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Calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus)


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Common names 

Calliandra, red calliandra, kalliandra merah, [English]; calliandre, calliandra [French]; palo de ángel, cabello de ángel, barba de gato, barbillo, barba de chivo, barbe jolote, barbe sol, carboncillo, clavellino [Spanish]; kaliandra [Indonesian, Malaysian]; calliandra [Philippines]; mkaliandra [Swahili]


Anneslea acapulcensis Britton & Rose, Calliandra acapulcensis (Britton & Rose) Standl., Calliandra confusa Sprague & L. Riley, Calliandra houstoniana var. acapulcensis (Mill.) Barneby, Calliandra houstoniana var. calothyrsus (Meisn.) Barneby

Feed categories 

Calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus Meisn.) is a small tropical legume tree valued as a multipurpose tree. Used in agroforestry systems, it yields many products (fuelwood, fodder, fibre, honey, shellac) and provides services (ornament, shade, erosion control, weed control, soil improvement, etc.) (Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994; Wiersum et al., 1997). A very versatile species, calliandra does well under a wide range of soils and is outstanding in low fertile conditions (Wiersum et al., 1997).

Morphological description

Calliandra is an almost evergreen, thornless and small legume tree, about 5-6 m high and reaching up to 12 m. It has a straight trunk up to 30 cm in diameter and many branches that form a dense canopy (Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994). The bark is very variable in colour, from white to red brown or blackish brown (Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994; Wiersum et al., 1997). It is mainly glabrous but may sometimes be finely pubescent (FAO, 2016). Calliandra has a fast growing, vigorous root system that develops down to 1.5-2 m depth within 4-5 months. The root system encompasses both superficial adventitious roots and deep growing roots, sometimes developing a taproot (Orwa et al., 2009). Calliandra roots nodulate with Rhizobium strains. New sprouts are readily formed from the root system and facilitate coppicing. Under annual coppicing of stems of 3-5 cm diameter, the tree can survive for many years (FAO, 2016).

Calliandra leaves are alternate, bipinnately compound, the rachis being 10-19 cm long and bearing (3)-6-20 pinnae. The pinnae are 4-7 cm long and encompass 19-60 pairs of linear, opposite, acute or obtuse leaflets, 5-8 mm long x 1 mm wide (Palmer et al., 1994; Wiersum et al., 1997). The inflorescence is a showy, borne at the apex, spike-like raceme of 10-30 cm length. It bears many several clusters of purplish-red, 4-6 cm long flowers that have very conspicuous stamens, hence the name “calliandra” ("beautiful male"). The fruits are broadly linear, flattened, pubescent, dehiscent pods, 8-11 cm long x 1 cm broad, brown in colour. They contain 3-15 seeds. The seeds are ellipsoid, flattened, 5-7 mm long, mottled dark brown (Palmer et al., 1994; Wiersum et al., 1997).


Calliandra was not much used in its native range (Central America and Mexico) and only became a valued multi-purpose legume tree after it was introduced in Indonesia (Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994). Calliandra firewood has a good calorific value and a low moisture, thus requiring less drying. It burns very quickly and is particularly suited for charcoal production. One hectare of calliandra can produce 14 tons of charcoal/year. Calliandra wood is a useful smoking fuel that can replace rubber wood. Calliandra can produce 15-40 tons wood/ha/year under annual coppicing and it remains productive during 10-20 years (Orwa et al., 2009; Wiersum et al., 1997). It has been positively assessed for biofuel (bioethanol) production in India (Adaganti et al., 2014). Calliandra wood is a source of fibre, pulp and paper (Wiersum et al., 1997). Calliandra is a good source of nectar for the production of high quality honey. Calliandra hosts a shellac-producing insect (Laccifer lacca) (Wiersum et al., 1997). Calliandra is a beautiful tree that is used as an ornamental in towns and gardens (Orwa et al., 2009). Calliandra provides environmental services such as erosion control, weed control, soil improvement, intercropping and alley cropping, shelter and nursing for other plantations (see Environmental impact below).

Calliandra is a valuable fodder for all classes of ruminants. Leaves and pods contain high amounts of protein and are free of toxic substances. However, its high tannin content makes it less usuable for pigs and poultry.


Calliandra is native to the humid and subhumid regions of Central America and Mexico. It was introduced into Indonesia in 1936 for green manure and shade production and its cutivation was much sponsored there during the 1970s. It has been introduced into many other tropical countries, particularly in South-East Asia and Africa (Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe) but also in Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Hawaii (Palmer et al., 1994; Hess et al., 2006). In Uganda, calliandra is the most cultivated fodder tree before leucaena, mulberry (Morus alba), tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis) and gliricidia (Wambugu et al., 2006). Calliandra was considered a promising shrub in highlands (Roothaert et al., 1997; Place et al., 2009) and was therefore disseminated in East Africa in agroforestry projects (Salawu, 1997; Place et al., 2009; Franzel et al., 2014).

Calliandra is an agressive pioneer species that can be found in disturbed areas such as roadsides, river banks and shifting cultivation plots (Palmer et al., 1994). It grows from sea-level up to 1800-2200 m but does better up to 1300 m. It grows best with annual rainfall ranging from 700 to 3000 (-4000) mm (rainy tropics) and annual temperatures ranging between 22 and 28°C with mean temperature of the hottest months being within 24-30°C and mean temperature of the coldest month within 18-24°C. Calliandra does not withstand frost but is tolerant of dry spells lasting from 1 to 7 months. Calliandra cannot survive more than 2 weeks of waterlogging (Wambugu et al., 2006; Wiersum et al., 1997). Calliandra grows well on a very wide range of light textured, low fertile soils from acidic sandy soils to deep volcanic loams. Calliandra does not withstand compacted, poorly drained, alkaline calcareous soils (Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994). Calliandra can grow where the soils are too acidic for leucaena (Palmer et al., 1996). Unlike leucaena, calliandra is resistant to the psyllid and may replace it where the infection occurs (Orwa et al., 2009; Wambugu et al., 2006).

Forage management 

Establishment and cultivation

Calliandra establishes better from seeds than from stem cuttings. The seeds should be scarified for easier germination. They can be sown directly in the cleared field or in nursery. Calliandra grown in nursery should be transplanted when it is 20-50 cm high (FAO, 2016; Orwa et al., 2009; Wiersum et al., 1997). Calliandra has a slow early growth till nodulation occurs and may require weeding and fertilizer at this early stage (Palmer et al., 1994). Once mycorrhizal infection is effective, calliandra may grow to a height of 3.5 m in 6 months. The use of fertilizer at later stages is not necessary and calliandra has outstanding growth on infertiles sites (FAO, 2016; Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994). The regular pollarding of calliandra promotes coppicing for more than 10 years. In alley cropping, pollarding should happen every 4 months to limit shading of the companion crop (Orwa et al., 2009).


Annual forage yields of 7-10 t and up to 20 t DM/ha have been obtained under variable growing conditions (Kabi et al., 2008; Tuwei et al., 2003; Paterson et al., 1998; Palmer et al., 1994; Kidd et al., 1984). In Java, calliandra could sustain maize and sugarcane productivity in the following rotation: 4 years calliandra, 4 years sugarcane, 2 years maize (Wiersum et al., 1997). In Samoa, alley cropping of calliandra with taro during 4 years could not sustain taro yields (Wiersum et al., 1997).

Harvest and preservation

Calliandra can be browsed or cut and carried to livestock. Drying calliandra leaves before feeding it to livestock may have negative effects on forage quality (Palmer et al., 1982) but this is debated (Hove et al., 2003). When used in cut-and-carry systems, it should be fed without delay (Palmer et al., 1992).

Environmental impact 

Soil improver, erosion control and afforestation

Calliandra is an N-fixing legume that roots abundantly and nodulates readily with Rhizobium bacteria. It yields high amounts of biomass and has been recommended for green manure in low fertility areas. It can be used in rotation with cash crops like sugarcane or maize (in alley cropping systems). However, the high tannin content of the leaves reduces the microbial breakdown of organic matter in the soil (Palmer et al., 1994). The dense canopy of calliandra provides good cover against sun and rain. Its spreading root system binds soil in steep sloping lands and cleared forests that are at high erosion risks (Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994). In mountainous areas of Indonesia, calliandra could be aerially seeded, making possible the afforestation of inaccessible areas (Palmer et al., 1994).

Companion legume, nurse-tree and weed controller

Calliandra is often used as a companion legume in alley cropping systems. It must be pruned regularly so that it does not shade too much other crops (Wiersum et al., 1997). It is a useful nurse tree for partially shade-tolerant timber trees such as Agathis (Orwa et al., 2009). A pioneer species, calliandra may be helpful for the control of alang-alang (Imperata cylindrica) and other species from degraded grasslands such as Eupatrium and Saccharum (Orwa et al., 2009).

Mitigation of methane emissions by ruminants

Feeding calliandra to ruminants results in lower enteric methane emissions than with grasses or herbaceous legumes: it reduced methane emissions by 24% when replacing a non-tanniniferous legume at 30% of the diet (Tiemann et al., 2008a). Lower methane emissions are typical of tannin-rich forages, but, in the case of calliandra, lower emissions may be primarily due its fibre characteristics and lower fibre digestibility, rather than to tannins (Tiemann et al., 2008b). 

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Like other legumes, calliandra foliage is rich in protein (about 20% DM, up to 28%) and the plant has been used as a protein bank, for instance in Indonesia (Acti, 1983). Protein content generally decreases and fibre content increases with the age of regrowth, due to a strong decrease in leaf:stem ratio, from 3.3 to 0.4 between 1 and 6 months of regrowth (Kabi et al., 2008). Harvesting between 2 and 4 months results in both high biomass and a high nutritive value (Kabi et al., 2008). The lignin content is relatively high. Leaves are richer in protein and tannins and lower in fibre than stems or pods (Salawu et al., 1997a; Salawu et al., 1999a). Calliandra has a high concentration in condensed tannins and subsequently low digestibility of nitrogen (Ahn et al., 1989). It may be used in limited amounts as a source of pigment in layer diets (Teguia, 2000).

Potential constraints 


Calliandra is one of the most tanniferous legumes (Ahn et al., 1989). Its foliage, stems and flowers contain high amounts of condensed and hydrolysable tannins (Kaitho et al., 1993; Dzowela et al., 1995). Reported condensed tannin values are highly variable, depending on analytical methods, plant age and plant origin, with values ranging from less than 1% (Dzowela et al., 1995) to 20-30% (Hove et al., 2001; Palmer et al., 2000) and up to 38% for calliandra cultivated in Colombia (Hess et al., 2006). Tannin concentration was shown to increase with age of regrowth (Dzowela et al., 1995) though this is not always the case (Kaitho et al., 1993). In rats, calliandra did not affect feed intake but had depressive effects on reproductive performance (smaller litter size and litter weight, increased mortality of newborn rats) (Iriani Setyawati et al., 2014). Drying calliandra leaves helped removing tannins (Norton, 1994). 

In ruminants, calliandra was shown to decrease ruminal DM and protein degradability (Mabeza et al., 2015). Tannins extracted from calliandra have a stronger depressive effect on DM degradability than leucaena tannins (Cortés et al., 2009). Calliandra decreases protein digestibility (Ahn et al., 1989). In any case, this contributes to split N losses from urine to feces (Hove et al., 2001).

Others compounds

The drying of calliandra leaves could alleviate the depressive effect of an unidentified heat labile compound in sheep (Norton, 1994) but the positive effects of drying were not in accordance with a former experiment (Palmer et al., 1982). Pipecolic acid, an amino acid contained in calliandra, does not interfere with OM digestibility (Salawu et al., 1997a).


Calliandra forage is a good source of protein for ruminants, but its high tannin content may or may not be detrimental, depending on the situation. Calliandra can be either browsed or cut and carried. It can be used either in replacement of commercial feed in dairy cows managed intensively, or as a supplement for low-quality forages in less producing ruminants. In this case it can be used during the whole year, or only during the dry season when grass quality and availability are low (Nyeko et al., 2004).

Nutritional value

The digestibility of fibre and protein of calliandra tend to be lower than that of comparable shrubs such as leucaena (Hove et al., 2001). Organic matter and ruminal protein degradability was found to be lower than that of browse species Acacia angustissima and Leucaena trichandra (Mabeza et al., 2015). However, shrub management (age of regrowth, coppicing), variety and place of cultivation seem to have considerable effects on calliandra forage quality (Hess et al., 2006). Intestinal digestibility depends on these factors as well (Salawu et al., 1999b). A poor relationship was found between tannin content and in situ DM and protein degradability (Rakhmani et al., 2005). Low fibre digestibility may be due more to fibre and lignin content than to a direct effect of tannins (Dzowela et al., 1995). Calliandra intake resulted in the decrease in cellulolytic bacteria in the rumen (Salawu, 1997), in relation with tannin content (McSweeney et al., 2001).

The effect of drying on the nutritive value of calliandra leaves is debated. Intake by sheep decreased by 40% when calliandra was wilted (Palmer et al., 1992). DM degradability decreased from 60 to 30% between fresh and 10-hour wilting; additional wilting did not affect degradability (Palmer et al., 1996). A limitation of intake due to storage has been suggested (Masama et al., 1997). It has been shown that shade or sun-drying did not affect intake and digestion by goats despite differences in non-tannin phenolics (Hove et al., 2003). Dairy performance of lactating goats receiving calliandra was only moderately lower when wilted than when given fresh (Tuwei et al., 2003).

Dairy cattle

Calliandra is frequently used as a protein supplement in dairy cow feeding. Chopping stems and leaves may result in excellent palatability (Nyeko et al., 2004). However, animals tend to select the parts which are richer in protein and poorer in fibre, as for other shrubs (Roothaert, 1999). In Kenya, calliandra has been given in full replacement of commercial dairy feeds, on the basis that 1 kg of calliandra contains as much digestible protein as 1 kg of commercial feed (Paterson et al., 1998), while maintaining milk production and slightly increasing butterfat (Paterson et al., 1999). When given as a supplement, dry calliandra increased milk yield by 0.6-0.8 kg (Koech, 2005 cited by Place et al., 2009). In Zimbabwe, air-dried calliandra was found to be less efficient than leucaena when supplementing maize silage in dairy diets (Maasdorp et al., 1999). In Kenya, with less-producing cattle, including 25% calliandra in a grass diet allowed to maintain heifer growth rate when grass digestibility decreased (Kaitho et al., 1998).

Small ruminants

In Uganda, calliandra is given to sheep and goats as whole stems and plants (Nyeko et al., 2004). In Kenya, calliandra fed to growing goats as a supplement for maize stover increased feed intake, organic matter digestibility and liveweight gain, with better results than other supplements such as Sesbania sesban (Wambui et al., 2006) or Leucaena species in Zimbabwe (Nherera et al., 1998). An increase in goat milk yield was reported in Kenya though conditions of distribution were not specified (Place et al., 2009; Franzel et al., 2014). With sheep and goats, a 1:1 replacement rate (DM basis) of a commercial dairy feed with calliandra, as suggested for dairy cows by Paterson et al., 1999, resulted in a lower feed efficiency and lower dairy performance (Tuwei et al., 2003). In Uganda, the replacement of part of soybean meal with calliandra ensured a high growth rate of kids (Ebong et al., 2009). In Java, mixed diets containing elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and calliandra cultivated together were found optimal for sheep feeding when the grass:legume ratio was 40:60 (Acti, 1983).



An experiment with calliandra leaf meal showed that growth performance of broilers decreased, although not significantly, with 2.5% or 5% calliandra, and was highly depressed at higher levels (Wati et al., 2013). The growth reduction reached 25% when 10% calliandra was used. Feed intake was affected above 5% as well as feed efficiency. Thus the use of calliandra is not recommended in broiler feeds. 

Laying hens

In laying hens, the addition of 5% to 15% calliandra in the diet decreased laying performance and increased feed intake (Paterson et al., 2000). Live weight decreased, suggesting a poor nutritional value. However, in another experiment, the addition of calliandra at 8% in the diet did not decrease egg production (Teguia, 2000). In all cases, calliandra, like other tree leaves, improved egg yolk colour. This could be the only reason to use calliandra in layer diets, provided it is used at 5% at most.


In laying ducks, the addition of up to 10% calliandra leaf meal had no effect on egg production, but it increased feed intake and resulted in lower feed efficiency (Laksmiwati et al., 2012). 15% calliandra leaf meal significantly decreased laying performance. Yolk colour improved significantly with calliandra addition in the diet.


Calliandra calothyrsus leaves are considered as a poorly palatable forage when proposed in free choice to rabbits (Raharjo et al., 1985). Nevertheless, these leaves are frequently used by rabbit farmers as green forage in tropical countries such as Uganda (Lukefahr, 1998; Nyeko et al., 2004), Indonesia (Maskana et al., 1990; Raharjo et al., 1994), Vietnam (Doan Thi Gang et al., 2007) and Sri Lanka (Perera, 1997). In Vietnam, fresh calliandra foliage could be used in association with water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) in an all forage ad libitum feeding system for both breeding and growing rabbits, with no loss in performance in comparison with a control diet based on concentrate + green Guinea grass (Doan Thi Gang et al., 2007). Due to the high tannin and high lignin content of calliandra forage, its crude protein digestibility is low, about 45-50% independently of the proportion of the fibre-bound N (Wina et al., 2009). But due to the high protein level, the final content in digestible protein remains high for a forage: about 11-12% DM (Raharjo et al., 1985).

Sun-drying calliandra leaves results in a significant reduction of protein digestibility (43 vs. 50%) without important modification of DM or NDF digestibility. However, oven-drying at 60°C or 100°C decreased the digestibility of all nutrients by half or more (Raharjo et al., 1986; Raharjo et al., 1994). One may suppose that artificial drying makes the nutrients bound with tannins quite indigestible by modification of the chemical binding process. Indeed, treating leaves before drying with Ca(OH)2 or preferably with polyethylene glycol (PEG), two treatments that reduce the apparent tannin content, is associated with better digestibility coefficients and a better growth rate (+10 to 11%) when the treated dried leaves are included at 30% in a balanced diet (Wina et al., 2009).

In practical conditions, fresh or wilted Calliandra calothyrsus foliage can be used without restriction in rabbit feeding as sources of protein and fibre. However, it must be pointed out that callianda protein is rich in lysine but deficient in sulphur-containing amino acids (~50% only of requirements). Sun-dried and even artificially dried calliandra leaves could be used in complete rabbit feeds as sources of protein, fibre and lignin, but the possibly low digestibility should be taken into account. The economic interest of treatments before dehydration depends on their cost and on their ability to be locally implemented.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 34.9 5.3 21.3 40.2 12  
Crude protein % DM 20.8 3.5 11.7 28.2 68  
Crude fibre % DM 25.2 6.5 15.3 49.8 34  
NDF % DM 55.6 6.5 37.2 69.6 47  
ADF % DM 37.1 7.8 18.3 52.3 39  
Lignin % DM 14.0 2.8 10.0 19.8 34  
Ether extract % DM 2.4 0.8 1.6 4.2 16  
Ash % DM 6.3 1.2 3.9 9.0 53  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 19.1         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 7.1 3.4 1.5 15.7 16  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.8 2.0 1.3 7.8 11  
Potassium g/kg DM 6.0 3.8 0.1 10.1 10  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.2 7  
Magnesium g/kg DM 3.6 2.1 1.5 8.7 11  
Zinc mg/kg DM 84       1  
Copper mg/kg DM 14       1  
Iron mg/kg DM 351       1  
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 10.5 9.6 0.8 25.3 10  
Tannins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 55.1 47.5 14.0 113.0 4  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 70.0         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 68.3         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 13.1         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.4         *
a (N) % 17.1 7.4 8.8 32.2 9  
b (N) % 43.5 22.3 21.6 99.2 9  
c (N) h-1 0.025 0.011 0.003 0.044 9  
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 34         *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 30 7 21 40 9 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Baba et al., 2002; Barahona et al., 2003; Barnes, 1998; CIRAD, 1991; FUSAGx/CRAW, 2009; Gowda et al., 2004; Kaitho et al., 1997; Kaitho et al., 1998; Kaitho et al., 1998; Larbi et al., 1998; Mahyuddin et al., 1988; Merkel et al., 1999; Nasrullah et al., 2003; Niang et al., 1998; Perez-Maldonado et al., 1996; Pozy et al., 1996; Salawu et al., 1997; Teguia et al., 1999

Last updated on 19/08/2016 19:17:11

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Doreau M., Lebas F., 2016. Calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/586 Last updated on September 27, 2016, 15:21