The Artemisia annua L., a species of the family Asteraceae (or Compositae), is a wormwood can reach over 3 meters high in culture. Its natural range extends all the warm temperate zones. The plant is also present in some countries inter tropical regions, particularly in Vietnam.
The Chinese have known the virtues of Artemisia for over 2000 years and use this febrifuge plant effectively against malaria and cancer. Around 1990, Chinese scientists sought collaboration with the European pharmaceutical industries.
From that moment, modern science begins to take an interest in the striking efficacy of this plant.
Artemisia annua contains a sesquiterpene lactone, artemisinin, effective against several strains of the parasite responsible for malaria and against cancer. A eight years ago initiated breeding program has developed a rich variety of artemisinin (its dried leaves can contain more than 1.3%). This variety has been the subject of a request for protection from the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), under the name of Artemis.
Controlling the cultivation of this species is currently the subject of extensive agronomic experiments, but a certain number of technical indications can already be proposed.
Based on experience to date, it appears that Madagascar, the optimal cultivation calendar, from November-December to July-August.
Correct cultures were apparently carried out with seedlings that are spread through February, but the crop cycle is all shortcut and reduced yields.
Spontaneously, the plant likes well exposed, rather light soils, but rich in nutritive substances.
In culture, however, the plant adapts to many soil types, even relatively clay. Regarding the climate, the region of Antananarivo proved ideal for growing. In fact, in this region, the limiting factor is constituted by the photoperiod, lengths of day twelve hours tends to induce flowering.
No pest or important pathogen has so far been observed on this crop.
Maintenance and watering.
The plant has a remarkable development and culture so quickly covers the ground. However, 1 or 2 weeding may be necessary in the first weeks.
Herbicides used in this case are not yet known, as a mechanical weeding is it currently recommended: strawberry (tiller or tractor) between the lines and hoe on the line.
Regarding watering, the plant tolerates relative dryness, even if it reacts well to a water supply. It is especially at the plantation that a water supply can be essential.
However in intertropical regions, where photoperiodism is not very favorable, water stress can initiate too early flowering.
In Madagascar, a lack of water during the months of January to March was initiated in some plots early flowering from April.
In this country, the plots must therefore be equipped with an irrigation system.
Harvesting, stripping and drying.
The harvest takes place about 5 months after planting, but not later than during the formation of pimples, because in the tropics, the artemisinin content drops sharply and very quickly when blooming.
To date, no harvesting machine has been developed for this plant. Also, using a mower to harvest the whole plant is she currently recommended.
The target molecule is present exclusively in the leaves, so it is necessary to separate the latter stems.
For this, we can sift the dry material previously cut into sections of about 10 cm, on a grid having a mesh of about 0.5-1 cm, or using a combine harvester.
However, in appropriate areas for manual harvesting, we would advocate now gathering field of the sheet only.
This can be done by pinching one end of the twigs between the thumb and forefinger, then going up along the stem to pluck the leaves.
This method has the advantage of providing very clean material and of solving the problem of the subsequent separation of leaves and stems.
In addition, it gives an easy-to-dry material (2-3 days in a dry and ventilated atmosphere) and a minimal volume.
Soil preparation and fertilization
Soil preparation involves plowing and milling or harrowing.
If the calendar allows, it may be wise to carry out a false sowing beforehand, that is to say, a first preparation of the ground, followed by a second harrowing after the emergence of the weeds.
As for fertilizer, the plant responds well to nutrient inputs.
Based on the few indications currently available, the following contributions can be proposed (units / ha) N 80, P70, K90
Sowing crop establishment
Because of the extremely small size of the seeds (12 000 seeds per gram), direct seeding is tricky.
So we currently recommend the preparation of seed pieces. This method greatly facilitates the control of the adventitious flora.
Plantings are made in flowerbeds protected from rain and direct sunlight (a 20 to 25 m2 surface for the 5 g of seeds for the preparation of seedlings for one hectare of culture).
The seeds are mixed with sand or ash (1 kg of sand for 5g of seeds), deposited on the surface of the flower bed, then sprinkled with sieved potting soil and / or sand, this more to stabilize the seeds than for truly cover them.
The seedlings should then be kept well moist, without excess, however.
Nighttime temperatures of 16-18 ° C and daytime temperatures of 23-25 ° C are optimal. Germination usually takes place within a week.
Transplanting into small clumps of compressed soil is carried out 3-4 weeks later, when the seedlings reach the 2-3 pair leaf stage (3-4 cm high), with well-formed roots (4-5 cm) . Planting in the field takes place 3 weeks later, when the plants have reached the size of about 15 cm.
The recommended planting density is 60 cm x 60 cm, or about 30 000 plants per hectare. According maintenance and harvesting machines to be used, a larger spacing distance may be justified.
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