Thursday, 17 May 2012

Great Southern researchers explore native flora for commercial applicability

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Meen 300x200The aboriginal named Meen, or Bloodroot (Haemodorum spicatum) a relative of the kangaroo paw, can be used for its culinary hot and spicy character or to create a bright red dye. Image: Courtesy DAFWAA UWA Centre for Excellence in Resource Management (CENRN) researcher in Albany, is working with the community in developing native plants as economically viable food for humans or as forage for livestock for the Great Southern region.

Native plant agronomist, Dr Geoff Woodall, who also runs a sandalwood farm, says unlike traditional European vegetables such as potatoes and carrots that took hundreds of years to develop for cropping, “a lot of our flora has adapted to poor soils and unpredictable climates”.

So far, Dr Woodall and colleagues have examined 200 species of flora from the Great Southern region and have produced three candidates most likely to achieve commercial success.

The aboriginal named Meen, or Bloodroot (Haemodorum spicatum) a relative of the kangaroo paw, can be used for its culinary hot and spicy character or to create a bright red dye.

It has been trialled commercially by the Great Southern Distillery in Albany to flavour a spirit marketed as Meen Vodka.

Research also shows the species has a promising future as a commercial dye for fabrics such as silk, which takes on a soft pink colour.

Another flora species of interest, Ravensthorpe radish or Youlk in Aboriginal (Platysace deflexa) is a sweet-tasting fleshy yellow tuber that is a relative to carrots, parsley, parsnip and coriander (Family: Apiaceae).

Dr Woodall started his collaboration with the community when he made contact with Bjorn and Claudia Form who started a unique Great Southern food venture: the Bush Food Factory.

A partnership between Dr Woodall and the Forms will develop the Ravensthorpe or “Ravy” radish for commercial quantity cultivation on their property in a month.

They will be using rooted cuttings raised at the Department of Agriculture and Food in Albany.

“There are lots of good ecological restoration projects trying to bring areas back to pre-European times,” he says.

“But they don’t tend to produce economic products like food, timber or forage.

“A lot of the work has been to do with agronomy—how to grow things—and it’s not rocket science,” he says.

“We’re trying to come up with simple, reliable methods of producing food from native crops,” he says.

Dr Woodall sees this commercial milestone as a confirmation of his aim for, “needs-driven research” which meets economic objectives that also produce beneficial natural resource outcomes.

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