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Carthamus tinctorius L.

Carthamus tinctorius L.





Vernacular Names




Safflower, false saffron.


Kasumba (Gener­al), kembang pulu (Javanese), rale (Buginese).


Kasubha (Pilipi­no, Tagalog), kasabha (Bisaya), kasaba (Ilokano).


Kham (General), khamfoi (Northern), kham yong (Lampang).


H[oof]ng hoa, c[aa]y rum.



Geographical Distributions

Carthamus tinctorius is known only from cultivation and proba­bly originated in the Middle East. Other centers of diversity are Afghanistan, Ethiopia and India. It has long been domesticated, initially for the or­ange dye obtained from the florets. It was identi­fied to grow in Egypt in 2000 BC. Its use as an oil crop probably came later, but also dates back to pre-Christian times. The 'Revenue papyrus' of Ptolemy II of 259-258 BC states that the king had a monopoly of production and marketing of Carthamus tinctorius along with sesame and castor oils. Carthamus tinctorius was probably introduced into China around 200-300 AD, where it was initially cultivated for its dye. It was grown extensively in many areas, particularly along the Chang Jian (Yangtze river) and in Sichuan (Szechwan). Carthamus tinctorius was intro­duced into Japan from China probably about the third Century AD. The oil was little used in cooking until the 20th Century, but it is now a major import in Japan. From the Middle East, the crop also spread westward into Europe and the Ameri­cas. It is grown on a small scale throughout Southeast Asia, where it is most important in Thailand.


Carthamus tinctorius is an erect, much-branched, hairless and annual herb that can grow up to 30-180 cm tall. The root system is well-de­veloped. It is brownish-greyish, with thick and fleshy taproot which can penetrate up to 3 m depth, and with thin horizontal laterals that occur mainly in the upper 30 cm. The stem is cylindrical, solid with soft pith, woody near base, striate and greenish-white.

The leaves are ar­ranged spirally, sessile and exstipulate. The blade is oblong to ovate­lance-shaped and measuring 4-20 cm x 1-5 cm. The lowest ones are largest, with spinous-dentate margin, dark green glossy, herbaceous when young and turn firm and stiff later.

The inflores­cence is a terminal, urn-shaped head, which measures about 4 cm long and 2.5-4 cm in diameter and it contains only disk florets. The involucral bracts are numerous and spirally arranged. The outer ones are oblong, constricted above the base and measuring 3-7 cm x 0.5-1.6 cm. The upper part is leafy and sharp-pointed, erect or spreading, not appressed, with long hairs on the lower margin, and lighter green than the leaves, while the lower part is appressed, whitish­-green, long-hairy outside especially on the mar­gin and hairless inside. The constriction becomes less apparent towards the centre of the head and the leafy part disappears. The innermost bracts are lance­-shaped, measuring 2-2.5 cm x 1-4 mm, with sharp, pointed apex and with a fringe of hairs. The receptacle is flat to conical, with abundant whitish bristles which are erect and 1-2 cm long and with 20-80 bisexual florets. The floret is tubu­lar, sessile, actinomorphic, measures about 4 cm long, hairless, mostly orange-red but becomes dark red during flowering and sometimes yellow. The petal is 5-­lobed, with tube 18-22 mm long, with spreading lobes, nar­rowly oblong to linear and measuring 7 mm x 1 mm. There are 5 stamens which are epipetalous, inserted at the mouth, with filaments 1-2 mm long, with anthers 5 mm long, connivent and it forms a column. The ovary is ellipsoid, measures 3.5-4.5 mm long, one­-celled, one-ovuled and bearing a disk on the top. The style is slender, measures 28-30 mm long, smooth and pushing up through the staminal column. The stigma is 5 mm long, bi­fid, yellow and with short hairs.

The fruit is isone-seeded, obovoid, often oblique, measuring 5.5-8 mm x 3-5 mm, 4-­angled with clearly visible ribs, smooth, glossy white but is often pale brown near the top and sometimes with a pappus. The pappus is variable from head to head and from fruit to fruit. Generally, the innermost fruits in a head bear the biggest pappus while the outermost ones bear none. A fully developed pappus consists of several complete and dense circles of paleae that clasp the scar of the petal. The paleae is narrowly oblong to linear, measuring 6 mm x 0.2 mm, white, hairless, flat, with base bent inwards, with ciliate margin and obtuse or acute at apex.

The seed is exalbuminous. Seed­ling is with epigeal germination. It has a strong taproot while hypocotyl  is greenish-white. The cotyledons are leaf-like, obo­vate, measuring 3 cm x 1 cm when plumule starts growing and 6 cm x 1.5 cm when fully grown. They are greyish pale-green but with darker green dots when young. The first leaves are lance-shaped with tapering base.

Ecology / Cultivation

Carthamus tinctorius is basically a crop of semi­arid, subtropical regions, but its range has been greatly expanded by selection and breeding. It is distributed within latitudes 20°S and 40°N and its cultivation has recently even spread into Canada. In the tropics, it is mostly grown at 1600-2200 m altitude, but large-scale commercial production is concentrated in semi-arid areas below 1000 m. Seed yield and oil content fall with increasing alti­tude. Seedlings can tolerate -7°C, some cultivars even down to -12°C. They become more suscepti­ble to frost damage after rosette stage. Aver­age temperatures of 17-20°C appear to be best for vegetative growth, while the optimum tempera­ture for flowering ranges from 24-32°C. Adequate soil moisture reduces the adverse effect of higher temperatures. Carthamus tinctorius requires about 600 mm of rainfall with a major portion falling before flowering. Under dry, windy conditions, which are most suitable for the production of Carthamus tinctorius because of the low-disease in­cidence, 800-1000 mm of rainfall is required. In places where there are no hot, dry winds, reasonable yields can still be produced as long as 300 mm of rain is available before flowering. Due to its extensive root system, Carthamus tinctorius can be grown largely on residual soil moisture. If pre-plant soil moisture covers about two-thirds of the total water requirement, the remainder can be supplied by rainfall. In the United States and Australia, 1500-2500 mm of irrigation water is required to produce a high-yielding commercial crop. In Israel, Carthamus tinctorius needs a minimum of 600 mm rain plus a similar amount from irrigation. In Tanzania, 400 mm rainfall plus 450 mm irrigated water are the mini­mum requirements but crops supplied with 2250 mm of irrigation water in the dry season produce twice the wet season yield, partially due to less damage from diseases and pests. A rain-fed crop in India requires 650-1000 mm, but in the dry season under irrigation, it needs 1800-2100 mm (less if the preceding crop is rice). Carthamus tinctorius is grown by smallholders on a wide range of soils with pH 5-8. For large-scale produc­tion, fairly deep, well-drained, sandy loams of neutral reaction are preferred. Highest yields are obtained in dry regions on sandy loams with irrigation. Regardless of their fertility, shallow soils seldom produce high yields, and this is invariably due to insufficient moisture. Carthamus tinctorius is consid­ered to be salt-tolerant, although many commer­cial cultivars are salt-sensitive. It is especially tol­erant of sodium salts, but less so of calcium and magnesium salts. Salinity delays initial seedling emergence, while very high levels reduce germination. However, Carthamus tinctorius is a suitable crop for saline soils, and especially the recent highly salt-toler­ant cultivars.

Line Drawing / Photograph



  1. Plant Resources of South-East Asia No.14: Vegetable oils and fats.

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