Gliricidia sepium

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Related Links
Seed collection in La Garita, Honduras
© Anthony Simons
Flowers in seed orchard, Honduras
© Anthony Simons
Dissection of mature but un-opened flower
© Anthony Simons
Purple tinge on pods from certain trees
© Anthony Simons
Ripe pods of Gliricidia sepium vary from mid yellow brown to deep purple and open explosively releasing 6-10 pale yellow discus shaped seeds, the pod valves twisting spirally after opening.
© Colin E. Hughes
G. sepium planted for shade over coffee and bananas in central Guatemala.
© Colin E. Hughes
G. sepium used for goat fodder, near Linares, Nuevo Leons, northern Mexico.
© Colin E. Hughes
G. sepium cultivated in lopped hedgerow in alley farming with maize and beans at the CONSEFORH project experimental site in the Comayagua valley, central Honduras.
© Colin E. Hughes
G. sepium used for construction poles in northern Honduras.
© Colin E. Hughes
A natural population of G. sepium at Montericco, Guatemala. These trees are located on salty sand dunes close to the ocean and do not grow more than 1.5 m in height.
© Ian Dawson
Firewood collected in Retalhuleu, Guatemala showing dense and coloured heartwood
© Anthony Simons
Gliricidia sepium: Harvesting mature pods in Bukit Bali, Indonesia
© Mulawarman

Gliricidia sepium grows to a height of 2-15 m, has a medium crown and may be single or multistemmed. The bark colour is variable but is mainly greyish-brown, and it can be much fissured. The tree has deep roots when mature.

Leaves are alternate and pinnate with (min. 7) 13-21 (max. 25) leaflets, papery, oblong with a distinctive pointed tip. Leaflet size increases towards the distal end of the leaf. At maturity, the upper surface ranges from smooth and hairless to bristly and usually has no tanniniferous patches. The lower surface can also be smooth and hairless or bristly but commonly has purplish tanniniferous patches concentrated toward the centre of the lamina.

Flowers arranged on conspicuously short, upward-curving to erect inflorescences, which are usually pink, fading to whitish-brown or pale purple with age. 

Pods explosively dehiscent, strongly laterally compressed and pale green or reddish-pink when unripe, turning pale yellow-brown when fully ripe. Seeds transversely oriented, lenticular, not constricted in the middle. Seeds uniformly light brown, turning dark brown with age; 3-10 seeds in a single pod.

The generic name Gliricidia refers to “mouse killer” in Latin, and the species epithet is named from the Latin saepes meaning hedge.

Ecology

G. sepium occurs naturally in early and middle successional vegetation types on disturbed sites such as coastal sand dunes, river banks, floodplains and fallow land. It establishes well on steep slopes (40% gradient). Temperatures below 15 deg. C cause leaf fall and poor growth.

Native range
El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, United States of America

Tree management

Pruning and pollarding are the main management activities. Pruning at 0.3-1.5 m will stimulate leaf production. Pollarding at 2 m or above is recommended for optimal wood biomass production. Coppicing is used where the primary objective is fuelwood production. G. sepium has been shown to tolerate lopping and browsing.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox. Viability is maintained for 12 months in open storage. There are about 8500 seeds/kg.

G. sepium occurs naturally in early and middle successional vegetation types on disturbed sites such as coastal sand dunes, river banks, floodplains and fallow land. It establishes well on steep slopes (40% gradient). Temperatures below 15 deg. C cause leaf fall and poor growth.

Pretreatment of G. sepium seed is often not necessary, particularly where fresh seeds are used. However, when seeds are not fresh, soaking overnight in hot water is required and planting should proceed immediately thereafter. Seed or seedling inoculation with suitable strains of rhizobium is necessary where G. sepium is not naturalized. Direct sowing of seeds requires good land preparation and regular weeding: 90-100% germination occurs in 7 days. Where nursery seedlings are used, plantable size is attained in 3 months. 

G. sepium is propagated most commonly by cuttings, although this is not the most appropriate method for establishment in poor soils. Spacing is determined by the planting objective.

Poison: The leaves, seeds or powdered bark are toxic to humans when mixed with cooked rice or maize and fermented. The mechanism of toxicity is not understood. G. sepium has found application as a rodenticide and general pesticide. 

G. sepium has been planted to reclaim denuded land or land infested with Imperata cylindrica.

Erosion control: Hedgerows in alley cropping serve to suppress weed growth and control erosion and have been shown to reduce the incidence of disease in groundnut crops. 

 Flowers can be fried and eaten.

Fodder: G. sepium leaves are rich in protein and highly digestible, and low in fibre and tannin. There is evidence of improved animal production (both milk and meat) in large and small ruminants when G. sepium is used as a supplement. Goats on G. sepium gained weight and maintained a positive N balance. However, non-ruminants fed on G. sepium have shown clear signs of poisoning. Perceptions of palatability vary greatly around the world. There are reports from India and Indonesia of limitations to its use because animals will not eat it. In some areas, such as Colombia and Sri Lanka, there is no palatability constraint and it is an important dry-season feed. 

Apiculture: The flowers attract honeybees (Apis spp.), hence it is an important species for honey production.

Often used for firewood and charcoal production. The wood burns slowly without sparking and with little smoke, so it is an important fuelwood in the subhumid tropics. The calorific value of a 5-year-old tree is 4550 kcal/kg.

Timber: Gliricidia has light brown sapwood and dark brown heartwood, turning reddish-brown on exposure to air. It is hard, coarse textured with an irregular grain, very durable and termite resistant. Wood is utilized for railway sleepers, farm implements, furniture, house construction and as mother posts in live-fence establishment.

Shade or shelter: G. sepium is widely cultivated as shade for perennial crops (tea, coffee and cocoa). It is also used as a nurse tree for shade-loving species. Attributes contributing to its value as a shade tree include its fine, feathery foliage giving

Medicine: Crude extracts have been shown to have antifungal activity. Reported to be expectorant, sedative and suppurative. Madre de cacao is a folk remedy for alopecia, boils, bruises, burns, colds, cough, debility, eruptions, erysipelas, fever, fractures, gangrene, headache, itch, prickly heat, rheumatism, skin tumours, ulcers, urticaria and wounds.

Nitrogen fixing: The tree is capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen. 

Suitable for live fencing around cattle pastures and for delineating boundaries. Its fast growth, ease of propagation, nitrogen fixing ability and light canopy makes it ideal as a live stakes. It has been used to support bl

Soil improver: As a green manure, G. sepium increases soil organic matter; it aids in recycling of soil nutrients as it produces much litter. It also improves soil aeration and reduces soil temperature. It is a drought-resistant and valuable water-conserving species, because in the dry season it sheds most of its leaves, hence reducing water loss through transpiration.

Other services: The predictable relationship between flowering in G. sepium and the onset of the rainy season in Venezuela shows that it is a promising indicator species.