Canna edulis

Canna edulis (achira) is a South American crop traditionally grown from vegetative clones that produce large starchy tubers. This project aims to develop stable seed grown lines with good tuber qualities to improve scalability and storage of the crop.

Canna edulis "Queensland arrowroot" was grown for commercial starch production in subtropical Australia before industrialisation of agriculture. It is currently grown extensively in south east Asia in marginal mountain regions unsuitable for other crops for the production of cellophane noodles. The crop is hardy and adaptable in low frost climates and produces one of the largest and most digestible starch grains, separated from the tuber by wet milling and settling. Traditionally the crop is grown by vegetative propagation, requiring considerable hand labour and making it more difficult to scale up the crop between seasons. This project seeks to develop a strain of achira that can produce high quality tubers when grown from seed. Crops have been reliably established by direct seeding. The large seeds are incredibly tough and withstand prolonged storage under non-ideal conditions, potentially making them useful as a food security resource. The green tops of the crop are a high nitrogen fodder for livestock and the seeds are also edible. A seed grown strain might allow the crop to be grown seasonally in regions with cold winters.

The genus contains about 30 species from a variety of habitats. The cultivated clones are believed to be descended from C. discolor but their origins are uncertain. The Queensland arrowroot clone rarely sets seed but has been found to produce viable pollen that germinates in vitro. The pollen has been found to lose viability when desiccated and/or frozen, much like banana pollen. This clone typically flowers later than other species, making cross pollination uncommon. Strategic cutting back of plants of other species can cause them to flower at the same time as the Queensland arrowroot clone, allowing direct hybridisation. The flowers are naturally bird pollinated but can be easily hand pollinated and netted.

This project has obtained around a half dozen wild species of Canna, including the likely ancestor C. discolor, the common weedy C. indica, and several ornamental strains that have dwarfing traits. These are being hybridised with the Queensland arrowroot strain to create a large F1 generation for field trials. From these trials and plants demonstrating enlarged tubers will be selected for further breeding work. Seed of self pollinated species, excess F1 seed and cuttings of the Queensland arrowroot clone will be available to those interested in participating.

Researcher background
I have a research background in organic chemistry and biochemistry, with a PhD focused on plant defence peptides. After leaving the lab I worked as a science teacher and settled on a 40 acre ex dairy farm that is being transformed into an experimental farm focused on low input agriculture, silvopasture and staple crop breeding.
Are you seeking volunteer growers or other types of volunteers?
Yes, seeking volunteer growers
How many volunteers do you need?
What will you ask volunteers to do?
Grow on hybrid seed, select strains with large tubers, continue breeding select strains for sharing seed with other growers.
Other requirements of volunteers?
Frost free or low frost growing environment preferable to allow plants time to mature. Plants need moderate rainfall but cope well with periodic droughts once established, so artificial irrigation is not essential. Can be established by direct seeding but seed numbers will be low in initial stages so ability to propagate them in a controlled environment before transplant is preferable also. The large seed is very easy to grow after a hot water treatment.
Is this a multi-year project?
Can volunteers expect to be able to keep some germplasm (seeds, bulbs, cuttings, spores, etc) at the close of the project?
Yes, of course
Anything else?
I am interested in making contacts in Peru where the centre of diversity for the crop exists. There has been some work by agricultural scientists in Peru on breeding the crop but I have been unable to make contact with them.
Researcher Location