Horticulture

High Hopes for Rubber Plant: Taraxacum kok-saghyz

Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS) is an important industrial rubber-producing plant that can be grown annually in Canada. TKS has already been proven to be the promising commercial source of natural rubber and inulin. After the rubber supply was cut off from Southeast Asia during World War II, TKS was grown in the former Soviet Union, USA and Canada to replenish supplies.

In order to achieve the highest yields possible, it is necessary to study the growth progress of TKS in various climate zones of Canada.

This preliminary study focused on the cultivation activities of TKS in the climate zone of the Lower Mainland, British Columbia. The Lower Mainland has a unique climate, flora and fauna and land use due to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean which provides milder winters, along with much greater rainfall than inland areas of the country. Daily average temperature for spring is 10-15°C. The average daily high temperature in August is 23.8°C, but highs over 30°C are not uncommon. This climate zone can be ideal for growing TKS since it is identical with the natural habitat of TKS in Central Asia.

Our agricultural activities included germination, cultivation and seed production. These activities were carried out in both greenhouse and on raised beds. The accumulation of rubber in TKS roots was the main indicator of success. The breeding and selection activities are currently under development and will be described in a future publication. Germination activities started in April 2014, and the plants were harvested in October. TKS seeds were soaked in water containing “germination boosters” for 24 hours and seeded on plug trays. The germination rate of 90% was observed in all trials. All seedlings were transplanted onto the raised beds containing standard commercial soil. Plants were irrigated every two days using microspray technology. The plants were cultivated for five months without any fertilizers.

Our results indicate that the climate of Lower Mainland is well suited to grow TKS with a high rubber accumulation. The rubber content in certain plants reached ~14±0.8% in 4-5 months of cultivation. The use of fertilizers might increase the rubber yields significantly. The main issues included slugs during early development. Slugs love to eat the leaves of young TKS plants and this can delay the plant progress compared to other plants. Rain is beneficial for overall plant progress during early development in spring but it caused slight damage to TKS plants during seed harvesting in summer due to the “bud drop” of straws.

TKS could be the next commercial plant for British Columbia due to the milder summer temperatures allowing higher rubber accumulations in TKS roots. The adaptive selection and breeding of TKS plants in the climate of Lower Mainland is underway.

Project funding provided by Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

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