Coppiced Nitrogen-Fixing Firewood Species of the World

This article is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Carbon Farming: A Global Toolkit for Stabilizing the Climate with Tree Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices, and is part of a series promoting my kickstarter campaign to raise funds with which to complete the book.


Coppiced firewood species trial at ECHO

These firewood species grow rapidly, fix nitrogen, and re-sprout (coppice) quickly after cutting. All have high-quality firewood. They are thus a productive, self-fertilizing and perennial firewood source. Intensive blocks of these species can produce a tropical family’s cooking fuel needs on 0.15ha (0.37 acres; according to interviews with staff at both Las Cañadas and ECHO). Use of rocket stoves and other conservation technologies can reduce the area even further.

Coppicing woody plants sequester carbon in their roots, and in soil organic matter. When compared with pine plantations and other destructively-harvested wood sources they are more climate-friendly. They also have much higher fuel production per acre than natural forest, and can substantially lighten the firewood harvest load on natural forest around them.

This is just a sampling of the great diversity of candidate species. Like many nitrogen fixers, many of these are weedy outside of their native range. In addition there are a great, great number of coppicing firewood species that do not fix nitrogen which could be intercropped with these or similar species. Always start by investigating your native species first.

To learn more check out Firewood Crops Volume One and Two, and keep your eyes open for the new coppice agroforestry book from Mark Krawczyk and Dave Jacke.


Acacia angustissima contour coppice firewood planting at Las Canadas.


Albizia lebbek is suited to semi-arid to humid tropics and subtropics.


Alnus acuminata on contour at Las Canadas.


Alnus glutinosa, very cold-hardy.


Coppiced pea shrub, Caragana arborescens at CRMPI in Colorado USA.


New planting of coppiced Gliricidia sepium for firewood,
El Matasano Guatemala.


Robinia neomexicana at Woodbine Ecology Center, Colorado USA.

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14 thoughts on “Coppiced Nitrogen-Fixing Firewood Species of the World

  1. This article is priceless Eric. This very subject has been on my mind from time to time with a mental note to make a list… great work as always…

  2. Seriously Eric, its articles like this one and your Perennial Staples one that make it clear you have an excellent grasp of what is really valuable and most worth our time and effort within the current global(local) context. Kudos man…

  3. Me again… Inga vera?
    Im ver y familiar with Inga edulis, it has naturalised itself in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. Its one of Geoff Lawton’s favorite support trees on Zaytuna farm(we propagated it by the hundreds…) But i have never seen nor worked with Inga vera. Does the vera produce a pod like the edulis?
    Are they similar? I was always told Inga edulis was poor fire wood…

    1. Very true…why I am so…thankful for Google.
      Even more thank ful for this article..can finally stop cursing carregana…Siberian Pea shrub and burn it limb by limb!

  4. Excellent piece. I’d like to point readers in the direction of the Inga Foundation, who are combating ‘slash and burn’ agriculture in the Central America Highlands with Row Cropping between coppiced Inga trees. The soil flora can re-establish under the leaf mulch and shade, the crops respond hugely and the wild rain forest does not need to be cleared and burnt. Their website is http://www.ingafoundation.org

  5. Hi everyone, a few responses:

    Byron, those firewood books show great variation between different Inga species. Some coppice, some don’t, some are high-BTU firewoods, others are poor. I learned from reading those books that this is often the case. Most if not all have “ice cream beans”.
    John, I don’t know common names for many of these species, and they are different in almost every country. Thus I left them out in this case as it is an international list. What’s your climate? I can give English names to the best of my ability for those that are suited to your site.
    Sue, thanks for the tip!
    Eric

  6. Byron Joel, the link provided by Sue has some good information under the ‘Our Solution’ heading.

    From there: “All species of Inga have edible fruit and many are protected and cultivated for this reason.”

    The Firewood Crops: Shrub and Tree Species for Energy Production book has a section on Inga vera stating “The wood of Inga vera is moderately heavy (specific gravity, 0.57). It makes excellent fuel…”

    I’m not Eric so take it as you wish.

  7. Hi, Eric. I live in South Africa, close to Cape Town. This article sounds very good, but, as I am a backseat permaculturalist (my daytime jobs takes me away from home for 11 hours of the day, and with 3 young children, time comes at a premium..) – please help me out here. I’m not sure what the Latin name is, or from whence it came originally (I think Australia), but here in the western cape, the Port Jackson tree/shrub has almost all but eliminated the very sensitive endemic plains fynbos. It is very weedy and a quick grower. It outgrows any indigenous species.. etc. etc. you know the drill of weedy exotics. So when you mentioned “weedy outside of their home range”, I thought of this one. Shouldn’t we be careful not to plant any kind of tree anywhere, especially in sensitive areas, to prevent the destruction of possibly very sensitive native flora? As I said, I’m probably hitting my name with a plank here, just asking. Kind Regards

  8. Hi Anel,

    Wherever we may live, it is our responsibility to learn the native flora and its uses before turning too quickly to the easy answer of global supercrops. In your case, pick up a copy of People’s Plants: A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Chapter 18 covers firewood plants, including several native acacias and other nitrogen fixers. Talk to a forester and find out which ones coppice and you are in business.
    We also need to look at the potential environmental effects of NOT growing useful crops from outside our region. If our food comes from another continent, and our energy from fossil fuels, and we can offset that by using plants from another region to provide our needs, that’s a different context for having a discussion about species selection.
    I hope to visit the famous fynbos someday, and particularly in sensitive areas like that (and small islands and other unique areas), responsible species selection is a good idea.
    Eric

  9. Eric, I am wondering about coppicing Hippophae. Any that I have cut down did not re-grow. Now, that may be due to the fact that at that point they were already in semi-shade and as a pioneer species they really need full light, but I wonder what your sources say about that?
    Thanks,
    Ute

  10. Hi Ute, I’d guess that’s because they were in some shade. Myself I’ve never been able to get them to grow at all, they just sit there for a few years and then die. Other people just an hour away have good luck. In any given region, and on any given site, you’ll need to trial a bunch of species to see what works for you.
    Eric

  11. Your inclusion of the Inga is interesting. Inga variety is part of our project. This tree gives much shade. We use them as meeting trees.https://www.indigenous-rainforest-keepers.com/amazonian-trees-of-life.html They also give us wonderful fruits. Maybe because of our wide choice, they are not used for firewood (too much of smoke). However we have another specie (don’t know the scientific name) that is fast growing and gives fruits that has potential as firewood.

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