Classification – Leguminosae

Chamaecytisus proliferus var palmensis.
Allied species are C. stenopetalus (yellow flowers) and C. Palida (white flowers)

Before 1980 it was misnamed Cytisus proliferus in New Zealand.
Also known as Tree Lucerne, False Tree Lucerne.
Same family as gorse and broom, but infinitely more desirable.


Endemic to the Canary Islands, tagasaste was introduced into New Zealand late last century as a hedging plant and has since become widely naturalised, particularly in the Wanganui-Manawatu area, Banks Peninsula, and Otago Peninsula.
It has been used in the Gisborne – East Coast as nurse trees to establish very large native and mixed forest blocks out of bracken fern and burnt over manuka about 1915.
The Wither Hills in the Wairau Valley of Marlborough undertook a development project starting in 1983 which involved extensive trials of tagasaste.

As a perennial evergreen capable of rapid growth (1 – 2m in its first year) and with its extensive root system, tagasaste is ideal as low-level windbreak.
It is also widely used as a soil stabiliser on steep slopes and as a nurse crop for slower growing trees.
As a member of the legume family it is a nitrogen fixer.

Year round green fodder is produced because tagasaste can gather subsoil nutrients and moisture from as far as 10 metres down – beyond the reach of ordinary pastures and crops.
Tagasaste is a protein rich legume so it is particularly useful in times of drought or when other food is in short supply before the spring flush of rye grass and clover.
Either coppice and take branches to stock or graze the area depending on your chosen farm layout.

Because of its winter flowering it is highly regarded by beekeepers as well as for the quality and quantity of its nectar and pollen.

The tree

NZ references tend to call it C. proliferus whereas Australians refer to it as C. palmensis. Are we growing the same cultivar?

Variations have been noticed on plants from separate seed sources.

This rapidly growing plant can attain a height of up to 7m in NZ.
The blooms are produced in profusion along the stems of the previous year’s growth and are creamy white in colour and rather pea shaped.
In the northern districts it comes into flower in June and remains in bloom until September.
C. proliferus

Evergreen shrub, 3 – 5m high, open growing, branches long, thin, softly pubescent

Leaves trifoliate. Leaflets, linear, grey-green, silky pubescent beneath (not softly
like C. palmensis).

Flowers white, 2.5 cm long, in axillary clusters of 4-7, near the tips of short, leafy

Calyx funnelform, with narrow triangular teeth, densely pubescent.

Canary Islands – wild on Tenerife & Gomera.
C. palmensis

Same as C. proliferus except:

Leaflets narrow elliptic to lanceolate 2-3.5cm long, 4-10mm wide.
Small tuft hair at apex, glabrous above, with fine soft pubescence beneath (not silky like C. proliferus), quite short stalked.

Flowers white, 2cm long, in axillary clusters of 2-4

Calyx with triangular-lanceolate lobes, densely pubescent like flower stalk.

Pods 3cm long x 1cm wide

Seed black glossy

Canary Islands – La Palma

These descriptions are taken from the Manual of Cultivated Broad-leaved Trees & Shrubs by Gerd Krussmann first published in 1976 where they were classed as Cytisus.
Since then they have been changed to Chamaecytisus

Climatic requirements

For a considerable number of years scientists in New Zealand and overseas have been researching Tagasaste as a stock fodder for drought prone areas and dry hill country.  It is well adapted to this environment but will also grow well on higher rainfall sites, providing the soil is free draining and does not become waterlogged.

Adult plants are moderately frost tolerant (to -6°C), but seedlings are much more frost tender so this can limit successful establishment.  More frost tolerant species are being investigated.

Altitudinal ranges is up to 400 metres above sea level in the North Island and up to 200m in the South Island.


A soil pH of 5 to 6 is ideal.  Prefers free draining sites.

Apply 150g superphosphate per tree, slotted 20-25cm from stem after planting. (?)

Can be grown on poor coastal sands when correctly fertilised.

On dry sites container grown plant give better survival rates than open grown plants.


Pods 3cm long, 1 cm wide, seed black and glossy.

Mature seed pods explode in summer dispersing seed some metres from parent plant.

Hard seed coat allows seed to remain viable in the soil for a long time.  Can become weed-like in some areas, especially if stimulated to germinate by fire or soil disturbance.

Seed should be treated with hot water or acid or mechanical scarification to promote uniform germination.

Collect seed pods from mid-summer to autumn and dry.


There are three main establishment methods commonly used:

  • Container grown seedlings transplanted into cultivated strips 40-50 cm wide, between August and November
  • Bare rooted nursery prepared stock transplanted into cultivated strips 40-50 cm wide between August and November.
  • Direct seeding into cultivated sites with inoculated seed (Rhizobium bacteria) in spring.

A Seed sowing method

You can collect your own seed or you can obtain it from established sources.
First soak seed in hot water (not boiling water, if the water will burn you it will cook the seeds).  Allow the seed to soak in this water for 12 to 24 hours.  Drain off the water and remove all swollen seed.  These are 2 to 3 times the size of unswollen seed and are brown in colour.  Continue the hot water treatment, daily, on un-swollen seed till all have swollen.
Take your swollen seed and plant out in an ordinary seed tray filled with seed mix.  When the seedlings are 20 mm high plant out in containers.  One ideal way is to make narrow tubes of newspaper rolled end ways giving you a tube length equal to the width of a page.  These are then stacked in a wooden crate and filled with a good soil mix.  Avoid over watering your seedlings.

When seedlings are 100 mm high pinch out the leader to create a multi-stemmed bush; this stops your animals from ring barking the trees.
The advantage of the newspaper tubes and wooden crate show up when planting time comes.
The plants are easily moved to the planting site, you remove one end of the crate and there you have beautiful long rooted plants with undamaged roots, as the paper is biodegradable you just plant what is left of the tube along with the plant.
Open ground grown seedlings have a higher failure rate due to the unavoidable root damage when the plants are lifted.
Harden off under clear plastic during August till October and plant out when 15-20cm high.

The bacteria which forms nodules on the plants and fix nitrogen may not be present in all soils.  Inoculation of the seed either with soil rhisobia obtained from parent trees or cultured inoculum (same as used for Lotus Maku) watered on at the seedling stage is of major importance when introducing plants to new sites and soil types.  When you buy seeds from some suppliers the dust on the seeds is soil from around old trees.

Young plants are often damaged by overwatering and are susceptible to heavy late spring frosts as well as being a favourite food of rabbits and hares, and in some areas possums.  To avoid most of these problems planting in October/November is recommended.


Trim early to 30-40cm to encourage branching from base and discourage main leader stem dominance.  Cut subsequently to 50cm to further encourage branching and leaf production rather than taller, woodier stems.

Plants should be established 12 to 18 months before their first grazing.  To obtain maximum food value keep the tops trimmed, to create a low wide bush that the stock can reach.  Do this before a grazing and then they are not wasted.

Graze leniently to remove only 70-80% of leaves, taking care not to overgraze and cause bark stripping

Strategically sited short length wind breaks (25-50m long) in various geometric designs to suit prevailing winds will improve stock performance by eliminating stress, particularly at lambing.

You can block feed it, or try cutting off corners of paddocks using an electric fence system, and rotate your stock round corner by corner as required.  It could also be planted around the edges of the paddock and grazing again controlled by an electric fence, for ad-lib feeding.

You may have problems establishing Tagasaste on very sandy or stony type soils.  This is over come by treating seed at the germination stage.  Soil gathered from beneath established trees will also contain the correct inoculate.

Where rabbits and hares are a problem plants should be treated with a proprietary repellent.  Possums will also eat the tender growth.


Planting distances will vary depending on site and purpose intended

  • Shelter (boundary) single or double rows 50-75 cm both ways.
  • Shelter (internal) single row 30-50 cm apart.
  • Nurse shelter: alternate or double row as above with taller slower growing trees.
    Permanent trees to windward so they don’t get wind-throw when shelter removed.
  • Grazing hedgerows for sheep; 30-50cm apart protected by 1m high wire netting about 1m from centre of the row.  Stock can then have free access to shoots within reach.  Alternatively plants can be hedged and trimmings fed to stock.
  • Block planting can be spaced for 1m x 1m (10,000 plants/ha) to 2m x 2m (2500 plants/ha).
  • Geometric patterns can be formed to create bays for shelter.  Spacings depend on how crop is to be managed.

Pests and Diseases

Tagasaste is subject to root rots in poorly drained soils.

Stem boring insects such as the lemon tree borer Oemona hirta and Puriri moth Aenetus virescens contribute to reducing the shrub’s average life span to 10-12 years in the North Island.  Puriri moth is not found in the South Island so plants should live to 20 years.


  • Green fodder – sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, horses deer, ostrich, emu, and rabbits?
  • Shade and shelter
  • Wind and water erosion control
  • Increased soil fertility through nitrogen fixation
  • Reduction in water tables causing salinity problems
  • Habitat for native birds and exotic birds some of whom eat pests
  • Food for native wood pigeon – you may find they have stripped all the leaves!
  • Green firebreaks
  • Winter nectar for bees
  • High protein feedstock for fish food from worm farms and freshwater crustacea
  • Reduced internal parasite problems when used as fodder is browsed higher.
  • Mature trees provide quality firewood with very high heat content 10910 MJ per cubic metre and has basic wood density of 619kg per cubic metre

In shrub palatability trials at the Soil Conservation Centre, Aokautere, tagasaste was found to be one of the most palatable shrubs to sheep.  Leaves, young shoots and bark were eaten and uncontrolled browsing by sheep frequently killed the plants.

Dry Matter – Yields of up to 1.5 – 2.0kg DM/plant have been recorded on Banks Peninsula.
At 5000 plants/ha this gives 7,500 – 10,000 kg DM/ha of which 45-50% is green leaf and a further 25% is stem fine enough to be eaten by sheep.
Tagasaste Dry Matter production exceeded any other fodder species on this site.

In trials on a Wither Hills site, cattle ate back the shrub to shoots up to 15mm in diameter but the plants recovered well over the summer.

Tagasaste is high in Pollen and Nectar for bees at a time when other sources are scarce; flowering can be from late Autumn to early Spring.  It therefore attracts useful insects before clover and other berry fruit crops flower and hence improves their pollination.
In warmer districts care must be taken that hives are not stimulated and the queens begin to lay and large numbers of out of season bees are produced.  Hedging can delay flowering.
Also be careful if you have a crop you want pollinated that you do not supply the bees with a more attractive crop at that time.  Tagasaste honey is white and mild flavoured.

Tagasaste is often used as a nurse tree to aid establishment of slower growing trees i.e. walnut, macadamia, chestnut or firewood trees.
Tagasaste itself is good firewood when taken from mature trees.

If allowed to get too leggy because of neglecting to pinch back earlier it can be prone to suffer ‘root rock’ in winds.

A Farmer’s Notes

This article will, I hope, tell the average farmer how to create his own supply of drought tucker.  There have been various systems for getting the plant to the animal.

But the system I like most involves taking the animals to the plants.

This is a 1 hectare block with plants at 1 metre by 1 metre spacings, which is approx. 10,000 plants per hectare, which was fenced off from the rest of the farm.  This block is dry land sloping towards the sea (Tagasaste is fairly salt tolerant).  What impressed me was that the grass elsewhere was no more than 75 mm high, but the grass between the rows of Tagasaste looked like a lush hay paddock.

This system was designed for sheep, but I’m sure it would work very well for goats, possibly for cattle and deer, provided it was fenced in such a way as to stop cattle and deer smashing down the plants.  One has to be careful to avoid over grazing the plants; too much grazing can kill the plant or makes recovery a long drawn out matter.  In a trial of nine weeks duration, sheep were penned and fed only Tagasaste and water.  At the end of the trial there was no weight loss or wool break – in fact most animals gained weight.

Nutritional Value of Tagasaste

Ryegrass white clover20-250.75
Barley straw4-50.47—-

References & Suggested Reading

Tree Lucerne for Shelter & Grazing: MAF Bulletin; D J Davies

The Fodder Crops Papers: NZTCA, Growing Today, June 1988

A Guide to Tree Forage Crops: G Halliwell

The Fodder Tree & Shrub Experience: NZTCA Conference 1987; Edited B T Bulloch

The Firewood Venture: FRI Bulletin No 137 (revised edition)

Some Recommendations on Planting for Honeybees: David Williams

Fodder Trees: Growing Today, April 1990

[Note on Seed Supplies? – outdated]

Tagasaste – a productive browse shrub for sustainable agriculture”
1996 Edition; Dr Laurie Snook.
The first edition of this book was in 1986.  The 1996 edition includes information gleaned from a further 10 years of research, his travels in Australia, NZ and the Canary Islands and the lesson learned by successful growers of tagasaste.

Technical Editor: Gail Newcomb. Updated August 1999
Privacy removals and proprietory format conversion – December 2007

This crop guide was produced with the latest information available at the time of publication. This should not be considered the ultimate in information for New Zealand growing conditions: it is just a basic guide on the subject.