high-density woody nitrogen-fixing legumes.
  • Industrial Crop: Biomass  Three broad categories: bamboos, resprouting woody plants, and giant grasses. uses include: protein, materials (paper, building materials, fibers, biochar etc.), chemicals (biobased chemicals), energy - biofuels
  • Management: Coppice  Cut to the ground repeatedly - resprouting vigorously. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - pre-soak for 24 hours in warm water then sow in containers[200 ]. Seedlings and direct sowing are recommended methods of propagation where soil-moisture conditions permit and economic weed control can be maintained. Seed pre-treatment involves soaking in hot water for 2 minutes or nicking the seed coat at the distal (cotyledon) end, using a sharp tool like scalpel, knife or nail clipper. A germination rate of 50-80% in 8 days can be achieved[303 ]. Cuttings of semi-ripe wood. Vegetative propagation has been successful in relatively few locations, reflecting critical environmental requirements, or possibly systemic fungi. The use of bare-root cuttings has worked in Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand[303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Leucaena, Lead Tree, White Tamarind, Ai-kafe, Bak kased, Caribbean tamarind, Cassie, Chigonglei Angouba, Epil, Guaje, Hawaiian wattle, Horse Tamarind, Huajes, Ipil-ipil, 'ip'ipil, Jumbie bean, Kamalandingan, Kaniti, Kased, Katin, Kawl-zawng-tah, Keo dau, Krathan, Lasobaval, Lead tree, Lusia, Lusina, Mlusina, Nagarikesari, Nattuccavundal, Pelending, Petai jawa, Peuteui selong, Phak kased, Ragarai, Rajokasundiri, Riopriop pen kune, Sneaky tree, Subabool, Takaranniram, Thin thai, Toira kadam, Vaivai, Vilayatibaral, White popinac, Wild tamarind, Yod phak kased, acacia-negra, bayani, coffie bush, ekoa, epil, guaje, hediondilla, huaxin, ipil-ipil, ipilipil, jumbay, jumbie bean, jumpy bean, kababhal, koa haole, kubabool, lamtora, lamtoro, lead tree, leucaena, leucena, linhaça, lushina, mbegu, miracle tree, mlusina, pamtora, tanta, uaxin, white leadtree, white popinac, wild tamarind|ipil ipil, yaje, zarcilla.

Mexico; Guatemala; Belize; El Salvador; Honduras; Colombia; Costa Rica, Africa, Andamans, Angola, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central Africa, Central America, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Africa, East Timor, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial-Guinea, Ethiopia, Fiji, French Guiana, Ghana, Grenada, Guam, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinée, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Hawaii, Hispaniola, Honduras, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Nauru, Nepal, New Caledonia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, North Africa, North America, Northeastern India, Pacific, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Reunion, Sahel, Samoa, Sao Tome & Principe, Saudi Arabia, SE Asia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Southern Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad, Tuvalu, Uganda, USA, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, West Africa, West Indies, Yemen, Zimbabwe,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Leucaena diversifioliaIpil-ipilTree15.0 10-12 FLMHSNM003

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(Lam.) De Wit.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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