General description

Leucaena leucocephala is a small fast-growing mimosoid tree native to southern Mexico and northern Central America (Belize and Guatemala). Common names include white leadtree, jumbay, river tamarind, subabul, and white popinac

Leucaena (lew-KAY-nuh) means to grow white, as to flower. Leucocephala (lew-koh-SEF-uh-luh) means white headed.  (Also lew-SEEN-uh.)

The legume is promoted in several countries of Southeast Asia (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand), most importantly as a source of quality animal feed, but also for residual use for firewood or charcoal production.


  • Efficient in nitrogen fixation, at more than 500 kg/ha/year
  • Useful for biomass production (reported yield of foliage corresponds to a dried mass of 2,000–20,000 kg/ha/year, and that of wood 30–40 m³/ha/year.Useful for firewood, fiber, lumber, charcoal
  • Excellent source of high-protein cattle fodder
  • The woody part of the Subabul tree is used for making pulp in the pulp and paper industry
  • The leaves might be used as a herbicidal: L. leucocephala is an allelopathic tree. Phytotoxic allelochemicals, such as mimosine and certain phenolic compounds, including p-hydroxycinnamic acid, protocatechuic acid, and gallic acid, have been identified in the leaves of the species. Bioherbicidal activity of L. leucocephala on terrestrial plants and aquatic weed water hyacinth were reported.
  • It is a nitrogen fixer and grows very fast, as much as 10 feet a year, which is why it is a renewable firewood and good at preventing soil erosion, and used in reforestation and soil stabilization projects
  • It is used as a shade tree for coffee, cocoa, quinine and vanilla, and as a hedge to grow passion fruit on
  • The roasted seeds are emollient
  • A decoction of the root and bark is abortifacient
  • Red, brown and black dyes are extracted from the pods, leaves and bark
  • Might help fight cancer : A study found that “The pure compounds were purified from the leaves, seeds, green and brown pods of Leucaena leucocephala. These compounds displayed important pharmacological activities such as anti-proliferation, anti-migration and anti-invasion in cancer cell lines”
  • A study has shown that the extracts of the Leucaena leucocephala has anthelmintic, anti-oxidation and anti-diabetic activities
  • In traditional medicine, it is used to control stomach ache and as contraception and abortifacient

Side effects

The plant is toxic to horses, donkeys, mules, and pigs, even to cattle, sheep and goats in quantity. People should not eat any parts raw.

For toxicity in the raw parts to non-cud chewing mammals, the culprit is mimosine, an amino acid.  Wet or dry heat reduces the acid.  If you don’t cook it Jumbie vegetation can make you sick and lose your hair, hence the old saying that it causes tails to drop off one-stomach animals. Horses and donkeys which are fed it lose loose hair.

Mimosine can be removed by soaking the leaves in water for 24 h . However, mimosine has anticancer activity in in human lung cancer cells by blocking cell cycle progression


L. leucocephala is considered one of the 100 worst invasive species. It grows quickly and forms dense thickets that crowd out all native vegetation.

This species is susceptible to insect infestations. In the 1980s, a widespread loss in Southeast Asia was due to pest attack by psyllids

In India, this tree was initially promoted for afforestation due to its fast-growing nature. However, it is now considered unsuitable for urban planting because of its tendency to get uprooted in rain and wind. Eight of every 10 trees uprooted by wind in Pune are subabuls

The plant is highly susceptible to damage by Psyllids

Tolerates fast fires and can regrow after being burned to the crown by slower fires


Young leaves, pods and seeds are cooked and eaten, usually boiled.

Mature seeds roasted and used as coffee substitute or adulterant, or popped like pop corn

The young pods are typically used in Javanese vegetable salad with spicy peanut sauce, and spicy foods wrapped in papaya or taro leaves in Indonesia, and in papaya salad in Laos and Thailand. In Mexico it is eaten in soups and also inside tacos, it is known as guaje.

Dried seeds are fermented into tempeh lamtoro and dageh lamtoro

After removal from the pods, the unripe seeds can be dried and stored for later use or ground into a flour and mixed with wheat, corn etc

Categories: Plants