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New Crop FactSHEET


Contributor: David A. Dierig

Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.

  1. Common Names
  2. Scientific Names
  3. Uses
  4. Origin
  5. Crop Status
    1. Glucosinolates
  6. Botany
    1. Taxonomy
  7. Crop Culture
    1. Ecology
    2. Production Practices
    3. Harvesting
  8. Germplasm
    1. Collections
    2. Commercial Seed Source
  9. Key References
  10. Selected Experts

Common Names

Lesquerella; alternative name (not preferred) bladder-pod. All Lesquerella species are called bladder-pod, and sometimes depending on the origin of distribution, they are named after their locality, for example, L. stonensis is called Stones River bladder-pod.

Scientific Names

Species: Lesquerella fendleri (S. Wats.)
Family: Brassicaceae Burnett; Alternate name Cruciferae A.L. Jussieu


Seed contains an oil rich in hydroxy fatty acids (HFA), an important raw material used by industry for making resins, waxes, nylons, plastics, corrosion inhibitors, coatings, lubricating greases, and cosmetics. The oil from most species of Lesquerella found in the western U.S. contain lesquerolic acid as the predominate HFA. The molecular structure of this HFA is similar to ricinoleic acid of castor oil, except lesquerella has two additional carbons at the carboxyl end of the carbon chain. Essentially all castor oil production in the U.S. has been eliminated by a combination of economic factors, excessive allergenic reactions of field and processing workers, and toxicity of the seed meal. Lesquerella could serve as a partial replacement for imported castor oil, along with other formulation possibilities provided by the longer chain length of the HFA.

All species of Lesquerella produce one of three types of HFA as the main component of its oil profile. Most species occurring east of the Mississippi River, contain densipolic acid as the predominant HFA. One species, found in Texas and Oklahoma, and another widespread throughout the midwest and western U.S., contains auricolic acid as the predominant HFA. These two types of HFA differ from lesquerolic acid by the position of the hydroxyl group and /or by the carbon chain length. Densipolic and auricolic acids have different market potentials than lesquerolic acid.

The seed coat of several Lesquerella species, including L. fendleri, contains a natural unique gum that can be separated either before or after the oil is extracted. The gum could be as valuable as the oil. Possible uses include cosmetics, plasticizers, lubricants, coatings, and thickening agents for foods and for crude oil recovery. Cattle feeding trials have shown that the seed meal has promise as a protein supplement for livestock. The meal contains 30 to 35% crude protein and is similar to soybeans in the amino acid profile.


(See also Rollins Ref.)

New World: South and North America. Eighty-three, of 95 known species occur in North America.

Crop Status

Lesquerella fendleri is the only species currently being domesticated although several others may have potential. It has the most productive seed yield of Lesquerella species evaluated. The seed oil content is around 24%. The lesquerolic acid is 60% of the total oil. Oil and lesquerolic acid contents continue to increase through plant breeding efforts. The gum content is about the same as the oil content.

L. fendleri is a perennial species grown in production as an annual. This species will most likely be grown exclusively in the southwestern U.S. Other species of Lesquerella, or Physaria, a closely related genus, which have similar yield qualities and high lesquerolic acid contents, could later be developed for production in other environments. The cosmetic industry appears to be the first developed market for lesquerella oil, because the high value of these products allow a higher price to be paid as a specialty oil. As more seed becomes available, and production and processing information is more defined, other markets will follow. There are many products that could be developed from this hydroxylated oil. Currently castor is the only available source of this type of oil. Castor oil is not produced in the U.S. and must be imported from other countries. Domestic production of lesquerella will target large markets such as paints and coatings, plastics and nylons, oleochemicals, lubricant additives, and emulsifiers. It is anticipated that 100,000 acres of lesquerella will be necessary in the next five years for domestic production and will expand further as other applications are developed.


Seed contains glucosinolates (3 to 7%), as do the seeds from all native plants of the Brassicaceae family. Experiments have shown that hydrating the seed and elevating the temperature before oil is removed by crushing is one way to inactivate the thioglucosidase enzyme. Genetic variation for this trait exists between different populations and could be manipulated through plant breeding.



Rollins describes Lesquerella fendleri as a perennial, with densely pubescent, silvery leaves. A distinguishing character from other Lesquerella species is that its leaf trichomes are fused for half or more of their length but never fully fused. Basal leaves are between 1 to 4 cm long and 1 to 6 mm wide, with elliptic blades. The leaf margins are entire (no incisions) to coarsely dentate. The cauline leaves are oblanceolate or spatulate and range between 0.5 and 2.5 cm long and 1 to 5 mm wide. Leaf margins are generally entire or remotely dentate, narrowing gradually to a slender petiole. Yellow flowers occur on inflorescences that usually extend beyond the leaves. The floral buds are ellipsoid shaped. Sepals, (4 per flower) range between 5 to 8 mm long and petals (4 per flower) between 8 to 12 mm long and 4.5 to 7.5 mm wide. The chromosome number is n = 6. A population of n = 7 was identified in New Mexico and n = 12 in Texas, by Rollins. Seeds are contained in pods, referred to as siliques, that have a globose shape. Each capsule normally contains between 6 and 20 seeds. Seeds weigh between 0.5 and 1.2.g / 1000 seed. No pubescence occurs on the interior or exterior of this capsule. Seeds are flattened, 1.3 to 2.0 mm long and yellow to orange brown in color. Rollins states that in spite of the multiplicity of forms, L. fendleri is easily recognized because of the combination of smooth pods, and considerably fused trichomes. These features set it apart from all other Lesquerella species of North America.

Crop Culture


L. fendleri grows naturally in the southwestern U.S. from east Texas to central Arizona and from central Colorado to Mexico. In Mexico it is found as far south as southern Coahuila. Although it is a perennial plant, it is cultivated as a winter annual. It mainly occurs in the wild on limestone soils. Lesquerella does best in production on well drained calcareous soils.

Production Practices

Lesquerella is planted in the southwestern U.S. in October by direct seeding with a broadcast planter such as a Brillion planter, used to sow alfalfa. Sowing the seed by aircraft has also worked successfully. The most critical element for a good plant stand is keeping a moist soil surface to allow germination. Emergence occurs 8 to 14 days after planting. At this time of year very little growth takes place and seedlings remain very small. Inexperienced growers sometimes think there is a crop failure during this growth stage because plants are difficult to see. However, warmer temperatures beginning in late January stimulate rapid vegetative development and full cover is attained within two months. Assuming a seed germination rate is between 80 and 90%, the seeding rate should be from 6 to 8 kg / ha.

Lesquerella has been successfully cultivated on both raised beds or flat fields. Harvest is easier done on a flat field than raised beds. However, salts can be better managed on raised beds. Almost 85% of the vegetative growth is accumulated between February and March. Seeds develop between March and late May. Yields are increased with the application of up to 100 kg per ha of nitrogen fertilizer. A good strategy for irrigation scheduling of lesquerella in southern Arizona is to irrigate about once every 15 to 20 days starting in late February through mid-April, and then once every 10 to 12 days between late April through May.


Irrigation is stopped in mid-May and the plant is allowed to dry down until the moisture content of the seed reaches 12% before harvesting. Plants should be harvested by middle to late June. Seed shattering is not a problem unless extreme heavy rains occur. Conventional combines with suitable sieves are used for seed harvesting. Seed losses can be as little as 5% with properly equipped and operating combines. Trash content of harvested seed has ranged from 11 to 34%. Seed yields of 1800 kg per ha have been obtained in breeding test plots. Large scale field trials have yielded around 800 to 900 kg per ha.



USDA, ARS, Plant Introduction and Testing Research Station, Pullman, WA

USDA, ARS, U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory, Phoenix, AZ (working germplasm collection)

Commercial Seed Source

At the present time lesquerella seed is not sold on any market. As oil yields improve, seed will become available at an expected value of $0.30 to 0.36 per kg. No commercial varieties have been released.

Key References

Selected Experts

David A. Dierig, Terry A. Coffelt, Francis S. Nakayama, Anson E. Thompson, USDA, ARS, U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory, 4331 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040 Tel:602 379-4356; Fax: 602 379-4355; E-mail

John Nelson, University of Arizona, Maricopa Agricultural Center, Rt. 3, Box 751-F, Smith-Enke Road, Maricopa, AZ 85239 Tel:602 568-2273 Fax:602 568-2556

James Brown, James Arquette, International Flora Technologies, Ltd., 2295 S. Coconino Drive, Apache Junction, AZ 85220 Tel:602 545-7000 Fax:602892-3000

[Contributor: David A. Dierig, USDA, ARS, U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory]

Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.

Last update Tuesday, February 24, 1998 by aw