Mexico and Central America is the native range of lead tree, or Leucaena leucocephala. Lead tree was most likely distributed by man because of its many uses. This multipurpose tree is used for fuel wood, lumber, animal fodder, and green manure. Ornamental uses include windbreaks, shade trees, and erosion control. Lead tree may have been introduced into Florida for cattle fodder and controlling erosion. Found in Southern Florida, including the Florida Keys, lead tree can be seen along roadsides and hammock margins in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Lead tree is a Category II invasive species.
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Lead tree is a shrub or small tree growing up to 16 feet in height with bipinnate leaves to 10 inches long. There are approximately 12 pairs of lanceolate shaped leaflets each about 9-12 mm long, 2-3.5 mm wide. These are oppositely arranged. Flowers grow clustered on the end of branches. Individual flowers are white, turning brown with maturity. Lead tree is a prolific seed producer. The dark brown seed pods are flat, roughly 4 to 6 inches long, with about 20 seeds. Seeds are glossy brown, oval, flat, 6 mm long.
The seeds are dispersed by birds and rodents. Seed may also be spread via cattle manure. Lead tree also produces multiple new shoots when cut back. Seed germination and vegetative regeneration from basal shoots will also occur following a fire.
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In areas where lead tree is considered an invasive weed, it will forms dense thickets and displaces the native vegetation. Disturbed, cleared areas, coastal strands, outskirts of forests and canopy gaps are some locations regularly invaded by lead tree.
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The first step in preventative control of lead tree is to limit planting and removal of existing plants within the landscape. If possible, removal should occur before seeds are produced.
Inform the public to refrain from purchasing, propagating, or planting lead tree due to its invasive tendencies. If used as a forage, grazing should be managed to prevent flowering and seed formation.
There are no known mechanical controls for lead tree. Continuous cutting will eventually kill larger trees. Frequent mowing or grazing will kill smaller plants.
An insect known as ‘jumping lice’, or the leucaena psyllid (Heteropsylla cubana), will damage plants but does not eliminate established plants. Goats will provide a large level of control if allowed to continuously graze.
Lead tree is sensitive to foliar-applied triclopyr. Triclopyr ester applied basal bark and stump bark is effective, while 2,4-D in combination with diesel fuel is effective for basal bark treatments.
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References and Useful Links
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Plants Database
Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States
University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Electronic Data Information Source
Langeland, K.A. and K. Craddock Burks. 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. IFAS Publication SP 257. University of Florida,
Gainesville. 165 pp.
The Plant Conservation Alliance’s Alien Plant Working Group. Weeds Gone Wild: Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas
Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER). Plant Threats to Pacific Ecosystems
The Hillsborough County Invasive Species Task Force
Identification and control of non-native invasive plants in the Tampa Bay Area
University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Circular 1529, Invasive Species Management Plans for Florida, 2008 by
Greg MacDonald, Associate Professor Jay Ferrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Brent Sellers, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Ken Langeland, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist Agronomy Department, Gainesville and Range Cattle REC, Ona
Tina Duperron-Bond, DPM – Osceola County
Eileen Ketterer-Guest, former Graduate Research Assistant
Description modified January 2014 using Citation #1 below
Leucaena leucocephala, White Leadtree (EDIS Publication #FOR299)
View the herbarium specimen image from the University of Florida Herbarium Digital Imaging Projects.
1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition, by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.
2. Strangers in Paradise, Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida, Chapter 2: Florida’s Invasion by Nonindigenous Plants: History, Screening, and Regulation, by D.R. Gordon and K.P. Thomas, pp. 21-37. Island Press, Washington, DC, 1997.
3. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know – Recognition Cards, by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.
4. Integrated Management of Nonnative Plants in Natural Areas of Florida, by K. A. Langeland, J. A. Ferrell, B. Sellers, G. E. MacDonald, and R. K. Stocker. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 242. 2011.
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