Plant text by Naomi Lacey, feature photo Wikipedia
Common name: Hummingbird Tree, Butterfly Tree, Agati
Scientific name: Sesbania grandiflora
Family, and related species: Fabaceae
Description including form (tree, climber etc), other similar species
The Hummingbird Tree is a softwood that grows to a height of between 3 and 10m. It’s bright green leaves are a maximum of 30cm long and each leaf is divided into multiple leaflets of around 15 pairs. The white flowers are approximately 10cm long and shaped like a hummingbird (hence the name) and can also be found in a pink/red variety.
Role/ characteristics/ use in permaculture
The leaves, green fruit and flowers can be eaten.
It can be used as a fodder plant for cattle and goats and makes a great “chop and drop” mulch.
The wood can be used in a similar manner to bamboo for construction purposes once the tree reaches about 5 years of age and the soft inner wood can be used like cork.
The inner bark is used for fibre and paper pulp.
It is used extensively for medicinal purposes; the leaves for bruising, worm and gout treatment, the bark for fevers, poultices, scabies treatment and oral ulcers. Cosmetics made from the bark are used extensively in Asia.
It is a legume so works well as a nitrogen fixer and its height makes it an excellent shade tree for smaller plants.
Ecology and habitat requirements
The Hummingbird Tree enjoys full sun and lots of moisture. It will tolerate low fertility soils and occasional flooding but is highly susceptible to frost. It is native to South East Asia from Malaysia to Northern Australia.
Root knot nematode can be a problem for this tree as well as grey leaf spot. It is rated as having moderate weed potential as it seeds freely but seed viability rapidly declines in the first 2 years.
Access to plants
The Hummingbird Tree is found all over gardens in Darwin and can be very easily propagated from either seed or cuttings. It is also available at some local nurseries.
National Tropical Botanical Garden, 2014, Sesbania Grandiflora
Tropical Forages, 2005, Sesbania grandiflora
Garden Guides, 2010, Analysis of the Hummingbird Tree
Wikipedia,2014, Sesbania grandiflora
Top Tropicals, 2014, Hummingbird Tree