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Cytisus proliferus, tagasaste or tree lucerne, is a small spreading evergreen tree that grows 3-4m high. It is a well known fertilizer tree. It is a member of the Fabaceae (pea) family and is indigenous to the dry volcanic slopes of the Canary Islands, but it is now grown in Australia, New Zealand and many other parts of the world as fodder crop.
Tagasaste is an evergreen shrub that has rough yellow-grey bark and velvety hairy young growth. Its leaves are composed of 3 greyish-green equal-sized leaflets, which are slightly paler on the underside. Its scented, creamy-white flowers form in small clusters in the leaf axils. Its flat pea-like pods are green, ripening to black. The seeds are tiny (45,000/kg), shiny and black. Tagasaste is considered to be a promiscuous legume, compatible with cowpea and Tagasaste 1502 Rhizobium. It will nodulate with a wide range of rhizobia.
Tagasaste is suited to sandy, well-drained soils of pH range 4–7. On deep, freely drained soils its roots can extend down to at least 10 metres. Any physical or chemical barrier in the soil that restricts root growth will reduce the productivity and survival of tagasaste. Cultivars from arid sandy areas are very susceptible to root rot fungus on poorly drained soils, specifically Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizotona. It will tolerate winter temperatures as low as −9 °C, but cultivars exist that can handle winter temperatures down to minus 15°C as in Orange, Eastern Australia. Tagasaste leaves will be burnt by frost and seedlings can be killed at temperatures below 0 °C. Growth of mature trees will slow at winter temperatures below 20 °C. Tagasaste can tolerate temperatures up to 50 °C, but above 36 °C leaves close up from stress. Tagasaste flowers during the early rainy season, typically June to October in Australia, New Zealand and East Africa.
Tagasaste has two types of roots. There are a few large 'sinker' roots that can extend down to at least 10 metres. These are used to extract moisture from that depth during the long dry summers. There are also many 'feeder' roots that are mostly confined to the top 11⁄2 metres. These can extend out at least 15 metres from the trunk. They extract mineral nutrients from the soil, and also water in winter. In summer the soil water can be taken up at depth by the sinker roots, drawn into the shallow feed roots and then pumped into the soil. This 'hydraulic lift' allows the tagasaste to keep extracting nutrients from the shallow soil which would otherwise be too dry. This hydraulic lift is also seen in the native banksia shrubs that grow naturally on these soils and have a similar root design.
When tagasaste is planted in rows that run north–south it has been found that both the shoots and the roots grow twice as fast on the west side of the plant as on the east side of the plant.
Tagasaste is a valued forage for ruminants because of its good palatability and high protein content. It can be grazed directly, or cut and fed fresh or dried.
As a fodder crop Tagasaste delivers between 23 and 27% crude protein (14–30% in Western Australia) and 18–24% crude indigestible fibre. With proper application of fertiliser it can maintain these levels even when grown on poor soils.
Phosphorus is particularly important both for the growth of tagasaste and for the growth of the animals grazing on it. Higher levels of phosphorus are required for the maximum growth of the animals than for maximum plant growth. Fertiliser will also reduce the level of phenolic compounds (similar to tannins) that increase when the plants are moisture stressed. These phenolic compounds make the tagasaste less palatable and reduce the animals' feed intake. The phenolics suppress the utilisation of protein in the rumen, and as a result feed intake. Despite the crude protein always being above 14%, supplementing with a high-protein feed like lupin seed stimulates animal feed intake when phenolics are high in tagasaste. Tagasaste typically has the same nutritional value as the best type of Alfalfa when planted on good soil balanced in nutrients. Daily weight gains of 1 to 1.5kg per steer per day are achieved during the growing season, with 6-10 rotations per year, typically one every 6=8 weeks.
Flowering also changes the palatability of tagasaste. In Western Australia tagasaste will commence flowering in winter (~ June). The seeds are mature and shed in early summer (first warm day in December). In the summer following flowering the palatability changes in different parts of the plant. In tagasaste that has not flowered the leaves will be grazed and bark on the stems ignored. After flowering the leaf becomes less palatable and the bark more palatable. This results in stock stripping bark off the trunk. Also the growth rate of the plant slows and leaves will be shed. The grazing management is all designed to prevent flowering and keep tagasaste in the vegetative juvenile state. Trials have shown that if tagasaste is heavily grazed and / or mechanically cut in the any one of the first 6 months of the year it will not flower in the second half of the year. Occasionally when mechanically cutting one limb on a plant can be missed. This limb will go on to flower, and show all the other problems, while the rest of the plant is maintained in a vegetative state.
Initially tagasaste was developed so that it was used to replace hand feeding sheep during autumn in Western Australia, when feed supplies were normally very low. This involved locking the tagasaste up for 11 months and then grazing it with 100 sheep per hectare for 1 month. As the tagasaste grows to about 3 metres height in 11 months, it must be mechanically cut while the sheep are in the paddock. Sheep can not be set stocked on tagasaste as this can lead to plant deaths.
A breakthrough came with the discovery that cattle can be set stocked on tagasaste. Cattle tongues are too large to pick off the new shoot buds, and some leaves always remain on the plant. Sheep can remove every leaf from tagasaste but this does not cause plant deaths. The removal of new buds by sheep, that appear about 6 weeks after grazing, can lead to plant deaths. Today the majority of tagasaste is used for cattle grazing with plantations able to be grazed at any time of year. Though it can grow up to 5 metres in height, when managed for grazing it is kept to less than 2 metres in height.
On the poor white sands in Western Australia tagasaste has increased the animal carrying capacity from 1 to 2 Dry Sheep Equivalents with annual pastures to 8 - 10 Dry Sheep Equivalents (~ 1 cow) per hectare with mature tagasaste. This is roughly a 10 fold increase in soil fertility based carrying capacity. The yield of edible dry matter (leaves and fine stems) in the West Midlands is mostly in the range of 3 - 5 tonnes per hectare. It also prevents the wind erosion and excessive ground water recharge that were major environmental problems before. Recently it has been found that tagasaste can sequester carbon at the rate of about 6 tonnes CO2 equivalent per hectare per year. About half the CO2 being stored is as organic carbon in the soil and half is in the wood of the branches, trunk and roots. Tagasaste typically yield roughly 1 ton of edible material per 100mm of rain per hectare per year.
Tagasaste by country
The potential of tagasaste as a Spanish fodder was identified by Dr Perez, a medical practitioner, based on La Palma island in the Canary Islands in the 1870s, and Spanish cattle farmers. He wrote to the Spanish authorities promoting tagasaste as a fodder shrub but could not get them interested. He then sent seed to Kew Gardens in England. Kew Gardens tested tagasaste and then sent seed to all its colonies around the world. In Australia, tagasaste's potential was promoted by a number of individuals over the next century (e.g. Dr Schomburge in South Australia and Dr Laurie Snook in Western Australia) but was not adopted on a large scale until the 1980s in Western Australia.
The first 2 ha of tagasaste in the West Midlands was planted by John Cook on his farm near Dandaragan in 1982. The success of this small paddock excited the interest of other local farmers and researchers. Before this the farming systems in the region were totally based on annual pastures and crops. The region has strongly winter dominant rainfall, with up to 8 months without rain over some summers. Until the development of tagasaste it was believed it was not possible to grow perennial pastures in this region.
In 1984 the 'Martindale Research Project" was started by the University of Western Australia with a large grant from Sir James McCusker. This project encouraged the participation of local farmers and the Western Australia Department of Agriculture in the research and development. Farmers such as John Cook and Bob Wilson at Lancelin developed seeding and mechanical cutting equipment that allowed tagasaste to be sown and managed cheaply by farmers on a broadacre scale. The Martindale Research Project resolved many issues relating to the agronomy, animal production and economics that resulted in a reliable package that farmers could adopt with confidence. The Western Australia Department of Agriculture also conducted trials on their Badgingarra Research Station and at Bob Wilson's farm at Lancelin. Local farmers and researchers formed the West Midlands Fodder Shrub Improvement Group. This later evolved into the Evergreen Group (http://www.evergreen.asn.au/index.htm), which expanded its interests to include a range of other shrubs, grasses and perennial legumes.
There are now about 100,000 ha planted to tagasaste in Western Australia. In WA it is mostly grown on deep, infertile sands in regions nearer the coast with 350 to 600 mm rainfall. Most of the tagasaste in Western Australia is in the West Midlands sand plain to the north of Perth.
The use of tagasaste as a fodder crop was identified as early as 1897 in the Taranaki Region. As of 2011[update] it is still recommended as a fodder crop in some parts of the country but it also is becoming an invasive species. The Department of Conservation, a government agency responsible for protecting public conservation land, consider tagasaste to be an "environmental weed".
in Africa Tagasaste is commonly known as Tree Lucerne and as Chamaecytisus Palmensis. Australia and New Zealand make use of an extensive approach employing Tagasaste or Treelucerne on a broadacre commercial scale mainly for in situ grazing by livestock. In Sub Saharan Africa, South Africa is the only country following this extensive commercial livestock model using Treelucerne. In Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia the approach is mostly intensive among small scale subsistence farmers on very small plots of land, typically 1 hectare or less. The main focus is using Tree Lucerne for subsistence, quality of life and protein dietary purposes, with surplusses going to the commercial markets. The goal is to first to feed the family with protein (eggs, milk, chicken and goats mainly), with cash crops raised between rows of tree lucerne, with the balance of surplus production going to the market for cash income. Tree Lucerne is thus attractive to poor small scale subsistence farmers that have entrepreneurial flair, that have a need for dietary support and income enhancement. Its main contribution is as a fertilizer replacement and high value fodder substitute.
High population pressure and lack of land, problems with deforestation resulting in lack of firewood and overgrazing on communal grazing all result in intense cultivation of Tree Lucerne on 1 hectare plots for a variety of reasons. The low protein calorie intake of small-scale subsistence farmers stuck in a soil poverty cycle (unable to afford fertilizer for higher crop yields and unable to fallow land) can be addressed by Tree Lucerne as a Nitrogen Fixing Tree. The key challenge of dirt poor subsistence farmers are that the soil nutrients are leached from their soil by tropical rain and year on year production without fallowing. The lack of Soil Nitrogen is the main production constraint, with these countries unable to produce their own Nitrogen Fertilizers and thus financially unable to replace lost soil nitrogen leached by rain and extracted by continuous production. This leads to severe soil poverty and a cycle of low harvest yields.
Import of Fertilizer plus transport cost typically result in a cost of pure Nitrogen fertilizer costing roughly $1 per kg on a retail level. The lack of scarce foreign currency result in an inability to properly replace lost soil Nitrogen, locking such dirt poor farmers into a perpetual poverty cycle. Tree Lucerne as a Nitrogen Fixing tree is able to harvest more than half a ton of Free Atmospheric Nitrogen, per hectare, per year, if planted at plantation density in alley crop rows on 1/3 of a hectare, with 2/3 if the hectare planted to cash crops in the interrows. This intercropping approach is very similar to the short lived tree Sesbania Sesban. The intercropping using Tree Lucerne result in potential production increases to commercial production levels, although the biological fertilisation benefits typically only kicks in from month 24 onwards, with the first substantial commercial crop yield benefit at the end of year 3. Tree Lucerne is a sustainable biological approach to soil fertility, especially if combined with Terra Preta. 40 kg of Nitrogen per hectare per year typically yields 1 ton of Maize, 200 kg of N yields 4 tons and 400 kg of N close to 8 tons, per hectare, per year. The ability of Tree Lucerne to fix 587 kg of free Atmospheric Nitrogen per ha/year is thus very attractive to remote rural farmers locked in a soil poverty cycle.
The chief benefit of Treelucerne is its ability to increase soil productivity roughly 5 times over 5 years and up to 10 times over 10 years, in deep well drained soils mainly limited in Nitrogen such as those found in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. The 15-28% Tree Lucerne plant protein is converted into other forms of protein such as eggs, milk, white meat (chicken) and red meat (ruminants and cattle). This is mainly done by combining the need for land demarcation (hedgerows and windbreaks) with the ability to produce "high up in the air" (vertical expansion) due to the tree like vertical growth of the Treelucerne hedgerow of 6-10 meters high to where there is available space horisontally. The side of the Hedgerow is then harvested by hand until it forms a plat surface, using a machete for trimming, often standing on step ladders. The 6 meter high Tree Lucerne hedgerows (typically 1-3 meters wide) yield the same nutritional value as normal Alfalfa (which is only 50 cm high). The lack of space for horizontal sideway expansion close to the ground force such land limited farmers to expand vertically, going up in the air, in order to find more space. This "tree lucerne" approach allows them to achieve multiple production benefits and a 5-10 time production increase, over time, due to Nitrogen Fixation, Soil Improvement and Terra Preta bio-char amendments and the physical tree like structure of Tree Lucerne (growing up, and expanding sideways, high up in the air, where there is space for sideway lateral branches, photosynthesis and sideshoot development).
This vertical expansion allows pruning of branches which are first eaten by livestock; eating the soft shoots and stripping the thicker material of bark, with the remaining wood then dried in the sun over a few days, for use as firewood and tinder, or used to produce high calorific value charcoal. Tree Lucerne is a much desired species for charcoal production, with some of the bio-char used as a soil amendment, or for cooking and heating purposes. It has been found that Tree Lucerne charcoal is a terrific "Terra Preta" soil enhancer able to prevent leaching of Nitrogen and as a microbial breeding ground. The sale of charcoal is leading to older bigger Tree Lucerne trees disappearing to this trade. Grazing pressure generally prevent Tree Lucerne becoming an invasive species in high population high grazing density areas with high rainfall above 1200mm. Treelucerne has not become invasive in Africa due to grazing pressure in a free range environment without fences. In remote locations with few people, the higher animal predation density in Africa has kept the plant from becoming invasive even in remote Tropical Highland Areas. General deforestation is a driver for its establishment as it is one of the fastest growing trees in East Africa. A driver for popular uptake is that Tree Lucerne can be grown in residential and semi residential areas as a boundary fence, ostensibly for aesthetic purposes, while in reality it is dual use- primarily for dietary support to feed chickens, milk goats and the like, which then benefit from increased egg production and enhanced milk production due to the Alfalfa quality fodder harvested from a "living" haystack. Tree Lucerne has also been found to make excellent fish food for Koi and Carp species.
Tree Lucerne is also used in mountainous terrain, highlands and marginal areas that are of low agricultural value to normal Alfalfa and cash crop production and therefore still available. Tree Lucerne grow very well on sloped land as the deep taproot is able to anchor land otherwise prone to erosion under cultivation. The combination of alley cropping with Tree Lucerne on heavily sloped land enable less suitable blocks of available agricultural land to be farmed effectively in an intensive model, although it takes 2-3 years for the biological fertilisation to become effective and is labour-intensive. Tree Lucerne is very valuable as high value nectar and pollen bee forage and used by small and large scale bee farmers.
Tagasaste or Tree Lucerne is used extensively by small scale Dairy farmers in East Africa, for its ability to enable commercial milk production levels on a small plot of land planted with a living fence of self replacing Tree Lucerne. It is seen as a low cost self grown alternative to Diary meal and Alfalfa pellets. Treelucerne is used as a boundary fence and hedgerow, acting as a windbreak aimed at stopping fire, wind and yielding privacy, fodder as well as firewood. Branches are typically lopped off by hand, and fed to grazing animals that may typically include 1-3 goats (milk and meat), half a dozen chickens (eggs), 1-2 calves (feedlot fattening) and 1-2 Dairy cows, all on one hectare of land. The Tree Lucerne may be used to fence the property and the house, with the cash crop grown between alleys of Tree Lucerne. Tree Lucerne is thus used extensively for purposes of biological fertilisation and soil improvement utilizing the alley crop method whereby vegetables, as well as cash crops such as tobacco and maize are planted in the interrow from year 3 onwards. As one of the fastest growing trees in East Africa the need for firewood for own consumption is a major driver for uptake, with the fodder and fence ability of secondary value. This is now changing due to the discovery that Tree Lucerne can fix up to 587 kg of Nitrogen per hectare per year, roughly half below ground by nitrogen fixation and roughly half when the plant is kept in a permanent juvenile state by lopping off alley crop branches at waist level and using it either as livestock feed (with manure then added as fertilizer and a nitrogen pathway) or with the branches put on top of the soil and covered with soil as a "green manure". Over time substantial increases in crop yields have been achieved this way, in the order of raising 1 ton of Maize production to 8-10 tons, and 700 kg of Burley Tobacco to 3-3.5 tons, per hectare, per year. The level of Biological fertilisation achieved by Tree Lucerne is at the top end of that found in the legume family, and typically consist of about 30-50 grams of Nitrogen per meter of row. The use of Tree Lucerne for Terra Preta purposes was pioneered in Central East Africa on Oxisoil.
In Australia a prostrate form of Tagasaste has been developed by selection called Weeping Tagasaste. It is hoped that this plant will not require mechanical cutting or pruning. It is too early to say whether Weeping Tagasaste will yield the same production levels as that of normal Tagasaste. Initial indicators are that production is lower and that the plant might be more vulnerable to soil disease.
In South Africa 3 cultivars have been trademarked, "Green Kalahari" for arid areas (300-500mm), "Cattle Candy" for temperate areas (600-800mm) and "Kilimanjaro" cultivar for Tropical Highland Areas (800-3500mm) of rain. Commercial Breeding of Treelucerne cultivars have led to improved varieties with increased hardiness, disease resistance and a wider range of growing conditions and applications. The use of Treelucerne for Silvopasture Agroforestry as a companion crop is one such example of dual use of the same land for increased production. Sheep is then used to suppress weeds and keep the Treelucerne in check, preventing it from shadowing out the main forestry crop. The biological fertilisation is enhanced with green manure and trampling, improving the soil over time, and leading to production increases. The Meatmaster Sheep breed is an ideal Silvopasture ruminant for use on Treelucerne in Agroforestry Silvopasture Applications.
- "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved April 3, 2014.
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- "Tagasaste, Chamaecytisus palmensis". The Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association. Archived from the original on October 7, 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-26.
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