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Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Steud.

Madre de cacao

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


According to the National Academy of Sciences (1980a), the leaves contain over 20% crude protein and are nutritious for cattle though TOXIC to most other animals including horses. The tree is widely planted as shade for chocolate, coffee, tea, and vanilla. There are few "living fence" species that strike root from cuttings more readily, also widely planted as a hedge and/or windbreak. Tilth and fertility of the soil beneath the trees are greatly improved from the leaf- and flower-fall. The timber is said to finish smoothly and be used for furniture, agricultural instruments, posts, railroad ties, and heavy construction. Flowers are a good source of forage for bees. Flowers are consumed by Mexican rural inhabitants who use the pods for rat poison. In the Philippines, the foetid leaves are crushed and rubbed onto cattle. In Indonesia, the tree is planted as a firebreak. This and other fast-growing leguminous trees have the vigor to outgrow or compete with the Imperata grass. In the shade of Gliricida, the grass finally dies, leaving nothing that can sustain a grass fire (NAS, 1980a).

Folk Medicine

Reported to be expectorant, insecticidal, rodenticidal, sedative, suppurative, Madre de Cacao is a folk remedy for alopecia, boils, bruises, burns, colds, cough, debility, eruptions, erysipelas, fever, fractures, gangrene, head-ache, itch, prickly heat, rheumatism, skin, sore, tumors, ulcers, urticaria, and wounds (Duke and Wain, 1981).


According to Roskoski et al. (1980), studying Mexican material, the seeds contain 11.93% humidity, 1.90% ash, 33.00% CP, 16.50% CF EE, 9.07% CF, 27.60% carbohydrates with a 52.42% in vitro digestibility. The foliage contains 11.96% humidity, 12.09% ash, 19.92% CP, 2.34% crude fat, 11.04% CF, 42.65% carbohydrates, and 69.69% in vitro digestibility. Low levels of alkaloids were found in the seed and saponins in the foliage, but the plant is still used for forage. Allen and Allen (1981) cite data suggesting that fallen leaves emit the new-mown-hay odor, because of the occurrence of coumarin compounds.


Smooth deciduous tree to 10 m tall, 20–30 cm DBH. Leaves alternate, pinnately compound, 15–30 cm long, the 9–13 leaflets 3–6 cm long, opposite, oblong-ovate, bluntly pointed at the tip, rounded at the base, entire. Flowers on numerous lateral racemes, often on leafless branches, the clusters 5–125 cm long; flowers pinkish, ca 2 cm long; stamens 10, 9 united in a tube, one separate, white. Pods yellow-green when immature, turning blackish 10–14 cm long, 1–2 cm broad, with 3–8 elliptic, flat, shiny, blackish seed (ca 4,400/kg).


Reported from the American Center of Diversity, Madre de Cacao, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate drought, limestone, slope, and weeds. (2n = 20)


Native from Mexico to Colombia, Venezuela, and the Guianas, widely introduced and naturalized throughout the tropics.


Ranging from Subtropical Thorn to Wet through Tropical Thorn to Wet Forest Life Zones, Madre de Cacao is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 4.8 to 41.0 dm (mean of 79 cases = 16.2), annual temperature of 21.3 to 28.5°C (mean of 61 cases = 25.3), and pH of 4.3 to 5.0 (mean of 2 cases = 4.6) (Duke, 1978, 1979).


Soak seeds 24 hours in lukewarm water and sow directly in potting soil in prepared pots (10 x 15 mm) wrapped in polyethylene. Move to shade for three weeks after germination, watering as needed. Use insecticide/fungicide once a month or as needed. Hardened 2–3 month old seedlings may be outplanted, avoiding midday heat, at the beginning of the rainy season (Fabian, 1981). Roskoski et al. (1980) note that the tree is easily propagated from seeds (which require no special treatment) or cuttings. Cuttings are used to make living fences throughout the tropics.


Living fences may be lopped for fuel or fodder as needed.

Yields and Economics

In Sri Lankan tea plantations, an average tree gave 64 kg green loppings per year (Allen and Allen, 1981). Studying Mexican material, Roskoski et al (1980) concluded that there were 44.1 (± 14.9) moles N2 fixed per gram of nodule per hour in one assay, 11.7 ± 2.6 in another. One stand was fixing N at the rate of 13 kg/ha/yr.


Wood coppiced from living fences of Gliricidia sepium is burned for fuel by the rural population of Veracruz, Mexico. Annual productivity has not yet been determined here. The calorific value of the wood is 4,900 kcal/kg.

Biotic Factors

In Puerto Rico, the foliage is often attacked by aphids that secrete a sweet honeydew which attracts ants, causing the leaves to fall. On the other hand, the wood is said to be highly resistant to termites and decay.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw