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Legume Forage Crops
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A wide variety of plants can be used as pasture and feed crops in the tropics. Over the years a limited number have become of great importance because of their adaptation, ease of growth, high yields, and nutritional value. Most of these are either grasses or legumes. Most of the grasses are highly suitable for permanent pastures, although a few are usually cut and carried to the animals. Unfortunately, there are few legume and grass combinations that are compatible in pastures of the tropics; however, we have recently added several new legumes suitable for mixed pastures and are eager to hear how they grow in various areas. In the case of a leucaena and grass as a combination, an appropriate diet consists of 1/3 leucaena to 2/3 grass. Some of the legumes in our seed bank are trees. During drought or in arid areas, tree leaves are sometimes the only feed available. We have a general Technical Note on Forages available.

 Click on scientific names below to order seeds from the ECHO Seed Catalog.


Aeschynomene | Alfalfa | Beach Bean | Centrosema | Clover | Cowpea | Desmanthus | Desmodium | Flemingia | Forage Peanut | Glycine | Hairy Indigo | Hairy Vetch | Jack Bean | Lablab Bean | Leucaena | Roundleaf Cassia | Siratro | Stylosanthes | Velvet Bean 

Aeschynomene spp.                                        Elevation: 0-2200m

Aeschynomene                                                 MS, LL, RF


Short-lived perennial for wetland areas, >1000 mm annual rainfall, including low-lying ditches with seasonal flooding; regenerates well in pastures, early growth is slow; also used as green manure; high in protein.

A. americana, American Jointvetch: green manure, forage; good for low areas or drainage ditches; >1000 mm annual rainfall; can be grown successfully between the latitudes of 30 degrees north and south of the equator. It is normally grown at low elevations but has been found at altitudes up to 2200 feet (670m.)

A. evenia, Aeschynomene [Evenia]: slightly more woody than A. americana, but also offers more forage and reseeding; did well in some trials in Haiti; cattle will readily graze on this short-lived, perennial legume; tolerates waterlogging; Little fertilization is needed.


Arachis pintoi

Forage Peanut/Perennial Peanut                                   MS, LL,RF,H

Amarillo: High-quality productive legume for forage and orchard ground cover, suited to over 100mm rain in tropics or subtropics. Can be planted and grown year-round if the soil has adequate moisture, warm temperatures and is not fertilized heavily. Registered variety. ECHO distributes only small quantities free for experimentation. Commercial source available on request. Cuttings are best means of propagation, but available only to those who visit ECHO.

Canavalia ensiformis                                                            Elevation: up to 1,800m

Jack Bean                                                                           LL, MS, SA, H

Very young pods edible; mature beans are highly toxic, but heat treatment eliminates the toxic effects; very drought-tolerant valuable green manure and cover crop species; ideal pH 5-6; will grow on impoverished tropical soils where other pulses will not grow. It has been a useful species in tropical soil reclamation efforts because of its deeply penetrating root system (affording high drought tolerance), its nitrogen fixation capabilities (providing for soil nutrient improvement) and its tolerance of a wide range of soil acidity and salinity conditions; can be used as a forage crop for ruminant (cud-chewing) animals. Soil pH: 4.3-8.0.


Canavalia maritima                                                            SA, LL, MS, RF

Beach Bean, Bay Bean

(Image courtesy of Australian National Botanic Gardens)

A salt tolerant green manure, cover & forage crop. Used for beach soil stabilization. Young seeds are eaten cooked. Scarify seed before planting.  Requires a longer growing season.  It thrives in warm climates similar to those required for growing cotton plants.

Centurion                                                           SA, MS

The regions suitable for centurion normally possess a distinct dry period of 4-6 months duration and receive less then 40 inches (1000 mm). A fast growing, relatively palatable, nutritious forage species; prostrate annual legume for seasonally dry tropics; extremely drought-tolerant; survives seasonal flooding; wide soil tolerance, pH 5-8.5, sand to heavy clay; requires high temperatures during growing season.


Roundleaf Cassia                                                SA, MS


A short-lived perennial legume that is native to Florida and the Americas.  It establishes quickly in sandy, infertile soils in the tropics and subtropics. Heavy seeding and a good nitrogen-fixing pasture crop. Spreads rapidly, even under heavy grazing because of its prostrate growth habit.



A pasture crop that needs higher rainfall to survive. This species is not drought tolerant. During establishment desmodium needs cultivation to prevent other weedy/grass species from out competing.

Desmodium intortum, Greenleaf: perennial legume which grows well in cool temperatures; frost susceptible; produces seed during short days; tolerates acidic conditions and poorly drained soils; not suitable for areas with less than 890 mm rain; does not compete well with more vigorous grasses nor can it survive heavy grazing until its long taproot and stolons have become well established. LL, RF

Desmodium rensonii: highly preferred for SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) technique in Philippines; used most often as a fodder tree in a system of hedgerows and alley cropping. As a legume, it produces nitrogen-rich foliage; grows in a variety of well-drained soils. LL, RF, H

Desmodium heterocarpon: Perennial legume, grow with common permanent grasses for high quality pasture. Not for routinely dry locations. A valuable crop because of its aggressive nature. LL, RF


Desmanthus virgatus                                                                     Elevation:  0-2500m

Wild Tantan/Dwarf Koa/Slender Mimosa/ Bundleflower.             SA, MS,LL

A nitrogen-fixing tropical shrub that can be used as a green manure/cover crop and as fodder for livestock.  Native to the American tropics and subtropics, it can grow up to 3 meters high.  Grows back quickly and can tolerate drought.  Also used as a living fence or for alley cropping.   Soil pH:  4.5-7.5.

Flemingia macrophylla                                                      Elevation: 0-2000m

Wild Hops (Flemingia)                                                       H, MS, LL


A woody, leguminous, deep-rooted shrub native to Asia, but now found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Malaysia.  Useful in erosion control, for shade or shelter and for soil improvement.  Wild hop leaves are slow to decompose and are an effective weed suppressant.  Can also be used for fuelwood or fodder.  Dried pods produce a powder that is used as an orange dye for silks.  Roots used for medicinal purposes against ulcers and swelling.  Sol pH:  4.6-7.5.


Indigofera hirsuta                                                                 Elevation:  0-1350m

Hairy Indigo                                                                         MS

Reseeding annual; nematode-suppressant; tolerates a wide range of soils, but prefers well-drained soils; used for hay and grazing.  Plants grow from 0.6 2.3 m (2-7 ft) tall.  Good ground cover and green manure; sensitive to cold.  It grows as far as 30 degrees south and as far north as 32 degrees N in the USA and from sea level to 1350 m (4429 ft) in Africa.
Soil pH: 4.5-8.0.

Lablab purpureus                                                                      Elevation: sea level up to 2,000m

Lablab Bean, Hyacinth Bean, Dolichos                                     MS, LL, H, SA

Lablab Bean is capable of growing in a wide range of climatic conditions and soil types, depending upon the variety chosen. Lablabs have been grown from sea level to 2,000 m (6,000 ft) in tropical regions. It tolerates drought periods well but has been grown successfully in climates ranging from 200-2500 mm (8-100 in) annual rainfall. Lablabs prefer well-drained soils with a pH range from 4.4-7.8. Lablab has been grown both in nutrient-poor soils and those high in some minerals such as aluminum.Dark-seeded cultivars have high levels of both cyanogenic glucoside and a trypsin inhibitor and must be cooked, sprouted, or fermented before eating.

Red: Scarlet pods, larger pods can be eaten raw; produces under long- and short-day conditions. 

Highworth: Pods are non-shattering; quick-maturing, and yields well. 

Rongai: An excellent forage and ground cover. Does well in humid regions but is also fairly drought resistant. 

White: White seed. Vine for forage and seeds are edible for human consumption.

Mixed lablabs also available.


Leucaena spp.


L. diversifolia                Elevation: 0-2500m                       SA, MS, H

 A source of livestock fodder or browse; foliage also is eaten by humans in salads and soups or cooked as a vegetable; shade tree, also is planted as a windbreak or as hedges and living fences; retards soil erosion losses and rejuvenates soil water-holding capacity; a good choice for paper pulp and fuel wood uses.

500-2000mm and higher annual rainfall; not drought tolerant; fodder quality lower than L. leucocephala, lower in mimosine.
K156: Needs 500-1000 mm rain. Can grow from 5-15 meters. Good tree for alley cropping and fuel. Suitable for higher altitudes--does best between 1000- 2000 feet above sea level. Scarify (soak seeds in very hot water overnight or scratch seed coat) before planting.

K784: good for hedgerows, intercropping & alley cropping . Does best at 1000-2000 meters altitude. Highly psyllid resistant. 

L. leucocephala                           Elevation: up to approx. 1000m            SA, MS

A source of livestock fodder or browse; foliage also is eaten by humans in salads and soups or cooked as a vegetable; shade tree, also is planted as a windbreak or as hedges and living fences; retards soil erosion losses and rejuvenates soil water-holding capacity; a good choice for paper pulp and fuel wood uses. 

Can survive on less then 600mm and more than 2000mm annual rainfall. Performs best on sites receiving 1500 mm annual rainfall and that has soil with pH 6.0-7.5. Moderate drought tolerance; fast growth; coppices well; leaves used as fodder supplement in small amounts only; potentially weedy. There are three basic types of L. leucocephala trees: Hawaiian, Salvador, and Peru. 

The Hawaiian type is short and bushy; its yield of wood and foliage is low compared to the other two types. The Salvador type (Hawaiian giant) is tall and tree-like;? can grow 60 ft. in height in five years. The Peru type is tall with extensive branching; trees are good for forage.

K6: Peru type.

K8: Salvador type.

K636: Giant Hawaiian type; psyllid-resistant.

L. pallida x L. leucocephala                   Elevation: 0-1000m                    MS, LL

KX2 Ohana Hybrid: Excellent psyllid resistance; for 0-1000m elevation; more cold-tolerant than K636.  

Macroptilium atropurpureum                        Elevation: 0-2000m

Siratro                                                                 MS, H

Deep-rooted perennial; 760-1780 mm annual rainfall; withstands heat and drought on wide range of soils; establishes quickly; withstands heavy grazing; seed viable in soil up to 5 years; fixes nitrogen sufficiently to boost growth of other grasses; serves as food for wildlife.

Medicago sativa

Alfalfa/Lucerne                                                          SA, MS,T

Varies in height from 0.6-1 m (2-3 ft); drought-tolerant (as little as 20”or 510 mm of rainfall per year); with a long taproot; sensitive to soil acidity, needs pH > 6.5 for high yields; tolerant of light frosts, requires soil that is well drained and rich in nutrients.

 AmeriStand 403T:  Ameristand 403T is an extremely high yielding traffic tolerant Alfalfa.  403T is best suited for cool climate areas.  Alfalfa should be planted at a rate of 15 to 20 lbs per acre.  In trials in the US AmeriStand 403T demonstrated exceptional yield and yield persistence over other varieties.

Ameristand 803T This variety is well adapted to the Southern United States. Ameristand 803T Alfalfa Seed has excellent resistance to pest and traffic and produces high yields for pasture grazing and hay production. Alfalfa seed is commonly planted for pasture grazing, hay production and wildlife food plots in the Southern warm season zone.  Non-dormancy rating of 8.3


Mucuna pruriens                                                                             Elevation:  0-2100m

Velvet Bean                                                                                     MS, LL, RF, H

Velvet bean can tolerate drought, low soil fertility, and acidic soil, although it is sensitive to frost and does not grow well in cold, wet soils.  It grows best at altitudes under 1,500m (4,500 ft). All varieties from ECHO's seed bank grow vigorously and thrive in areas with full sun and high rainfall, which can cause velvet bean to be weedy.   Mucuna requires a long growing season.  It serves as a good green manure, but is not recommended for human consumption. Soil pH: 4.0-7.5.

90-Day: Day-length neutral; less vigorous than tropical variety; has irritating hairs, must protect skin during harvesting.  Grows well in temperate areas.

ECHO Bush 1: A bush type selected by the University of Florida, from seeds from ECHO, for high pod set.

Tropical: Requires short days for flower and pod production.

Glycine            MS

Perennial vining legume; 760-1525 mm annual rainfall; requires moderately fertile soil with good drainage; does not tolerate acidic soils or waterlogging; thrives in warm tropical regions having an average temperature of 30C or higher; high nitrogen production; often intercropped with grasses; a cover crop to suppress weed growth and improve soil nitrogen supply. It is a useful erosion control species; can be slow to establish. Beneficial to inoculate with rhizobium before planting.

Cooper: Early flowering; vigorous; drought-resistant.

Malawi: Slower to establish; withstands heavy grazing and harsh weather conditions; tolerates poor soils.


A perennial herb that is most commonly grown as a leguminous pasture crop. Stylo can also be used as erosion control and will add nitrogen to the soil. This is an adaptable pasture crop for the tropics. It establishes easily although not much growth will occur until the second season. Needs to be inoculated with rhizobium so nitrogen fixing process can be initiated.

S. guianensis                          Elevation: 0-2000m                               MS, LL, H

Common stylo: This species is slow growing for the first 6 weeks. S. quianensis produces good yields from sea level up to 2,000m, between 900-2,000mm rainfall, and temperatures between 18-28 degrees C. A low growing crop with a spreading habit.

S. hamata                                                                                             SA, MS


Caribbean stylo: This species is best suited to the hot tropics with 600-1,700 mm rainfall in a growing season of 15-25 weeks. Caribbean stylo is limited to low altitude regions because it is subject to frost damage. Is tolerant to acidic soils. ECHO's seed bank carries Verano Carribean, not Amiga

S. scabra                             Elevation: 0-1000m                                  SA, MS

Shrubby stylo: This species can survive with as little as 600mm of rainfall, but does very poorly in heavy soils that hold too much water. An upright pasture type crop that is 6" tall. On ECHO's campus this crop has flourished under the hot humid summer. It can be grown at elevations as high as 3,000ft (1,000m). Tolerates acidic soil.


Clover                                                                                                      H, T

T. incarnatum

Crimson Clover

Cold-tolerant legume sown in autumn for overwintering and harvest in spring; fast-growing; nitrogen-fixing; prefers cool, humid weather with 35" of rainfall yearly. It cannot tolerate extreme drought or standing water and seeds will not germinate at temperatures over 60°F (15.5° C).

T. pratense

Red Clover

Warm-climate clover suitable for tropical highlands; nitrogen-fixing legume; likes loam soil with good moisture; not rootknot nematode resistant; It will tolerate a wide range of rainfall, temperature and pH.

T. repens

White Clover

Commonly grown in the southeastern US; white clover/grass mixture makes high quality pasture. Perennial warm-climate clover suitable for tropical highlands; cannot tolerate long, dry seasons and remain a perennial.


Hairy Vetch                                                                                              T, H

Used as pasture, hay, silage, green manure; will fix nitrogen in the soil, (2-3 lb./acre/day under spring sun), prevents erosion, withstands trampling by foraging livestock, shades out weed growth, requires no fertilizer. Tolerant of acid soil, but requires high phosphorous; vining habit with stems 0.6-1.3 m long; needs well-drained soil.

Vigna unguiculata

Cowpea/Southern Pea/Blackeye Pea                                                     SA, MS

Drought-tolerant forage/edible pulse; bush plant with compact pods. A native to central Africa, this legume can be used as a green manure and erosion control. The plant grows rapidly to control erosion. Succeeds best in warm weather surviving some drought conditions and even some shade. It is not particular to soil types, will thrive where soil is well drained, properly inoculated and moderately rich with limeUses: vegetable (young leaves are edible as well as young pods), fodder, green manure, cover crop, erosion control, and nitrogen fixation. Seeds can be eaten green or dried. Seeds are nutritious and high in protein. Young pods can be eaten as "snap beans.”

Baby Cream: release from the USDA vegetable laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina. Compact, erect plant with small, delicate, cream-type peas. Resistant to lodging and root-knot nematodes, and performs well under hot and humid conditions.
Bettergro Blackeye: Resistant to cowpea curculio and root knot nematodes; susceptible to blackeye cowpea mosaic virus; good flavor. In 2005 observation trial this variety produced the most pods. Appeared to have less vegetative growth compared to the other varieties and was more upright.

Charleston Blackeye: A release from the USDA vegetable laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina. Root-knot nematode resistant, upright growth, 2-4inch yellow pods. Cream colored black eyed peas.

#83-060 Cowpea: This legume grew well on acid soil and resisted insects and disease in the Amazon in one trial. In ECHO’s observation trial it had the most vegetative growth, but never bloomed. It is day sensitive. This variety would make an excellent ground cover, because of its vigorous growth. 

Thailand Long: From a missionary in Thailand, has done well at ECHO. This variety is a heavy producer with an upright growth habit. Produced very uniform pods.

Zipper Cream: 70 days; high-producing fresh market pea; named Zipper because it almost shells itself; thick pod walls help it resist curculio, stink bug, and weevil damage. In observation trial at ECHO had a very lowest/prostrate growth habit of all the varieties we carry.


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