Nitrogen fixing plants

Employing natures integrated fertility

In permaculture and natural 'farming' there is a strong focus on closing energy and nutrient cycles. The objective is to avoid the need to import external sources of nutrient and fertility by retaining and building it directly on site.

The two obvious was to achieve this is with the use of animals (manure) and plants capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere. While animals have their place, they are not without their challenges and so plants make an ideal starting point. Nitrogen fixing plants develop a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria and fungi in the root zone to achieve this miracle.

Having access to a ready source of nitrogen (essential for growing green leaves and thus photosynthesis) allows these plants to grow extra fast and quickly modify the local conditions to be more favorable for other plant species. By incorporating appropriate species of these plants amongst other plantings it is possible to accelerate the growth and development of the ecosystem.

Identification

The most obvious indicator of nitrogen fixing capability is that of legumes (fabaceae family), plants with seed pods like beans, peas, kowhai, tagasaste and many more. Another group is the actinorhizal plants that do not have seed pods.

Related

Kowhai

Kowhai

Botanical name  Sophora tetraptera
Details  Small leguminous tree with attractive fern-like foliage. Tangled juvenile stage leads to a stately adult tree.
Flowers profusely from September - November. Nectar is very attractive to birds, but can be toxic to honey bees.
Semi-deciduous. Hardy to cold and wind.
New Zealand native
Flowers  Yellow
Diameter  3.00
Height (m)  8
Drought tolerance  
Evergreen  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun - part shade
Wind tolerance  High
Black locust

Black locust

Common name  Black locust
Botanical name  Robinia pseudoacacia
Family  Fabaceae or Leguminosae
Details  Fast growing thorny tree with ground durable timber.
All parts of the plant (except the flowers) and especially the bark, should be considered to be toxic. The toxins are destroyed by heat.
Flowers  White
Diameter  15.00
Height (m)  25
Drought tolerance  
Jugulone tolerance  
Nitrogen fixer  
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Wind tolerance  Moderate

Italian Alder

Common name  Italian Alder
Botanical name  Alnus Cordata
Family  Betulaceae
Details  Fast, deep-rooted, nitrogen-fixing tree.  Moderate drought tolerance.  Trims well, excellent shelter for native under-story. Popular for horticultural shelterbelts and soil conservation on hill country. Roots penetrate deeply and so do not spread sideways into valuable crops.
Deciduous. Holds leaves from September to June.  Cold hardy after first season.
Space at 1.5-4m centres for shelter.
Date  July 06, 2010
Height (m)  25
Drought tolerance  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Wind tolerance  Moderate
Purple Coral Pea Shrub

Purple Coral Pea Shrub

Common name  Purple Coral Pea Shrub
Botanical name  Hardenbergia violacea
Family  Fabaceae
Height (m)  2
Flowers  Purple
Drought tolerance  
Evergreen  
Nitrogen fixer  
Perennial  
Shade / Sun  Full sun - part shade
Soil type  Light
Elaeagnus pungens

Elaeagnus pungens

Details  Found on sunny slopes, road sides and thickets in lowlands, usually below 1000 metres and especially by the sea
Origin -
E. Asia - China, Japan.
Common name  Elaeagnus, Thorny olive, Thorny Elaeagnus, Oleaster, Silverberry, Silverthorn, Pungent Elaeagnus
Botanical name  Elaeagnus pungens
Family  Elaeagnaceae
Height (m)  4
Diameter  4.00
Evergreen  
Edible  
Fruit / berries  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Wind tolerance  Maritime exposure
Shade / Sun  Full shade to full sun
Soil type  Most
Elaeagnus x ebbingei

Elaeagnus x ebbingei

Botanical name  Elaeagnus x ebbingei
Family  Elaeagnaceae
Height (m)  5
Diameter  5.00
Evergreen  
Edible  
Fruit / berries  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Wind tolerance  Maritime exposure
Shade / Sun  Full shade to full sun
Soil type  Most
Elaeagnus multiflora

Elaeagnus multiflora

Details  All round great plant for most locations and food forest installations
Common name  Goumi, Cherry silverberry
Botanical name  Elaeagnus multiflora
Family  Elaeagnaceae
Height (m)  3
Diameter  2.00
Edible  
Fruit / berries  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Jugulone tolerance  
Shade / Sun  Full to part sun
Soil type  Most
Kakabeak

Kakabeak

Details  Grows in open, sunny, steep sites, often on rocky outcrops, slips, the bases of cliffs or edges of lakes and streams. It is a relatively short-lived plant, sometimes lasting 15-20 years.
Botanical name  Clianthus
Family  Fabaceae
Height (m)  2
Diameter  1.50
Evergreen  
Frost sensitive  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Sun
Flowers  Red
Judas Tree

Judas Tree

Details  Hardy to -15C
Common name  Judas Tree, Redbud
Botanical name  Cercis siliquastrum
Family  Leguminosae
Height (m)  12
Diameter  10.00
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Most
Flowers  Pink
Chinese licorice

Chinese licorice

Common name  Gan Cao, Chinese licorice
Botanical name  Glycyrrhiza uralensis
Family  Fabaceae or Leguminosae
Height (m)  0.4
Diameter  0.60
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Edible  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun - part shade
Evergreen laburnum

Evergreen laburnum

Details  This Himalayan shrub is evergreen in mild sheltered sites, semi-evergreen elsewhere, losing its leaves in hard frost but soon recovering again in spring. The growth is upright and flexible, allowing plants to be trained on warm walls where they are sheltered and flower more profusely. The blooms are large and bright yellow, like those of laburnum but in short upright clusters. Although good drainage is important, make sure plants are watered in summer to prevent sudden die-back.
Botanical name  Piptanthus nepalensis
Height (m)  2.5
Diameter  2.00
Evergreen  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun, Partial shade
Flowers  Yellow

Chinese Yellow Wood

Details  Broadly spreading, deciduous. New growth silvery blue-grey, very hardy. Creamy white pea-like flowers in dense erect clusters. A legume, fixes nitrogen from the air. Rare in NZ
Common name  Chinese Yellow Wood
Botanical name  Maackia Amurensis
Height (m)  6
Diameter  6.00
Nitrogen fixer  
Date  July 10, 2010
Wind tolerance  Low
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Silk tree

Silk tree

Details  Broadly spreading, deciduous. Often flat topped,late into leaf. Dark pink flowers on top of the leaves in January. The small leaflets of the compound leaves quickly disintegrate after leaf fall. Drought & heat tolerant.
Common name  Silk tree, Persian silk tree, pink silk tree
Botanical name  Albizia julibrissin rosea
Height (m)  10
Diameter  12.00
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Date  July 02, 2012
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Most
Flowers  Pink
Tree Lucerne, Tagasaste

Tree Lucerne, Tagasaste

Details  A wide spreading, tall, deciduous shrub. Vigorous growth, leaves and white flowers in spring eaten by native pigeons (krereru). Foliage can be cut for grazing stock in droughts and for use as mulch material. Fixes nitrogen. Can be killed by severe frosts.
Common name  Tree Lucerne, Tagasaste
Botanical name  Chamaecytisus Palmensis
Family  Fabaceae
Height (m)  4
Diameter  3.00
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Evergreen  
Frost sensitive  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Date  July 04, 2012
Wind tolerance  High
Shade / Sun  Full sun - part shade
Soil type  Most
Flowers  White
Rating  
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
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New Jersey Tea

New Jersey Tea

Details  Deciduous shrub growing in dry woods and on gravelly banks, often on sandstone or limestone bluffs
Common name  New Jersey Tea, Wild Snowball
Botanical name  Ceanothus americanus
Family  Rhamnaceae
Height (m)  1.2
Diameter  1.00
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Most
Flowers  White
Liquorice

Liquorice

Common name  Liquorice, Cultivated licorice
Botanical name  Glycyrrhiza glabra
Family  Fabaceae or Leguminosae
Height (m)  1.2
Diameter  1.00
Edible  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Wind tolerance  Moderate
Shade / Sun  Full sun - part shade
Sea berry

Sea berry

Details  Nitrogen fixing small tree with thorns producing copious small berries born directly on branches. High in vitimins. Hardy, wind and drought tolerant.
Common name  Sea Buckthorn, Seaberry
Botanical name  Hippophae rhamnoides
Family  Elaeagnaceae
Height (m)  6
Edible  
Fruit / berries  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Wind tolerance  High
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Most
Crimson clover

Crimson clover

Details  Multipurpose nitrogen fixing legume and beneficial insect plant. Sow late summer for rapid bulky upright growth. It goes dormant in the cold of winter before resuming growth in spring up to 1m high and sporting a striking crimson bloom in early summer. Chop and dig in prior to flowering or leave for a valuable nectar rich food supply for bees and beneficial insects.
Common name  Crimson clover
Botanical name  Trifolium incarnatum
Height (m)  1
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun - part shade
Soil type  Most
Flowers  Red
Senna multiglandulosa

Senna multiglandulosa

Details  Senna multiglandulosa is a species of flowering plant in the legume family known by several common names, including glandular senna, downy senna, and buttercup bush. It is native to Mexico, Guatemala, and western parts of South America, but it is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant and in some areas of the world has become naturalized in the wild. In some places it is considered a weed, for example, in New Zealand and New South Wales.[1] This is a hairy or woolly shrub which can grow to six meters in height, becoming treelike. The leaves are each made up of several pairs of thick, hairy, oval-shaped leaflets each measuring up to about 4 centimeters long. The leaves are studded with visible resin glands between the leaflets. The inflorescence is a raceme of several flowers, each with five golden yellow petals measuring 1 to 2 centimeters long. The flower has seven fertile stamens with large anthers and three sterile staminodes. The fruit is a legume pod, flattened or inflated and coated in hairs, reaching up to 12 centimeters long and filled with beanlike seeds.
Common name  Cassia, glandular senna, downy senna, buttercup bush
Botanical name  Senna multiglandulosa
Family  Fabaceae
Height (m)  4
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Evergreen  
Frost sensitive  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Flowers  Yellow
Siberian Pea Shrub

Siberian Pea Shrub

Details  A genus of shrubs mostly native to Central Asia, some inhabiting dry, half-desert regions with hot summers and bitterly cold winters. They include some of the toughest and most accommodating of all plants, some able to survive temperatures down to -40°C. (A diversion for quiz addicts: this is the one point in the Centigrade and Fahrenheit scales of temperature where they are numerically the same.) As with many plants of such origin, they are often armed with an interesting variety of spines, some making useful impenetrable barriers. One of the toughest of all plants with clusters of yellow pea-flowers in May.
Common name  Siberian Pea Shrub
Botanical name  Caragana arborescens
Family  Leguminosae/Fabaceae
Height (m)  4
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Evergreen  
Edible  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Date  July 07, 2013
Wind tolerance  High
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Most
Flowers  Yellow
Cape broom

Cape broom

Botanical name  Genista monspessulana
Height (m)  3
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Evergreen  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Wind tolerance  Good
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Most
Flowers  Yellow
Blue lupin

Blue lupin

Details  Grows well in most locations where it improves soil with organic matter and nitrogen. Bees enjoy the flowers.

Practical Plants
Plants for a future
Common name  Blue lupin
Botanical name  Lupinus angustifolius
Family  Leguminosae
Height (m)  1
Nitrogen fixer  
Tags    Bees 
Flowers  Blue
Rating  
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Earthnut Pea

Earthnut Pea

Botanical name  Lathyrus tuberosus
Family  Leguminosae
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Edible  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Colour  Pink

Liquorice

Details  hardy to about -15°c
Common name  Liquorice
Botanical name  Glycyrrhiza glabra
Family  Leguminosae/Fabaceae
Height (m)  0.5
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Edible  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Date  July 03, 2013
Shade / Sun  Sun, part shade
Soil type  Sandy to Loamy
Colour  Purple/Lavender
spring vetchling or spring pea

spring vetchling or spring pea

Details  Very valuable spring colour is produced by one of the most lovely dwarf perennial peas, with masses of violet blue pea flowers in April and May. Some L. vernus var. albus (white) are also included in here.
Botanical name  Lathyrus vernus
Family  Leguminosae
Height (m)  0.2
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Date  July 22, 2013
Flowers  Pink
Oleaster, Russian Olive

Oleaster, Russian Olive

Details  Wind-resistant, quick-growing, deciduous shrub with silvery foliage and fragrant flowers, followed by edible, ornamental fruits.
Common name  Oleaster, Russian Olive
Botanical name  Elaeagnus angustifolia
Family  Elaeagnaceae
Height (m)  7
Edible  
Fruit / berries  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  
Date  July 11, 2013
Wind tolerance  High
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Flowers  Yellow
Carob

Carob

Details  A species of flowering evergreen shrub or tree in the pea family. It is widely cultivated for its edible pods, and as an ornamental tree in gardens. The ripe, dried pod is often ground to carob powder which is used as a substitute for cocoa powder.
Botanical name  Ceratonia siliqua
Family  Fabaceae
Height (m)  15
Seeds / nuts / tubers  
Evergreen  
Perennial  
Nitrogen fixer  

Silver wattle

Details  Fast growing, copices readily, good firewood
Common name  Silver wattle
Botanical name  Acacia Dealbata
Family  Fabaceae
Height (m)  25
Evergreen  
Nitrogen fixer  
Drought tolerance  
Date  July 01, 2010
Wind tolerance  High
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Dry

Red Alder

Common name  Red Alder
Date  July 07, 2010
Details  Broadly conical deciduous. Vigorous growth on hillsides as well as streamsides. Produces good hardwood timber for furniture and panelling. Planted for shelter. Red winter buds identify this alder.
Family  Betulaceae
Height (m)  25
Botanical name  Alnus Rubra
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Soil type  Moist
Wind tolerance  Moderate

Chinese wisteria

Soil type  Moist

Bladder Senna

Colour  Yellow/Orange
Common name  Bladder Senna
Date  July 08, 2013
Details  Easily grown shrub with bright yellow flowers produced throughout the summer, followed by large, inflated seed pods.
Family  Leguminosae/Fabaceae
Flowers  June, July, August
Botanical name  Colutea arborescens
Nitrogen fixer  
Perennial  

Pink tree broom

Common name  Pink tree broom
Date  August 10, 2013
Details  Broadly spreading, evergreen. Leafless pendulous dark green flattened stems. Attractive pink flowers around Christmas. Loved by small native bees. Small seed pods quickly form. Tolerates dry windy conditions. Fixes nitrogen.
Height (m)  4.0
Botanical name  Notospartium glabrescens
Nitrogen fixer  

Marlborough weeping broom

Common name  Marlborough weeping broom
Date  August 04, 2013
Details  Eastern Marlborough high on Seaward Kaikoura Range. Tall shrub with upright branches, topped by a canopy of weeping grey leafless branchlets. In December large hanging clusters of 10mm mauve flowers. Fixes nitrogen.
Height (m)  4.0
Botanical name  Chordospartium stevensonii
Nitrogen fixer  

California mountain mahogany

Common name  California mountain mahogany
Date  August 03, 2013
Details  Broadly spreading deciduous shrub or small tree. Birch-like leaves, creamy white flowers in spring, followed by seeds with long curly feathery tails. Seed from Central Otago, coping with weather extremes. Fixes nitrogen on its roots.
Family  Rosaceae
Height (m)  4.0
Botanical name  Cercocarpus betuloides
Nitrogen fixer  
Shade / Sun  Full sun
Demand white clover

Demand white clover

Details  Dense stoloniferous and persistence clover type with good winter hardiness and improved winter, spring production. Small- Medium Leafed
Common name  White Clover
Botanical name  Trifolium repens
Variety  Demand
Family  Fabaceae
Nitrogen fixer  
Date  August 08, 2013
Colour  White
Icon "Semi Winter Active" Lucerne

Icon "Semi Winter Active" Lucerne

Common name  Icon Lucerne
Botanical name  Medicago sativa
Variety  Icon
Family  Fabaceae
Evergreen  
Nitrogen fixer  
Date  August 08, 2013