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Plant Explorers Seek Wild Lesquerella

By Marcia Wood
April 28, 1999

A hunt for Mexico’s wild lesquerella, a mustard family plant with oils that might be used for industrial products, will begin this spring for Agricultural Research Service scientists and university colleagues.

A series of expeditions will take the scientists 5,000 miles through ten Mexican states. They will comb hillsides and gullies for wild relatives of Lesquerellafendleri, a yellow-flowered plant native to the American Southwest.

Lesquerella seed compounds called hydroxy fatty acids may be alternatives to those now obtained from imported castor oil to make resins, waxes, lubricating greases, cosmetics and other products, according to ARS lesquerella breeder David A. Dierig at Phoenix, Ariz. America imports castor oil from India, Brazil, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Indonesia.

Natural thickeners, made from chemicals on the seed coat, might be used in food processing. The protein-rich meal, left over after oil is removed, may supplement cattle feed.

Breeding America’s L. fendleri with wild relatives may yield offspring that bear bigger seeds with more oil and a higher amount of hydroxy fatty acids. This might boost lesquerella's potential as a profitable new crop for growers in the Southwest.

Dierig, along with Andrew M. Salywon of Arizona State University, Tempe, will join colleagues from Mexico’s Antonio Narro Agricultural University, Coahuila, on the expeditions to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Hidalgo, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.

Some seed will be planted at test plots in Arizona. Later, a selection of seed harvested from the Arizona plots will be given to a plant gene bank in the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System. The scientists are the first to collect lesquerella from Mexico for the Germplasm System.

The lesquerella quest is funded in part by ARS' National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Md. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief research agency.

Scientific contact: David A. Dierig, ARS Water Conservation Laboratory, Phoenix, Ariz, phone (602) 379-4356, fax (602) 379-4355,