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Calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus)


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Common names 

Calliandra, red calliandra [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, kaliandra merah [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 for its multipurpose attributes. Used in agroforestry systems, it yields many products (fuelwood, fodder, fibre, honey, shellac) and provides services (shade, erosion control, weed control, soil improvement, as an ornamental plant, etc.) (Orwa et al., 2009Palmer et al., 1994Wiersum et al., 1997). A very versatile species, calliandra does well under a wide range of soils and is outstanding in those of a low fertility (Wiersum et al., 1997).

Morphological description

Calliandra is an almost evergreen, thornless small legume tree, usually about about 5-6 m high, but it can reach a height of 12 m. It has a straight trunk up to 30 cm in diameter and many branches that form a dense canopy (Orwa et al., 2009Palmer et al., 1994). The bark is very variable in colour, from white to red brown or blackish brown (Orwa et al., 2009Palmer et al., 1994Wiersum et al., 1997). It is mainly glabrous but can also be finely pubescent (FAO, 2016). Calliandra has a fast growing, vigorous root system that develops down to a depth of 1.5-2 m 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 and 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., 1994Wiersum et al., 1997). The inflorescence, borne at the apex, is a showy spike-like raceme 10-30 cm in length. It bears several clusters of purplish-red flowers that are 4-6 cm long with 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, and brown in colour. They contain 3-15 seeds. The seeds are ellipsoid, flattened, 5-7 mm long, and mottled dark brown in colour (Palmer et al., 1994Wiersum 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 into Indonesia (Orwa et al., 2009Palmer et al., 1994). Calliandra firewood has a good calorific value and a low moisture content, 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 per 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 for 10-20 years (Orwa et al., 2009Wiersum 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 thus used as an ornamental tree 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 as a plantation nurse species (see Environmental impact below).

Calliandra is a valuable fodder for all classes of ruminants. Leaves and pods contain large amounts of protein and are free of toxic substances. However, its high tannin content makes it less useable 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 as a shade tree, its planting being financially encouraged during the 1970s. It has since been introduced into many other tropical countries, particularly in South-East Asia and Africa (Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe), and 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, and is preferred to leucaena, mulberry (Morus alba), tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis) and gliricidia (Wambugu et al., 2006). Calliandra was considered a promising shrub for highland areas (Roothaert et al., 1997Place et al., 2009) and was, therefore, encouraged for agroforestry projects in East Africa (Salawu, 1997Place et al., 2009Franzel 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 an altitude of 1800-2200 m, but does better up to 1300 m. It grows best with annual rainfall between 700 and 3000 mm, but will tolerate 4000 mm in the wet tropics. It likes annual temperatures ranging between 22 and 28°C, with the mean temperature of the hottest months being within 24-30°C and of the coldest months 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 wide range of light textured, low fertility soils from acidic sandy soils to deep volcanic loams. Calliandra does not withstand compact, poorly drained, alkaline calcareous soils (Orwa et al., 2009Palmer 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 a nursery. Calliandra grown in nurseries should be transplanted when 20-50 cm high (FAO, 2016Orwa et al., 2009Wiersum et al., 1997). Calliandra grows slowly in the early stages until nodulation occurs. Weeding and extra fertilizer may be necessary during this period (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 infertile sites (FAO, 2016Orwa et al., 2009; Palmer et al., 1994). The regular pollarding of calliandra promotes coppicing for more than 10 years. In alley cropping, pollarding should be carried out at 4 month intervals 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., 2003Paterson et al., 1998Palmer et al., 1994Kidd et al., 1984). In Java, calliandra was successfully included in a 10 year rotation based on 4 years calliandra, 4 years sugarcane and 2 years maize (Wiersum et al., 1997). However, in Samoa alley cropping of calliandra with taro over 4 years did 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 to livestock may have negative effects on forage quality (Palmer et al., 1982) but this is debatable (Hove et al., 2003). When used in cut-and-carry systems, it should be fed immediately after cutting (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 areas of low fertility. 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 on steep slopes and cleared forests that are at high risk of erosion (Orwa et al., 2009Palmer 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 over-shade 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 of grasses 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-tanniferous 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 to its fibre characteristics and the lower digestibility of the fibre, rather than to tannins (Tiemann et al., 2008b). 

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Like other legumes, calliandra foliage is rich in protein (about 20% of DM, up to 28%) and, in Indonesia for example, the plant has been used as a protein bank (Acti, 1983). Protein content generally decreases and fibre content increases with the age of regrowth, due to a strong decrease in the 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 resulted 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., 1997aSalawu et al., 1999a). Calliandra has a high concentration of 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 large amounts of condensed and hydrolysable tannins (Kaitho et al., 1993Dzowela 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., 2001Palmer 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 in removing tannins (Norton, 1994). 

In ruminants, calliandra was shown to decrease rumen DM and protein degradability (Mabeza et al., 2015). Tannins extracted from calliandra had a stronger depressive effect on DM degradability than leucaena tannins (Cortés et al., 2009). Calliandra decreased protein digestibility (Ahn et al., 1989). It also lowered urine N excretion and increased that in the faeces (Hove et al., 2001).

Others compounds

The drying of calliandra leaves alleviated the depressive effect of an unidentified heat labile compound in sheep that depressed feed utilisation (Norton, 1994), but these positive effects of drying were not in accordance with a former experiment in which drying depressed digestion rate and voluntary intake (Palmer et al., 1992). Pipecolic acid, an amino acid contained in calliandra, did 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 to replace commercial feed in dairy cows managed intensively, or as a supplement for low-quality forages in less productive 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 rumen protein degradability was found to be lower than that of the 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 also depends on these factors (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 a decrease in cellulolytic bacteria in the rumen (Salawu, 1997) related to 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; but additional wilting did not affect degradability (Palmer et al., 1996). A limitation of intake due to storage method 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). Milk yield 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, as with other shrubs, animals tend to select the parts which are richer in protein and poorer in fibre (Roothaert, 1999). In Kenya, when calliandra fully replaced 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), milk production was unchanged and butterfat slightly increased (Paterson et al., 1999). When given as a supplement, dry calliandra increased daily 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 lower-producing cattle, including 25% calliandra in a grass diet allowed heifer growth rate to be maintained 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 live-weight gain, with better results than other supplements such as Sesbania sesban (Wambui et al., 2006), or Leucaena species in Zimbabwe (Nherera et al., 1998). In Kenya, increased in goat milk production was reported though the 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 the 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 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 in the diet, and was markedly depressed at higher levels (Wati et al., 2013). The reduction in growth reached 25% when 10% calliandra was used. Feed intake was affected above 5% calliandra inclusion, as was feed efficiency. Thus the use of calliandra is not recommended in broiler feeds. 

Laying hens

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


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.


Leaves of Calliandra calothyrsus are considered as a poorly palatable forage when offered 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, 1998Nyeko et al., 2004), Indonesia (Maskana et al., 1990Raharjo et al., 1994), Vietnam (Doan Thi Gang et al., 2007) and Sri Lanka (Perera, 1997). In Vietnam, fresh calliandra foliage was fed 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 when compared with a control diet based on concentrate plus green Guinea grass (Doan Thi Gang et al., 2007). Due to the high tannin and high lignin contents 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). However, due to the high total protein content of the forage, the amount of digestible protein remains high for a forage at about 11-12% DM (Raharjo et al., 1985).

Sun-drying calliandra leaves resulted 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 50% or more (Raharjo et al., 1986Raharjo et al., 1994). It is possible that artificial drying makes the nutrients bound with tannins quite indigestible through modification of the chemical binding process. Indeed, treating leaves before drying with Ca(OH)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 (up by 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 foliage can be used without restriction in rabbit feeding as sources of protein and fibre. However, it must be pointed out that calliandra protein is rich in lysine but deficient in sulphur-containing amino acids (only about 50% of requirements). Sun-dried or 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 value 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., 2017. Calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/586 Last updated on March 28, 2017, 10:49

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)