[permaculture] Camelina: A Promising Low-Input Oilseed

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Sun Jun 3 15:48:28 EDT 2007

Index | Search | Home | Table of Contents
Putnam, D.H., J.T. Budin, L.A. Field, and W.M. Breene. 1993. Camelina: A promising low-input oilseed. p. 314-322. In: J. 
Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.
Camelina: A Promising Low-Input Oilseed
D.H. Putnam, J.T. Budin, L.A. Field, and W.M. Breene

The production of edible oil from crops has enjoyed unremitting growth during the latter part of the 20th century. In a 
six year period in the 1980s, a 26% increase in production of oils from ten oilseeds was realized. Much of this growth 
has been in tropical oils (oil palm, Elaeis guinensis L.) or high quality (low saturated fat) edible oils such as 
soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], canola (Brassica napus L.), and sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.). This trend shows no 
signs of relenting. The demand for edible oils is increasing most in the heavily populated regions of South Asia, China, 
and the Far East, where vegetable oils are an important part of the diet, but demand for meal and oil is also high in 
the European and American markets and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The development of soybean, sunflower, and canola, the three most significant edible oils for temperate climates, 
represent important new crop successes (Robinson 1973; Hymowitz 1990; Downey 1990). It is likely that these crops will 
continue to expand in hectarage, given increasing demand for high quality edible oils and meals, the wide adaptation of 
these crops, and new, improved cultivars. However, each of these major oilseeds has its limitations. For example, 
soybean, though ideal for most regions of the corn belt, is not well adapted to more northerly regions of North America, 
Europe, and Asia. Canola and sunflower are better adapted to northern climates but have high nitrogen requirements 
(especially canola), and are susceptible to insect or bird predation as well as diseases. These oilseed crops are not 
often suitable to marginal lands (low moisture, low fertility, or saline soils). In recent years, there has been 
increasing interest in developing agronomic systems with low requirements for fertilizer, pesticides, and energy, and 
which provide better soil erosion control than conventional systems (NRC 1989). This led us to examine the viability of 
developing camelina as an oilseed with reduced input requirements and as a crop well suited to marginal soils, or soil- 
and resource-conserving agronomic practices.
Camelina sativa (L.) Crantz., Brassicaceae (falseflax, linseed dodder, or gold-of-pleasure) originated in the 
Mediterranean to Central Asia. It is an annual or winter annual that attains heights of 30 to 90 cm tall (Fig. 1) and 
has branched smooth or hairy stems that become woody at maturity. Leaves are arrow-shaped, sharp-pointed, 5 to 8 cm long 
with smooth edges. It produces prolific small, pale yellow or greenish-yellow flowers with 4 petals. Seed pods are 6 to 
14 mm long and superficially resemble the bolls of flax. Seeds are small (0.7 mm x 1.5 mm), pale yellow-brown, oblong, 
rough, with a ridged surface. Morphology and distribution of camelina species has been described by Polish and Russian 
botanists (Mirek 1981). Camelina has been shown to be allelopathic (Grummer 1961; Lovett and Duffield 1981).

Camelina is listed as being adapted to the flax-growing regions of the northern Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, South 
Dakota) (NC-121 1981). It is primarily a minor weed in flax and not often a problem in other crops and does not have 
seed dormancy (Robinson 1987). However, the adaptation of camelina as a crop has not been widely explored. Similar to 
the other Cruciferous species, it is likely best adapted to cooler climates where excessive heat during flowering is not 
important. There are several winter annual biotypes available in the germplasm, and it is possible that camelina could 
be grown as a winter crop in areas with very mild winters. Camelina is short-seasoned (85 to 100 d) so that it could be 
incorporated into double cropping systems during cool periods of growth, possibly in more tropical environments.
Although camelina is known in North America primarily as a weed, it was known as "gold of pleasure" to ancient European 
agriculturists. Cultivation probably began in Neolithic times, and by the Iron Age in Europe when the number of crop 
plants approximately doubled, camelina was commonly used as an oil-supplying plant (Knorzer 1978). Cultivation, as 
evidenced from carbonized seed, has been shown to occur in regions surrounding the North Sea during the Bronze Age. 
Camelina monocultures occurred in the Rhine River Valley as early as 600 BC Camelina probably spread in mixtures with 
flax and as monocultures, similarly to small grains, which also often spread as crop mixtures. It was cultivated in 
antiquity from Rome to southeastern Europe and the Southwestern Asian steppes (Knorzer 1978).

More information about the permaculture mailing list