Flemingia macrophylla (Willd.) Merrill
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  • Flemingia congesta Roxb.
  • Flemingia latifolia Benth.
  • Moghania macrophylla (Willd.) Kuntze
  • Crotalaria macrophylla Willd. (Basionym).
Authors:Meike Andersson Rainer Schultze-Kraft and Michael Peters


Perennial, deep-rooting, leafy shrub, up to 3 m high. Growth habit ranges from prostrate to erect with numerous stems arising from the base. Leaves digitately trifoliolate, leaflets elliptic-lanceolate and 5-15 cm long, 2-8 cm wide, silky or hairless, papery when old.

Inflorescences mostly axillary, in dense racemes, 5-30 cm long, with 15-40 papilionoid flowers. Calyx densely silky, 6-13 mm long with 5 lanceolate lobes; greenish standard with distinct red blotches or stripes and purple apex. Pods oblong, 11-15 mm long, 5-7 mm wide, dark brown and slightly silky, dehiscent, 2-seeded. Seeds globular, mottled brown or shiny black, 2-3 mm in diameter. [ Description adapted from Verdcourt (1979).]


Natural distribution in Southeast Asia, southern China, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka in the subhumid to humid (sub-) tropics (rainfall 1100-3500 mm/year with up to 6 dry months), from sea level up to 2000 m altitude. Secondary distribution in tropical Australia, Africa (e.g. Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon), and Central and South America (e.g. Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia) (Budelman & Siregar, 1997; CIAT database).

Its natural habitat is: often in shaded locations, scrub, woodlands, grasslands, gallery forest edges and alike, and on soils with fertility ranging from very low to intermediate (and even high), pH 4-8.


F. macrophylla is a multipurpose species. It is used in hedges for erosion control, to provide mulch and green manure in alley cropping hedgerows, as a shade plant in young coffee and cocoa plantations, as a weed suppressing and soil enriching cover plant in fruit tree orchards, to provide fuel wood and stakes for climbing crop species, as a medicinal plant, and a number of other purposes (Budelman & Siregar, 1997). Although the species is often referred to as a 'forage' or 'fodder' legume, especially as dry season feed (e.g., Asare et al., 1984; Bazill, 1987; Budelman & Siregar, 1997; Schultze-Kraft, 1996;), there is no evidence in the literature of large-scale forage use. However, there are reports that it is actually grazed by cattle and, especially, by sheep and goats (e.g. Ansah-Adjaye, 1977).

Drought tolerance

There is no published experimental evidence, but because of its tap-root system (Godefroy, 1988) F. macrophylla is, in general, regarded as highly drought tolerant, staying green during dry periods of 3-4 months.

Tolerance to flooding

According to Budelman & Siregar (1997), it is able to survive on poorly drained soils with waterlogging. Shelton (2001) classifies F. macrophylla as tolerant to poor drainage.

Climate and soil requirements

In accordance with its area of origin, F. macrophylla is well suited to wetter tropical and subtropical environments (moist-subhumid to humid tropics with >1000 mm rainfall/year). For example, in the forest zone of Ghana, as early as 40 years ago, it was one of only four legumes (out of >100 species/genotypes) selected as promising by Kannegieter (1966). It grows well on a range of soils, including clay and sandy soils, and is well adapted to very acid, infertile soils such as the Ultisols and Oxisols in the South American tropics. In a comparison trial in Colombia, it had the highest dry-matter yields out of 24 woody legume species on a pH 4.0 Ultisol with 90% Al saturation; Gliricidia sepium and Leucaena leucocephala ranked 21st and 22nd, respectively (Schultze-Kraft, 1996). However, F. macrophylla is also capable of responding to fertilizer.

Rhizobial relationships

It has been observed to nodulate freely with native rhizobia. However, Budelman & Siregar (1997) suggest seed inoculation with a suitable Bradyrhizobium strain (such as CIAT 4203 or 4215) in new environments.

Number of seeds per kg

50 000 to 68 000

Seed treatment before sowing

Germination is, in general, good (50-70% or higher), but, depending on seed age, scarification should be applied because of hardseededness. Good results are achieved with chemical scarification (H2SO4 at a concentration of 46% for 15-18 minutes).

Land preparation and sowing

F. macrophylla cannot be sown without soil preparation (Nada et al., 1992). Because of slow establishment, it requires a weed-free seedbed provided with the necessary fertilizer (e.g. for acid soils of low natural fertility, in kg/ha: 50 P2O5, 50 K2O, 20 S, 20 Mg). As an alternative to seeding, F. macrophylla can be established by transplanting 2-month old plantlets raised in nurseries.

Planting density will depend on the intended use. Budelman & Siregar (1997) report from Indonesia on between-rows distances of 90 cm and within-row distances of 60 cm. For hedgerows, within-row sowing should be denser. In Colombia, between-rows distances of 0.5-1.5 m and within-row distances of 0.5-1 m are suggested. The seeds germinate 10-20 days after sowing. Because of the slow initial growth, good weed control has to be ensured during the establishment period (approx. 6 months). Once established, the plants require little attention (Budelman & Siregar, 1997).

Vigour of growth and response to defoliation

Where adapted and once established, the species grows very vigorously. It has an excellent coppicing capacity and regrowth after cutting. When cut, the plant forms a tussock by producing numerous shoots from buds at the lower part of the stem near the base.

Cutting management

Sugggested cutting height ranges from 35-100 cm. Cutting interval will depend on climatic conditions. In Ghana, an interval of 14 weeks was best for highest dry-matter and crude-protein yields (Asare, 1985).

Dry matter yields

Yields depend upon growing conditions. Typical yields in Southeast Asia and Africa are about 8 t leaf dry matter/ha/year but can reach more than 12 t (Asare, 1985; Budelman & Siregar, 1997). Nguyen Thi Mui (pers.comm., 2000) reports from North Vietnam an average of 37.3 t edible (fresh) biomass/ha/year with a crude-protein yield of 1.44 t/ha/year. At Quilichao, Colombia, the range of a 6-month regrowth yield in a 22-accession collection was 1.2-5.6 t DM/ha (Schultze-Kraft, unpubl. data).

Suitability for alley cropping, as mulch and soil cover

Because of its excellent coppicing capacity and regrowth after cutting, F. macrophylla is highly suitable for alley cropping, an agroforestry practice in which fast-growing trees or shrubs are established in hedgerows between which annual food crops are grown. The hedges are pruned prior to and periodically during cropping cycles to prevent shading of the companion crop, with the prunings applied to the soil as mulch and/or green manure and/or fed to (or grazed by) livestock (Kang, 1993). Plants will survive for many years if cut every two to three months (Budelman & Siregar, 1997).

The leaves decompose slowly, making F. macrophylla a promising species as mulch and for weed control (Yamoah et al., 1986a; Budelman, 1988a, 1988b). In experiments under humid tropical conditions, about 50% and 73% of a mulch layer was decomposed after 53 and 120 days, respectively; through this, the germination of weed seeds was effectively controlled for about three months. Owing to the leaf size and slow decomposition, the mulch also has long-term effects in moisture conservation and reduction of soil temperature (Budelman & Siregar, 1997). The quality of F. macrophylla mulch is characterized by the following contents (per 100 g leaf dry matter): 2.3-3.8 g N, 0.2-0.28 g P, 1.0-1.4 g K, 0.55-0.94 g Ca, 0.2-0.3 g Mg, 17.2 g lignin, 2.4 g tannic acid (Budelman, 1989). The C/N ratio is higher (21) than that of Leucaena leucocephala or Gliricidia sepium (both 12) (Budelman, 1988a).

F. macrophylla improves the soil physical properties through the addition of soil organic matter and through the activity of its root system. It greatly increases water infiltration rate and soil moisture content, and maintains favourable soil aeration for soil biota (Hulugalle & Ndi, 1994). Consequently, the species shows potential for enhancing yields of associated crops: In alley cropping experiments in Nigeria and Cameroon, F. macrophylla hedgerows significantly increased the yield of associated maize and cassava crops (Yamoah et al., 1986b; Hulugalle & Ndi, 1994). Kang et al. (1991) identified F. macrophylla as one of the two most promising species for alley cropping, with cassava and plantain, on acid soils.

Feeding value and palatability

Leaf crude protein content and in vitro dry matter digestibility (IVDMD) values reported in literature range from 11-25%, and from 18-40%, respectively (Asare, 1985; Thomas & Schultze-Kraft, 1990; Barnes, 1997; Budelman & Siregar, 1997). In a 22-accession collection, leaf crude protein content and IVDMD of three month old regrowth ranged from 15.6-24.5% and from 17.1-32.8%, respectively (Schultze-Kraft, unpubl. data). Such IVDMD values are very low for tropical legumes (regardless of any possible methodological problems related to sample conservation), and are due to the high tannin content in F. macrophylla leaves (Kexian et al., 1998).

This high tannin content also affects palatability which, in general, is considered to be rather low (Ansah-Adjaye, 1977, Asare et al., 1984, Kexian et al., 1998). However, there are reports of F. macrophylla being accepted by grazing sheep and goats (Barnes, 1997; Kexian et al., 1998), and also by cattle during the dry season once availability of alternative feed is limited (Schultze-Kraft et al. 1989; Thomas & Schultze-Kraft, 1990).

Leaf P and Ca content ranges in the three month old regrowth of the 22-accession collection evaluated at Quilichao, Colombia, were 0.16-0.23% and 0.13-0.34%, respectively (Schultze-Kraft, unpubl. data).

Seed yields

In Quilichao, Colombia, based on twice per week handpicking of ripe pods over a six month period, cumulative yields of up to 200 kg seed/ha were obtained (Schultze-Kraft, unpubl. data).


An unnamed commercial cultivar is traded in Southeast Asia. Also in Southeast Asia, the recent result of regional evaluations is "Chumphon" (accession CIAT 17403) (Horne & Stür, 1999).

Pests and diseases

There is no information available on pests or diseases affecting the productivity of sown F. macrophylla.

Main attributes

A perennial, multipurpose legume shrub adapted to acid, infertile soils, particularly suited for low-input smallholder production systems in the sub-humid and humid tropics. Highly drought resistant and shade tolerant. Vigorous growth, leafiness, excellent coppicing capacity and regrowth after cutting, slow leaf decomposition. Very promising when used in alley cropping to provide mulch to associated food crops and, potentially, as dry season forage for (mainly small) ruminants.

Main shortcomings

Low nutritive value in terms of digestibility because of high tannin content, combined with very low palatability to cattle, particularly in the wet season. Slow establishment. In Australia the species is considered unpalatable for cattle.

Breeding objectives

There is presently no breeding program but the F. macrophylla world germplasm collection at CIAT is screened for accessions with low tannin content.