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Limnanthes alba Hartw.

White foam

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


A relatively new crop being tested as source of oil, possibly as replacement for spermwhale oil. Whale oil has the unique ability to cling to metal surfaces of gears and bearings while withstanding wide temperature variations and high pressure. Until 1972, the US imported nearly 25,000 MT whale oil per year, to be used in automotive transmission fluids, leather tanning surfaces, textile manufacturing lubricants, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, watch lubricants, etc. Seeds contain 26.8% oil. Meal from seeds may find use as feed component.

Folk Medicine

No data available.


The seed contains ca 20% protein, 25–30% oil, with 1.56% volatile isothiocyanates. According to Jolliff (1981) the high concentration of C20 and fatty acids in white foam seed oil is unique. No other seed oil is known to have as high concentration (>90%) of total fatty acids of chain length greater than C18.


Annual herbs; stems commonly erect or ascending, 10–30 cm tall; leaves up to 10 cm long, alternate, petioled, without stipules, dissected or pinnate with 5–9 segments, segments ovate, simple, 3-lobed or 3-parted; flowers 5-merous, crateriform to campanulate, on peduncles up to 10 cm long; sepals lanceolate to ovate, acuminate, 7–8 mm long, glabrous to densely villous, not accrescent; petals obovate, truncate to obcordate, 10–15 mm long, white, some aging lilac-purple or pink at tips, a few scattered long hairs from veins and 2 rows or hairs at base; stamens 5–6 mm long, anthers 2 mm long; pistil 5–6 mm long; nutlets obovoid, 3–4 mm long, smooth or wrinkled to very rough with broad ridges. Fl. spring.


Repotted from the North American (California) Center of Diversity, white foam, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate slope and waterlogging (Duke, 1978). Limnanthes alba var. versicolor (Green) C.T.Mason, has glabrous herbage, glabrous to sparingly villous sepals, and smooth nutlets to those with scattered sharp tubercles, yielding 30.9% oil. Currently 'Foamore' is the only named cv but the improved selection 703A yields as well as 'Foamore' and exhibits better seed retention (Jolliff, 1981). (2n = 10)


Native to Sierra foothills and adjacent rolling plains from Sacramento to Chico, California.


Ranging from Warm Temperate Moist through Subtropical Dry to Moist Forest Life Zones, white foam, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 7 to 11 dm, annual temperature of 12 to 19°C, and pH of 5.6 to 6 (Duke, 1978). Commonly found on banks, gravelly bars of small intermittent streams in Sierra Nevada foothills, growing on porous, quick-drying soils, essentially a xerophyte, flowering and setting seed on the last seasonal soil and stem moisture. Has about the same water requirement as dry-farmed winter grains, and seems to require less moisture than other species of this genus. Does well on soils with pH 6.2, especially on slopes and in cultivated fields.


Propagated from seed. Experimental, seeds germinated at 4.5°C, gave poor germination at 21°C, and went dormant at 26.5°C. Growth and seedling periods closely approximate those of oats and barley. Good weed control, essential for high seed yield, has been achieved using propachlor and diclofog (Jolliff, 1981). Conclusive data on fertilizer responses are unavailable.


As small streams dry in late spring, growth is terminated and plants rapidly mature their seeds. Seed dates range from May 5–30. In drier seasons and sites, plants may wither away in flower without seed formation. Shattering may cause 16–54% seed loss in Limnanthes alba (71–93% in Limnanthes douglasii). Direct combining and windrowing followed by combining led to excessive seed losses in earlier studies. With improved cvs and timelier harvests, greater than 95% seed recovery has been achieved from either direct combine harvesting on research plots or windrowing and then combining on a commercial field scale (Jolliff, 1981).

Yields and Economics

Seed yield is good, and seed retention is excellent. Experimentally, when planted at seed rate of 2.9 kg/ha yielded 1,650 kg/ha, up to 24.7 kg/ha yielded about 2,000 kg/ha. Applying 48–50 kg N/ha following a non-legume crop in early March gave seed yields of 790 and 700 kg/ha of seed respectively; without any fertilizer, yields of 530 kg/ha were obtained. Yields of 400 kg/ha are reported for Limnanthes bakeri, 900 for Limnanthes alba, and 1,900 for Limnanthes douglasii, the most promising oilseed species in the genus. Researchers hope to double yields, but for now, with 24–30% oil content, we visualize oil yields of 500 kg/ha difficult to attain (cf Simmondsia, also considered a potential substitute for sperm whale oil). Research on this plant as an oilseed is just being developed. The most preferred characters in section Inflexae, to which this species belongs, are good seed retention, lower water requirements, adaptation to cultivated land, and slightly higher oil content.


Oregon could already produce 1,100 kg seed/ha yielding 275 kg oil (Oregon's Agriculture Progress, Spring/Summer 1975). At Corvallis, seed yields have ranged from 900–1,800 kg/ha (Jolliff, 1981).

Biotic Factors

No pests or diseases have been reported for this species.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw