Medicinal herb seed and seedling rootlet production

Final Report for FNE07-599

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2007: $7,115.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Summary:

The purpose of the project was to learn how to grow Virginia snakeroot and fairywand profitably by
determining the rates of humus and bone meal that would maximize yields and to produce seeds and
stock for distribution to growers interested in growing them for profit. The experiment had three rates of
humus (0, 22 and 44 tons/acre) and three of bone meal (0, 2.7 and 5.4 tons/acre) combined in all possible
ways for a total of nine combinations. Each combination was incorporated into a separate 2′ x 5′ bed.
Each set of nine beds was replicated three times. The experiment ran for four years (2007 to 2010), with
data on plant characteristics and seed yield collected in 2009 and 2010 and root yield in 2010. Virginia
snakeroot treated with humus at a rate of 44 tons/acre increased seed yield by 43% and root yield by
12% over the control, while bone meal at rates of 2.7 and 5.4 tons/acre increased root yield by 62% and
seed yield by 76%, respectively, over the control. Fairywand amended with bone meal at a rate of 2.7
tons/acre increased root yield by 51 %. The best bone meal rate will increase income from Virginia
snakeroot production 62% (from $2,254 to $3,411 per acre) and fairywand production 51% (from $5,579
to $8,405 per acre). Through experimentation, seed germination of Virginia snakeroot was improved and
a technique for seed collection of fairywand developed, which facilitated the establishment of a production
area for seeds and planting stock. The project results prove these species can be profitable and
sustainably grown by farmers and woodlot owners for supplemental income. Establishment of plantings
from seed alone is not practical, however, and profitable growing should be accomplished with planting
stock primarily, allowing natural reproduction to occur for future replacement after harvest.

Introduction:

The primary objective of this research was to determine whether Virginia snakeroot (Arist%chia
serpentaria L.) and fairywand [Chamaelirium luteum (L.) Gray] would respond favorably to the
incorporation of different rates of humus (0, 1, 2 Ib/ft2 = 0, 22, 44 tons/acre) and bone meal (0, 2, 4, oz/ff =
0,2.7,5.4 tons/acre) in order to maximize plant development and root and seed yield. Secondary

objectives were to: 1) develop propagation methods, 2) establish a planting stock and seed source for
growers, and 4) compile and disseminate growing techniques, planting and care instructions.
My farm property (about 35 acres) is typical West Virginia woodland composed of steep wooded hills and
poor dry soils. This project is an extension of several years of growing ginseng and goldenseal for seed
and planting stock production.
Participants
Technical Advisor: Dr. Mario R. Morales, Director, Medicinal Botanicals Program, Mountain State
University, Beckley, WV. Dr. Morales was active and advisory in my decision to apply for the grant and
was instrumental with the grant application process. His technical advice and assistance has been
invaluable throughout the period of performance of this grant agreement. He provided technical expertise
necessary to establish the experimental planting replication plan for soil amendment evaluations, and
established the plan to monitor, record, and evaluate the results of these efforts. His willingness and
expertise in using the university publication "The Herbal Dispatch" to disseminate information, reports,
advertising, gift seed offer, photography, and using the online process for grant application, experimental
results, and reporting is sincerely appreciated. His capacity and dedicated assistance has made my
participation possible. The entire process has been a very rewarding and enjoyable experience for me.
Cooperator: Dean Myles, Coordinator, Medicinal Botanicals Program, Mountain State University, Beckley,
WV. Dean was active providing assistance throughout the grant period by being a point of contact with
cooperating entities such as West Virginia Herb Association, prospective future growers of Virginia
Snakeroot and fairywand, seminars, coordination and scheduling of presentations, promoting interest with
online inquiries concerning Virginia snakeroot and fairywand, and active assistance with my annual
humus production efforts. His assistance is greatly appreciated.

Project Objectives:

The primary objective of this research was to determine whether Virginia snakeroot (Arist%chia
serpentaria L.) and fairywand [Chamaelirium luteum (L.) Gray] would respond favorably to the
incorporation of different rates of humus (0, 1, 2 Ib/ft2 = 0, 22, 44 tons/acre) and bonemeal (0, 2, 4, oz/ff =
0,2.7,5.4 tons/acre) in order to maximize plant development and root and seed yield. Secondary
objectives were to: 1) develop propagation methods, 2) establish a planting stock and seed source for
growers, and 4) compile and disseminate growing techniques, planting and care instructions.

Research

Materials and methods:

After signing the grant contract, I purchased materials and built a deer proof fence around the
experimental and production areas. The soil in these wooded areas is full of tree roots and rocks and it
took many hours of intensive labor to clean it out and get it ready for planting. Experimental planting beds
were prepared and planted with three replications of each plant species using three rates of organic
2
amendments of hardwood leaf humus (0, 1, 2 Ib per ff = 0, 22, 44 tons/acre) and bone meal (0, 2, 4, oz
per ff = 0, 2.7, 5.4 tons/acre). Beds are in rows, each five feet long, two feet wide, with two feet between
beds, six beds per row, and three rows per replication. Virginia snakeroot and fairywand are in separate
alternate beds. Growth rate comparisons were recorded at the peak of the growing season in 2009 and
2010. At the end of the last growing season in 2010, all plants were dug and weighed for root weight
comparison. Virginia snakeroot seeds were collected each year for quantitative evaluation and reporting.
They were collected using a modified one-inch diameter tin box with a transparent lid. Each seed capsule
was placed inside a box to prevent seed from falling to the ground and being taken away by ants that eat
the attached elaiosome. Seed development of fairywand proved insignificant for evaluation due to the
species dioecious nature and poor blooming performance of female plants. Blooming is required for
gender determination. In spite of poor rainfall throughout much of the grant period, fairywand survival rate
was 100%, whereas Virginia snakeroot suffered 15% loss of plants. Of the fairywand plants, 32% were
identified as male and 5% as female; 63% have not bloomed yet. One research sub-award agreement
amendment was made on 4/1/10 for the purpose of extending the research effort one additional growing
season. I considered this to be necessary to achieve a more meaningful research data.

Research results and discussion:

This project has demonstrated that using humus and bone meal as soil amendments to produce
medicinal botanicals in woodland lots in Appalachia could be of substantial benefit. Virginia snakeroot
treated with humus at a rate of 44 tons/acre would increase seed yield by 43% and root yield by 12%
over the control, while bone meal at rates of 2.7 and 5.4 tons/acre would increase root yield by 62%
and seed yield by 76%, respectively, over the control. Fairywand amended with bone meal at a rate of
2.7 tons/acre would increase root yield by 51 %.
2. Root dealers paid growers $50.00/lb. for Virginia snakeroot and $401lb for fairywand in 2010.
Estimates indicate that using the best bone meal rates reported here, growers could increase income
from Virginia snakeroot sales by 62% (from $2,254 to $3,411 per acre) and fairywand by 51 % (from
$5,579 to $8,405 per acre).
3. Overall, results of this research indicate species, Virginia snakeroot and fairywand, can be
profitably and sustainably grown by farmers and wood lot owners who are seriously interested in
supplementing their income by growing these plants for the medicinal herb market.
4. Through experimentation, I discovered both species can be propagated via rhizome cuttings and,
additionally, Virginia snakeroot can be rooted from above ground stem cuttings.

Research conclusions:

Virginia snakeroot responded positively to the application of humus and bone meal (Table 1). The humus
rates (0, 22 and 44 tons/acre) produced seed yields of 6.20, 8.12 and 8.85 Ib/acre, increasing yields by
31 % (second rate over the first) and 43% (third rate over the first). The same rates produced dry root
yields of 59,62 and 67 Ib/acre, for increases of 4% and 12% of the second and third rate over the control,
respectively. The yield increases from 0% to 4% to 12% in response to the 0,22 and 44 tons/acre rates

indicate that Virginia snakeroot will respond positively to even higher rates. This is something that would
need further investigation. Response of Virginia snakeroot to bone meal was impressive. The 0,2.7 and
5.4 tons/acre rates yielded 5.49, 8.13 and 9.68 Ib/acre of seed, generating increases of 48% (second rate
over the first) and 76% (third rate over the first). The same rates produced root yields of 45, 73 and 68
Ib/acre, increasing yields 62% and 51 %. Using the price of $50.00 per pound that some root dealers paid
growers for Virginia snakeroot in 2010 (Duncan’s Botanical Products, Inc.), we estimate that the
application of 44 tons/acre of humus can bring a grower increases in income of 12% (from $2,968 to
$3,334 per acre) while an application of 2.7 tons/acre of bone meal can bring increases in income of 62%
(from $2,254 to $3,411 per acre).
Fairywand
Fairywand did not respond to humus treatments but did to bone meal (Table 2). Humus rates (0, 22 and
44 tons/acre) produced 217, 208 and 219Ib/acre, respectively, with no apparent effect on root yield.
Bone meal was a different story. Plots treated with 0, 2.7 and 5.4 tons/acre yielded 186, 280 and 178
Ib/acre of dry root, for an increase of 51 % of the second rate over the first (control). Root yields actually
decreased (-4%) with the 5.4 tons/acre rate. Using the price of $40.00 per pound that some root dealers
paid growers for fairywand in 2010 (Duncan’s Botanical Products, Inc.), we estimate that the application
of 2.7 tons/acre of bone meal can bring growers increases in income of 51 % (from $5,579 to $8,405 per
acre).

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Through my outreach program I
1. Provided free seeds and seedling plants to interested prospective growers who requested them.
2. Disseminated research results via
a. Presentations at West Virginia Herb Association conferences, Mountain State University
Medicinal Botanicals Program symposia, BIBEE Nature Club meetings, and Master Gardener’s
meetings. Additionally, pertinent information in this final report will be presented at the Mountain
State University Medicinal Botanicals Program annual symposium in the spring of 2011.
b. Publications, which include:
i. A book chapter in ‘Medicinal Botanicals I, Utilization, Cultivation, Value-Adding, Marketing’;
Mario R. Morales, editor; Proceedings Appalachian Opportunities Symposium, Beckley, WV,
2008; InstantPublisher.com, 2009; Sponsors: USDA Agricultural Research Service,
Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center, Beaver, WV; and Collaborative for the 21st
Century Appalachia, Charleston, WV 25302.
ii. Several articles in "The Herbal Dispatch", the newsletter of the Medicinal Botanicals
Program of Mountain State University, Beckley, WV.
iii. Handouts for distribution at presentations, and SARE grant interim reports for posting on the
internet.
iv. The forthcoming book ‘Plants Native to Appalachia’, By David C. Carman and Mario R.
Morales. The book will include aspects of this research and be printed in 2011.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

As I progressed in the study, I discovered that both plants, but specially Virginia snakeroot, required
additional soil moisture to produce optimum growth. Normal rainfall was not sufficient. These species
require additional moisture during dry summer periods, or they require woodland planting sites enhanced
by surface moisture. I suspect they will grow beyond expectations when continuous moisture is present
throughout the growing season. This could be the subject for a future project.

I plan to incorporate the findings of this study into my present and future plantings of Virginia snakeroot
and fairywand and other practices I have investigated. I plan to continue providing seeds and planting
stock, on a small scale, for those interested in growing these plants for profit on their land. I also plan to
provide supplemental watering so that my production capacity can be improved and enhanced, and to
further experiment with methods of propagating fairywand.

Future Recommendations

Cost of planting stock for experimental beds was not planned or budgeted, but stock purchase was
necessary due to insufficient size and quantity of existing on-hand stock to support the project, thus
increasing project cost. Additionally, labor requirements were underestimated.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.