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Biotech Tree Lucerne ™

  • The Biotech Tree Lucerne™ method has been developed into a scientific approach to aid successful establishment of Tagasaste through deep mechanical ripping and direct seeding.

  • This is achieved by recreating the natural establishment requirements, mimicking the way nature intended the Tagasaste plant to establish.

  • The appropriate Cultivars, Taproot Growth, Inoculants and Micro Climate are used in order to ensure the highest possible establishment rate, at the lowest possible cost.


The Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ Foundational Truth:

Tagasaste or Tree Lucerne can genetically be classified as follows:

    1. 10% of the plants are genetically extremely hardy.   

    2. 40% of the plants are genetically above average.   

    3. 40% of the plants are genetically below average.

    4. 10% of the plants are genetically extremely poor.

In nature, the top 10% plants would survive most of the time, and the lowest 50%% plants would die all of the time. Tree Lucerne survives as a species due to a high seed volume. A single tree can produce as much as 200 000+ seeds. Of this high volume and number of seeds, about 50% have a chance of survival, while the other 50% die off in nature. The plants with a chance of survival are the 10% super hardy seeds, and the 40% above average seeds. For example: If 1000 plants germinate, about 500 stand a chance to live. Of these 500 survivors, about half will also be killed off, mainly to predation (insects, birds, animals) and climatic factors (heat stress, soil diseases, cold, wind sucking out moisture, etc). Basically, Tree Lucerne is a plant that produce a high numbers of seeds, resulting in a high number of seedlings in the wild, while only very few survive in the long run. Those that do survive do so mainly due to superior genetics. The foundational truth of Tree Lucerne is: “the more seeds you use, the luckier you get”.

Tagasaste is a outcrossing (cross-pollinating species) and line breeding and line selection is not possible. It is possible to select eco cultivars that develop in specific areas as the plants gradually adapt to a local ecosystem reality. Such “eco-calibrated” seed appropriate for the local climate and soil generally yield desired results if used in appropriate volume. Our commercial seed cultivars are basically seed harvested from a specific climate, rainfall season and soil type.


The natural establishment model for Tagasaste/Tree Lucerne:

This is what nature intended: 

    1. A high seed volume is put down resulting in a high plant density;  

    2. with enough follow-up rain moistening the soil;    

    3. which allows the plant to set a very vigorous fast growing taproot down to 1 meter or more, allowing the sinker taproot to reach subsoil moisture.

    4. Two-thirds of the growth is below the soil surface (taproot) and one-third above (small leaf system for minimum photosynthesis and minimum transpiration).

    5. The taproot is the key to successful establishment of Tree Lucerne; without a proper taproot no success is possible.

    6. The taproot must reach subsoil moisture, as this is the water root which allows the plant to withstand climatic heat stress. No taproot means no moisture, which means no successful establishment in nature.

    7. If the taproot is disturbed (e.g. in a plastic bag) or cut (seedling tray or bare rooted seedling) the chances of survival become less, for the plant will now require human intervention and watering, until the root system recovers and starts growing again. This is not what nature intended. In nature, the plant waters itself by means of exceptionally fast taproot growth down to subsoil moisture in penetrable soil.

    8. If the taproot is blocked, it goes into a resting phase. The taproot will take up to a year to recover before starting to grow vigorously again, typically only during the following growing rainy season. This makes a young seedling propagated in a plastic bag vulnerable the first year, with many dying off.

    9. Without a water sucking taproot the plant will die in the first serious heat wave, and the bigger the plant is above ground the more vulnerable it is, as photosynthesis is putting a lot of pressure on the root system. Without adequate water, the plant grows itself to death, as the amount of plant material above ground is disproportionate to the taproot system below ground.

    10. The key to successful establishment is to have a healthy plant out of the top 50% genetic material, with a fast growing vigorous untouched taproot down to 1 m +.

    11. Tree Lucerne is a mid storey species, which means that it likes to grow under a Tree Canopy, in half shade, with grass below it. The plant thrives in half shade the first 6-12 months of its life and does not like direct sunlight which causes added climatic pressure for water on the taproot.

    12. The ideal and optimum micro climate for young Tree Lucerne plants is half shade. This also protects the plant against frost.

The Secret of successful Tree Lucerne establishment:    

    1. The secret to successful Tree Lucerne establishment is to overcome the genetic, predation and climatic challenges with a high seed density resulting in a high plant density. It means you have to use a high number of seeds or plants, out of which only the strongest will survive naturally.

    2. Worldwide trials have shown that nothing works better than planting 0.5 Kg of seed per 1000 meters of row or 1 hectare. This amounts to 15-20 seeds per meter, 1 cm deep, geared at the top 10% surviving.

    3. If you establish with Seedlings from seedling trays, or bare root seedlings, or with Trees in Plastic Bags, you will have to use a high number of plants in order to get successful establishment, at great economic cost. This is not the most viable economically option. It is also not the natural proportionate plant of 2/3 taproot and 1/3 above ground.

    4. The key problem with potted plants is that you are forced to invest in plants, labour, time and space without knowing which plants are of the top 10%, or even top 50% genetically. It means you are paying for and investing in at least 50% plants that will die because nature has programmed them to die. The result is that the unit cost of Tree Lucerne skyrockets out of proportion, making it uneconomical to establish.

    5. Bare root seedlings, seedling tray plants and potted plants also suffer “transplant shock”. The best solution is to never expose a plant to transplant shock by letting it germinate and grow where it should stand, without ever interfering with or disturbing the taproot. The more you minimise transplant shock, the higher the establishment percentage.

    6. The greatest aid in establishing Tree Lucerne is to make a deep rip-line mechanically, or a deep furrow. This rip-line or furrow acts as a water concentration feature, and is a great mechanical enabler for deep taproot establishment in the first 180 days of the plant’s life. If you have an undisturbed taproot down to 1 meter you will have a shot at the top 50% genetic material plants surviving.

    7. The deeper you rip the soil, the higher the percentage of plants that successfully establish.

    8. The deeper you rip the soil, the less moisture you require to soften up the soil for the taproot to reach subsoil moisture.

    9. In dry arid countries, a deep rip with a furrow above maximises taproot penetration and successful establishment with minimum moisture. It is possible to establish Tree Lucerne with 300mm of rain per annum, provided you start with a deep rip-line.

    10. There are a number of ways to maximise moisture usage. The first is to plant a companion crop with a shallow root system which will provide half shade; and break the wind factor on the young Tree Lucerne. Shade prevents transpiration, and a windbreak prevents evaporation. The rip-line and furrow is a way to concentrate the existing water around the Tree Lucerne into the rip-line where it can drain down below the level of the companion crop root system. It is also sensible to kill off all weeds and especially veld grass before establishment, as existing grass can outcompete Tree Lucerne for moisture when the Tree Lucerne is still very young and its taproot very shallow. Clear the soil of weeds and grass 1 m on each side of the rip-line. You can use Roundup or a mechanical solution 3 weeks before seeding.

    11. Tree Lucerne loves a nanny companion crop such as pumpkins, sorghum, clover or maize that protects it and gives it shade, providing an optimum micro climate. Pumpkin leaves are big and flat and provide wonderful shade to the soft and vulnerable Tree Lucerne plants.

Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ recommends:

    1. 20 Tree Lucerne seeds per meter; and

    2. a minimum 40 cm deep rip-line.

    3. Every 50 cm of mechanical rip-line depth basically doubles your annual rainfall in terms of easing establishment. In a semi-desert climate ripping down to 100cm is very beneficial. In a bad rain year a very deep rip results in successful establishment, while a shallow rip results in high plant mortality. Deep ripping counter balances climatic risk.

    4. A companion crop planted in the rip-line, or next to the rip-line, that provides half shade and a micro climate is beneficial. We recommend Silk Sorghum, Clover, Pumpkin or Maize. It should break the sun’s rays, provide wind cover, half shade, have a shallow root system and should preferably be an annual plant with some use as standing hay.

    5. We recommend that you only establish from seed of the appropriate Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ cultivar, and that you rip deep. Use the appropriate methods in order to control weeds 1 meter wide on each side of the rip-line.

    6. Use the appropriate insect control and predation control.

    7. Allow the rip-line 30 days to settle and for air pockets to fill up.

    8. Apply direct seeding after the first 50 mm of rain, or irrigation water.

    9. Mix the Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ seeds with the inoculants we provide.

    10. Additional inoculants can be mixed with water and dripped in the rip-line at 20 l per hectare.

    11. Direct Seeding in a deep mechanical rip-line is the most economical option for successful establishment.

Seed cultivars:

    1. There is one species and genus of Tagasaste, but many ecosystem adapted cultivars have developed over time.

    2. Tagasaste is a legume, and all legumes become adapted to local realities over time.

    3. Basically nature selects the top 10% in each eco region, and those are the plants that are best suited to that specific set of climatic and eco challenges, whether it be soil diseases, heat stress, water stress, cold, wind, etc.

    4. Adapted Tagasaste of the appropriate cultivar can handle frost down to -15o Celsius. Tagasaste of a non adapted cultivar will not be able to handle such extreme frost. The appropriate cultivar greatly eases successful establishment. Most complete establishment failures can be directly traced to the use of an inappropriate cultivar for the local eco realities.

    5. Use a Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ eco calibrated cultivar.

    6. The Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ approach is to only use genetic material from the same rainfall zone (Winter or summer rainfall zone), rainfall amount (for instance 400-600mm) and soil type (sand or soil).

Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ is leading the world, by not only being the largest commercial Tree Lucerne Seed Merchants in the world in terms of volumes (working in tons), but also by having the widest range of eco adapted cultivars.

Cultivar Selection:

You determine the most appropriate Biotech Tree Lucerne ™ eco cultivar by answering the following questions:

    1. Choose the Cultivar for your Rainfall season – either summer or winter rainfall.

    2. What is your long term rainfall average – e.g. 750mm per annum?

    3. Choose the Cultivar for your rainfall amount – this should include the total annual rainfall average including supplemental irrigation.

    4. Choose either sand, or soil, as the growth medium your seed will be established in.

Green Kalahari™ Cultivar:

  • This is from our exclusive 400-600mm, hot and dry rainfall zone seed orchards, where we control the entire value chain from hand picking to mechanical scarification keeping the seed cultivars uncontaminated and unmixed.

  • We have a cultivar for both winter and summer rainfall.

  • We have a cultivar for both sand, and for soil. The soil pH is 4-6.

Cattle Candy™ Cultivar:

  • This is from our exclusive 600-800mm rainfall zone seed orchards.

  • We have a cultivar for both winter (cold and wet) and summer (hot and wet) rainfall.

  • We have a cultivar for both sand and for soil. The soil pH is 5-8.

Kilimanjaro™ Cultivar:

  • This is from our exclusive 800-3000mm, hot and very wet rainfall zone seed orchards.

  • We have a cultivar for both winter (cold and wet) and summer rainfall (very hot and wet) as well as year round rainfall in a temperate region.

  • We also have sand and a soil cultivar.

  • We have a cultivar for soil pH of 5-8.

Seed Cost:

A kg of seed contains approximately 45 000 seeds in the Green Kalahari™ and Cattle Candy™ varieties, and approximately 40 000 in the Kilimanjaro™ varieties (Their seed being considerably larger).
Cattle Candy and Kilimanjaro varieties:

  • 1-5 kg @ R3000 or USD $300 per kg.
  • 5 kg+ @ R2000 or USD $200 per kg
  • 1000 kg+ @ R1500 or USD $150 per kg.

Green Kalahari varieties:

  • R3000 or USD $300 per kg irrespective of weight/size of order. Seed production in the drier eco-zone (600 mm rainfall and less) is lower with higher harvesting cost.


Common mistakes:

    1. Low seed quality. Do not purchase low quality seed sucked up from under trees and marketed by companies which specialise in selling machinery used to clean old seed.

    2. Intermixed seed. Do not purchase intermixed seed. You will not be able to replicate results. Most of the commercial seed available on the world market is made up from unidentifiable sources and marketed with dishonest claims that all seed is the same and that the only important factors is price and volume. Beware.

    3. Inappropriate cultivars. Do not plant winter rainfall seed in summer rainfall zones, they cannot handle heat waves without moisture. Winter rainfall eco cultivars can handle cold and wet weather, not hot and dry.

    4. Inappropriate Soil Medium. Do not plant seed from sandy areas in soil. They cannot handle soil disease challenges. Beware of suppliers who inform you otherwise.

    5. Dishonest Suppliers. We have not been able to source honest suppliers of bulk seed, which forced us to harvest our own orchards and maintain eco integrity in the entire seed value chain. Beware.

    6. Misinformation. Beware of the large number of fly by night dealers who have a commercial agenda to move products in order to generate short term profits.

    7. Seedlings. We have been the largest producer of seedlings in the world for 2 years. We are phasing out seedlings because of the taproot issues identified. Both Seedlings and Bare Root seedlings can work, however, for the same money much easier establishment with direct seeding is possible. If you do wish to nurture young plants, do so in a rip-line, with natural germination and taproot growth and without transplant shock. Your success rate will be much higher and your costs per hectare much lower.

    8. Compensation. There are many ways of compensating for the establishment challenges faced by Tree Lucerne. None makes such a big difference than to overwhelm the challenges with a high volume of seed, a deep ripline free of grass and insects and good follow up rain. Don’t believe otherwise. If you have more pronounced challenges, focus on these factors first.

    9. Plant on well drained soils deeper than 1 meter.

    10. Tree Lucerne does best when it is planted in rows 10 meters apart, in balance with roughage (grass) and Sorghum for additional proteine in the dry season.

    11. With direct seeding you require follow up rain, otherwise high mortality rates may follow. This risk is outside your control. It is cheaper to direct seed 2-3 times, rather than planting seedlings a single time.

    12. Establish your own orchard: Plant 10 hectares with 5 kg of seed. After 3 years you will have enough seed to plant 50 hectares per year.

    13. Professional Jealousy. The truth of the matter is that all 3 approaches of establishing Tree Lucerne can work. They all have their pros and con’s

      1. Bare Rooted Seedlings: The advantage of this approach is that you can weed out the weaker genetics in the raised seedling bed. The disadvantage is that you cut the taproot, which inhibits taproot development for at least one season and that can lead to mortality in drier soils with a deeper moisture profile. The tougher stem above ground is more resistant to heat stress and insect predation. This approach works well in moisture retaining sand and or sandy soil with lots of shallow moisture. Beware of trying this with the incorrect cultivar such as sand cultivar in soil; mortality will follow due to soil diseases.

      2. Seedling trays and potted plants: The advantage is that with the correct cultivar, genetics and a heavy emphasis on inoculants and plant stimulating organisms in the biosphere you can have 70-90% of your plants survive if you use a heavy descriptive regime with enough watering. The disadvantage is that you have plants without a vigorous taproot that are very vulnerable to heat stress and moisture stress the first season, and that human intervention and irrigation and watering is vital for successful establishment. This approach is valuable in terms of mastering the plant discipline and possibly for establishing a seed orchard, but it is not economical for extensive establishment due to the weaker genetics requiring expensive care and nurturing.

      3. Direct Seeding. This approach entails the lowest cost economical establishment, but it runs the highest level of short term climatic risk. If you do not have follow up rain within 3 weeks of direct seeding you run the risk of high plant mortality. This may be somewhat offset with deep ripping and supplemental irrigation or watering the first 6 weeks. In sandy soils that dry out quickly it is vital to have a wind break and half shade. Insect and predation control is vital in some areas. Too much rain and hail can also be a problem.

The larger truth is that Tree Lucerne is only a desert plant with a deep taproot reaching subsoil moisture and older than 6 months -before that it is vulnerable and requires an enabling micro climate and some protection, whether mechanical, chemical or biological. The most effective course of action is to master direct seeding because of its potential for large scale establishment and quick replanting in case of lack of follow up rain.

You need your own seed orchard and access to a large volume of seed appropriate for the local environment. You require the appropriate skills, tools and method. This is only developed with some trial and error and perseverance. I would encourage you to study the history of Alfalfa Lucerne in order to get a perspective of the challenges of mastering a high potential plant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfalfa. | http://www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/AlfSeedingRate.htm

If you study Alfalfa Lucerne, you will learn that it requires 10 Million seeds (25 kg of seed @ 400 000 per kg) in order to establish 600 000-900 000 Alfalfa plants per hectare (60­-90 per square meter). Normal Alfalfa Lucerne is only a fantastic plant if you start off with a very high seed density and allow more than 9 Million to die off per hectare. The very same principle applies to Tree Lucerne/Tagasaste. If you are faced with challenges or bad seed, increase the amount of seed you put down from 20 000 Tagasaste seeds to 40 000 per hectare or 1000m of row. You will end up with roughly 10% quality plants. The key to success with both types of Lucerne is an exceptionally high initial plant density.

Direct Seeding is best when you have access to a lot of quality seed. Seedling trays and Potted plants are best when you only have access to a few seeds and wish to get at least a few plants going for seed production purposes. You need to cultivate your own seed.


Justice Malanot 082 3245982 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Further Reading:

General overview:

Map of good areas for establishment:

Cultivars Develop suited to a specific environment:

Establishment Tips:

Water Use and Environmental benefits of Tagasaste:

Feed value of Tagasaste:

Planning Tree Lucerne Paddocks:

Case Studies of Commercial Establishment:

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