Scientific & Common Names:
Leucaena leucocephala, more commonly know as tan tan or guinea tamarind
This prolific plant can be found almost everywhere on the island. It grows fast and thick, starting as a small twig and eventually, if left alone, can grow to a great size. In the Virgin Islands tan tan plants usually reach between 15 and 20 feet tall. It’s branches are covered with little green oval leaves and leaflets that fold up with heat, cold or lack of water. It produces white flowers year round in dense, round balls and is sporadically filled with clusters of flat green, then brown, pods, each about 6 inches long. Inside the pods are numerous shiny seeds, changing color with the pod, in a ladder-like linear series. The stems have no thorns, which makes the pods easy to get to. Although this bush can be considered a nuisance, it is a nitrogen fixer, which helps to build the soil. However, it also contains an alkaloid, which over a period of time, can cause loss of long hair in livestock.
Tan tan harms the local environment by displacing native vegetation. A stand of tan tan often has few other species interspersed within it and provides low quality wildlife habitat, largely because the flower and fruit are not food for wildlife.
The tan tan seeds can be strung into quite interesting and unique necklaces. Young tan tan leaves and seeds can be used as vegetables for human consumption. Young green pods can be split open and the fresh immature seeds eaten raw or cooked; however, only small amounts can be eaten in this way because of the presenceof the toxic amino acid mimosine.