Centipeda

24.05.17

Overview

Centipeda cunninghamii is a native Australian plant, found predominantly in south eastern Australia in moist but not flooded soils, near rivers and around wetlands and billabongs. Centipeda belongs to the daisy family and grows to about 20 centimetres tall, with multi-branched stems. It has uniquely shaped leaves, which are aromatic when crushed. The flowers are small and rounded, pale yellow to green in colour, and bloom from spring to autumn.

Centipeda is commonly known as old man weed and is a traditional medicine plant of Indigenous Australians (The term Indigenous is used to describe Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) . There is documented medicinal use of the plant as an external treatment for skin conditions, for over 150 years. Extracts from dried Centipeda have been patented for use in a range of cosmetic applications, including skin care, deodorants, exfoliation, and as a general anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant in nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals. There is increasing national and international interest in high-quality C. cunninghamii extracts.

Before the mid 1990s, Centipeda was wild-harvested to supply a fledgling industry. There has been some selection of wild lines of Centipeda and cultivation of the plant, however, many aspects of its production have not been evaluated on a scientific and systematic basis; nor has there been rigorous analysis of the plant’s phytochemistry and bioactivity. A research project was conducted from 2010 to 2013, and much valuable information was gained providing industry participants with a greater understanding of production systems, a greater understanding of the factors influencing product quality and greater confidence to gain and maintain markets, based on consistent product quality.

The information on this website is based on the findings of the research project and the experience of key project participants.

Facts and figures

  • Centipeda cunninghamii is a plant endemic to wetland environments, predominantly in inland south eastern Australia
  • Centipeda is a traditional medicinal plant used by Indigenous Australians, in tonics and skin treatments
  • There is increasing national and international interest in high-quality C. cunninghamii extracts for nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals products
  • Centipeda performs well as a commercial crop on well-drained but moist soils
  • Summer rainfall can be detrimental to yield and crop health, therefore irrigation is essential for commercial production
Production status

Centipeda production occurs on a very small scale compared with other horticultural crops, reflecting the demand for very small volumes of the extract, however returns on the crop are high—up to AU$20,000 per dry tonne as at 2013.

As at 2014, industry experts estimate there would be less than five producers growing the crop in a commercial arrangement and the total production area would be less than ten hectares. A typical production area is 1–3 ha.

As at 2014, there may be a small number of growers or wild-harvesters using Centipeda or Centipeda extract to make ‘home-made’ products or supplying manufacturers of products containing Centipeda.

 - image

Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Centipeda is a traditional medicinal plant of Indigenous Australians and there is documented use of the plantfor over 150 years. It has long been used as an external treatment for skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, cuts and abrasions, and hair loss. It has also been used as a tea for gastro-intestinal disorders.

Since the 1990s, its extracts have been patented for use in a range of cosmetic applications, including skin care, deodorants, exfoliation, and as a general anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant in nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Currently, Centipeda is being grown under cultivation in east Gippsland and on the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, but its natural occurrence is much broader, suggesting the plant could be cultivated throughout several states.

Given that research on cultivation of the crop has been conducted at a limited number of locations, prospective growers would be advised to conduct trials to determine the suitability of the plant at their site before commencing commercial production. It is important that prospective growers actively collaborate with a processor, so they receive technical support for growing the plant, as well as feedback on the quality of the dried harvested raw material they produce.

Soil type

In its natural habitat, Centipeda grows on a wide range of soil types and textures, from pure sand to clay. While the plant grows near rivers and wetlands, it thrives in moist but not waterlogged soils.

Under cultivation, Centipeda has performed well in a soil pH(water) range of 5.5–7.0. Despite growing naturally on some alkaline soils, Centipeda responded poorly to liming before planting.

Climate

Centipeda grows naturally throughout warm and cool temperate regions, and occurs with less frequency in arid and subtropical climate zones.

In a cool temperate climate, where trials were conducted, soil temperatures ranged from 15.0–17.5°C during transplanting (October) to over 25°C during mid-summer. So long as irrigation was available, the plants withstood air temperatures of 35°C and higher during summer. Frost should not be a problem for Centipeda as planting occurs in spring, after the greatest frost risk has passed.

The growing season for the plant is spring through to late summer. Under cultivation, winter dominant rainfall would seem most suitable. In trials, prolonged wet weather in summer, when the plants have developed maximum biomass and are flowering, caused plants to lodge and increased the incidence of a chrysanthemum white rust infestation.

Varieties

Before 1996, all Centipeda was wild-harvested. The quality of extracts from wild-harvested material could be variable, making it difficult to produce an extract of consistent quality. Industry pioneers identified particular strains that grew and yielded well, and contracted growers or nurseries to propagate planting stock.

A research project from 2010–2013, provided the opportunity to quantify agronomic and bioactive status of different strains of the plant. For cultivation in east Gippsland, there were two superior selections, with one phenotype appearing to be superior with regard to yield of dry matter and bioactive compounds. These two selections need to be evaluated at other locations.

Ongoing testing of plant strains is required. Further information can be gained from current industry participants.

Planting and crop management

Centipeda can be propagate vegetatively but all commercial production and field trials use seedlings;  productive lines of wild plants have been identified. It is likely that planting material will be sourced from superior selections under contracted arrangements between the processor and the growers in an integrated supply chain arrangement. These contractual arrangements are established to ensure that the selected plants consistently produce the desired chemistry.

Centipeda is grown and managed as an annual or short-term perennial crop. The seedlings are planted into raised beds at a density of 10 plants per square metre.

In trial work, the plant appeared not to have a high nutrient requirement, and moderate applications of nitrogen and organic matter may be adequate for good production, which was achieved with poultry manure in the trial. Unlike other native plants, it appeared to have some tolerance of phosphorus. Liming did not have a beneficial effect on plant production. More work is required to refine nutrient management programs for Centipeda.

Access to and supply of irrigation is critical throughout the life of the crop. The plant is shallow rooted but has a requirement for moist soils; therefore frequent irrigation of Centipeda will be required. Both pot trials and field observations indicated that Centipeda may require irrigation as frequently as twice weekly, to optimise its growth and production, and more frequently in hot weather. Reduced water availability at flowering significantly lowered yield of dry matter and bioactive compounds. Irrigation is best applied through drip tape (or similar), as fungal diseases occurred in plants that were irrigated using overhead sprinklers.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Weed control is essential to ensure that other plant material does not contaminate the harvested Centipeda material and affect the quality of the end product. Weed control starts with site preparation by spraying any weeds present with glyphosate and cultivating the planting rows. Weed mat can been used to suppress further germination of weeds. Once the crop is planted, weeds in the inter-row can be cultivated and manually removed.

Throughout the research project, few significant pests or diseases were observed in either field or pot trials. The most widespread insects were plant hoppers but their presence was only a concern at one site (east Gippsland) in the third year of the project. Insecticide control was possible and successful, however further use of the product under trial should be conducted and permits for use would be required in states other than Victoria. Other integrated pest management products and techniques should also be investigated. Rutherglen bug was observed at one site in quite high numbers underneath the plant canopy but there was no evidence of the bug feeding on flower heads (their common host tissue), so it was suspected they were taking shelter rather than feeding.

A small outbreak of chrysanthemum white rust occurred during late November at one trial site following a prolonged period of cool, damp weather. It is unknown whether this was an isolated incident, or if this disease may become important in the future. This disease is of concern, because it can be transmitted by infected plants from nurseries and ornamental chrysanthemums in gardens, and it can reside in plant debris or volunteer plants between seasons.

Infrastructure Requirements

A Centipeda plantation will require fencing and the installation of an irrigation system. Drip tape (t-tape) has proved effective. Overhead irrigation is not advised because of its propensity to drag down the crop when wet, leading to increased disease risk, as well as the disease risk from creating a humid crop canopy.

General farm equipment will be required for site preparation, bed forming, weed management and ongoing maintenance of the site. A trailer or truck is also required to transport the material from the site to the drier.

The plant is usually harvested by manually removing the entire plant from the soil bed. However, trial work from 2010–2013 showed that two harvests increased overall yield. Non-destructive options for harvest would be manual removal of plant material using hand tools; semi-automated harvest using a two-man sickle bar mower; or mechanical harvest using a forage harvester.

To preserve plant quality, drying of the harvested material must start as soon as possible (less than 24 hours after harvest). Owning a drier may not be viable, at least not in the early stages of the enterprise, therefore access to a commercial grain drier or similar is critical.

Capacity, or access to services, to bale the dried material and transport it to market are also required.

Harvesting & Processing

In cultivation, Centipeda plants are harvested in one single harvest when they are fully mature and in maximum bloom. Experience and research has shown that the bioactive compounds are present in all aerial parts of the plant, but some are more concentrated in the flowers. Fresh yields of 10–15 tonnes per hectare can be expected if harvested as one single harvest rather than multiple harvests.

Centipeda flowers continually bloom over the spring and summer, reaching full bloom in late spring and summer, with mid-summer the timing of harvest in east Gippsland. Generally, the plant was harvested by manually removing the entire plant from the soil bed. However, trial work from 2010–2013 showed that two harvests increased overall yield, in terms of dry matter and bioactive compounds. Therefore, the first harvest at least will require non-destructive harvest methods such as hand tools; two-man sickle bar mowers; or a forage harvester.

Based on research results, the first harvest would be conducted at the early–mid stage of flowering and a substantial part of the foliage and flowers would be harvested. The second harvest would be about two months later, when regrowth commences flowering. The economics of two harvests and the impact of additional labour and drying costs have not been determined.

To maintain product quality of the extract, it is critical that weeds and other organic matter are removed from the harvested material.

The plant material should be dried within several hours of harvest, preferably two, to maintain the quality of the bioactive compounds. A critical component of establishing a Centipeda enterprise will be finding a commercial drier within close proximity of the field that can be used immediately after harvest. Driers used in the project were customarily used for drying grain and corn cobs.

The research project ascertained that commercial driers should be set at 34–36°C, plant material loosely packed to allow for air circulation, and dried for about 3–4 days to attain an optimum moisture content. Higher drying temperatures will reduce quality. Dry plant material can be stored in a weatherproof room for at least 12 months without any reduction in the level of bioactives, however extended periods of high humidity may cause the stored material to reabsorb moisture, making it more prone to mould.

The dried plant material is transported and supplied to the processor in bales.

Markets & Marketing

The Centipeda industry is new and offers a unique opportunity for potential growers, in that the market for the product is already developed. However the adage ‘sell before you sow’ remains true and new industry entrants should understand the market and secure a contract for sale of product, before planting the crop.

As at 2014, new entrants are advised to establish relationships with the processor and other growers to understand the industry and the crop; and then plant a small amount of crop to determine if they can produce a crop and dry it to the specifications of the processor. Contract grower arrangements offer security to the grower and guarantees supply and quality for the processor.

The market is small but lucrative. The processing company forecasts that by 2015–16, a production area of nine hectares will be required. As at 2013, the average commercial crop was yielding 3.9 t/ha of dried plant material, with a return of just over AU$20,000 per dry tonne.

Outside of the contract grower arrangements described above, there are a few growers or harvesters of wild plants, who produce their own extracts and value-add for sale of product at farmers markets and other small outlets, promoting or selling dried plant or extract to cosmetic manufacturers. The key marketing points of products containing Centipeda extracts are anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-ageing properties.

There are many species of Centipeda around the world but the extracts of Centipeda cunninghamii are proving to be superior and unique.

Risks & Regulations

The production of Centipeda carries the inherent risk that comes with participating in a new industry. Growers have limited options for selling their product, however the supply chain has been well designed.

As at 2014, the crop has been grown commercially only in a small part of Australia, therefore its performance across a range of environments is yet to be tested. However, Centipeda does grow naturally across a wide range of south eastern Australia.

Trial work over three years suggests that Centipeda does not display significant potential for weediness.

 - image

Growing Centipeda

Regulatory considerations

Apart from the regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading / unloading of harvested grain), there are no regulations specific to Centipeda operations (as at 2014). More information about laws and regulations affecting farmers can be obtained from the relevant government authority. Information and advice can also be sought from the relevant state farming organisation, some of which are listed on the National Farmers’ Federation website.

Industry Bodies

As at 2014, there is no industry association for Centipeda, however growers, researchers and processors wish to pursue the formation of an association in the short to medium term.

Image Gallery

 - image

Centipeda under commercial production

 - image

Centipeda flower

 - image

Centipeda flowers

 - image

Centipeda bush in flower