Response of the endangered medicinal plant : Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Schweif) B.L. Burt. to agronomic practices.
This study examines field cropping constraints for domestication of an endangered, wild medicinal plant, Siphonochilus aethiopicus, (Schweif.) B.L. Burt. Extensive literature review and careful observations of plant growth behavior during two years of crop trials overturned several long-held but erroneous claims that have consistently appeared in the scholarly literature, and revealed previously undocumented plant growth characteristics. S. aethiopicus (Schweif.) B.L. Burt. is a rhizomatous corm, not a rhizome. Field growth observations demonstrated clearly that the false stem and leaves grow continuously from emergence in September to senescence in April-May; the corm retains its tuberous roots during winter senescence, and is genetically preprogrammed to shoot in September. Flowers may emerge throughout the growing season (not only initially prior to shoot emergence), typical leaf count is 11-15, not 6-8 as previously reported, numbers that remain constant even when the plant height increases by 20-30% under shade, and leaf distichy is independent of the sun’s course and is unaffected by mother corm orientation. S. aethiopicus proved to be unusually resistant to common field diseases and pests, and resilient to severe hail. The responses of S. aethiopicus were tested in a series of field trials to the effects of levels of compost, field spacing, size of planting material, addition of biocontrol agents, different degrees of shading, and factorials of the macronutrients Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. Spacing-Composted chicken litter combinations were tested in 2005-2006 in factorial combination with Spacing at 15 cm-4.5 kg ha-1, 20 cm-7.5 kg ha-1, 30 cm-10 kg ha-1, and 40 cm-15.5 kg ha-1, and these treatments were randomized with 4 Corm planting sizes (height by base diameter in mm): Small (S, 12.38 mm x 12.6 mm), Medium Small (MS, 29.65 mm x 27.93 mm), Medium Large (ML, 38.48 mm x 37.78 mm) and Large (L, 52.37 mm x 44.10 mm). 2005-2006 ANOVA tests showed significant differences between Spacing-Compost and Corm Size for the total harvest biomass measure, with 30 cm and 40 cm spaces better than 15 cm spacing, and Corm Size MS, ML and L all better than S, and ML better than MS. Total Corms harvested per block and ii Survival Percentage were similarly significant for Corm Size, but not Spacing. Corms smaller than the Small criteria were raised separately, under optimal conditions in a nursery. In a separate 2005-2006 Compost-only trial ANOVA tests did not find significant differences between compost levels. In 2006-2007 we tested Spacing separately at 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 cm between planted corms in each plot. We tested Compost levels separately, with 0, 5, 10 and 15 kg ha-1 compost per plot. In 2006-2007 only the ML and L sizes were used in an even mix. There were no significant differences between treatments due to high experimental error, but measurement across all production parameters showed a clear trend towards best performance at spacing between 20 and 40 cm. Overall the results from the Spacing, Compost-level and Corm Size trials suggest that 30 cm is perhaps the optimal field spacing, higher compost levels tend to give better results, and the ML and L corm sizes perform better in open-sun field trials. These parameters are recommended for further field studies and production. The effects of two commercial strains of Trichoderma spp were tested at recommended doses applied to S. aethiopicus. T. harzianum Strain B77 was used as a drench at planting in comparison with a Control and a fungicide in 2005-2006. There were no significant differences between treatments for Harvested Biomass or Survival Percentage. B77 did perform significantly better than the Fungicide in the Total Corm measurement, but neither treatment was significantly different from the Control. In sum, there was a weak trend towards a greater number of output corms as a result of the application of the biocontrol agent. In both 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 we tested T. harzianum Strain kd applied as a drench at planting, with a second drench at 4 weeks. In 2006-2007 there were no significant differences between treatments, but the trend was towards better performance as a result of the drench at planting only. In 2005-2006 open field trials had shown that S. aethiopicus is susceptible to sunburn and Erwinia soft rot when grown in the full sun. Therefore, we tested the effect of various shadecloth densities and colours on production performance in 2006-2007. Treatments were Control (full sun), 40% White (TiO2) (23% shade), 40% Grey (28-30% shade), Light Black (40%), Medium Black (50%), Dark Black (80%), and Red (40%). There were no significant differences between treatments, but the trends indicated that the Control (full sun) and Dark Black (80% shade) performed the worst. Colour of shade did not appear to be important, and plants under all the shadecloths with 40-50% shade grew best. In a factorial trial different levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (NPK)were tested, over two seasons. Four levels of each input were used: N at 0 (Control), 40 kg ha-1 (N1), 80 kg ha-1 (N1), and 120 kg ha-1 (N3). P levels were 0 (Control) 60 kg ha-1 (P1) ,120 kg ha-1 (P2) and 200 kg ha-1 (P3). K levels were 0 (Control), 100 kg ha-1 (K1), 200 kg ha-1 (K2), and 400 kg ha-1 (K3). In 2005-2006 there were no significant differences between treatments. In 2006-2007 data there were significant results for Nitrogen only within each repetition. However, significance disappeared when combining across repetitions. We then ran a Bootstrap re-sampling analysis of both 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 data (data were analyzed separately because of different plot sizes and corm numbers in the two years), looking at the optimal level of each macronutrient tested against all combinations of the other two. Though significant results were obtained for each individual level of each macronutrient against the others in combination, the difference between the confidence intervals was not significant. However, there was a clear trend: the optimum N levels were between 40 and 80 kg ha-1; optimum P level was 0 (the Control) and optimum K levels were between 100 and 200 kg ha-1. Tests of handling during harvest, storage, and planting yielded additional useful information for small scale commercial farmers. The optimal harvest time is May, when the false stem and leaves are senescing and yellow, but still upright and visible. Harvest is facilitated by moistening the soil to minimize breaking off of tuberous roots, with simple field washing to remove compacted soil highly recommended. Harvested corms and tuberous roots should be stored under air-restricted, cool conditions because the tuberous roots contain high moisture and will shrivel quickly when left exposed to air, and excessively dried corms will eventually die. Senesced mother corms should be discarded at harvest. Corms are genetically preprogrammed to shoot, so should be planted in September in soft soil, with 1-2 cm of soil coverage. The studies provide a framework for developing the basic agronomy for the domestication and commercial crop production of an endangered medicinal plant species.
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