Table of Contents
Putnam, D.H., J.T. Budin, L.A. Field, and W.M. Breene.
1993. Camelina: A promising low-input oilseed. p. 314-322. In: J. Janick and
J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.
Camelina: A Promising Low-Input Oilseed
D.H. Putnam, J.T. Budin, L.A. Field, and W.M. Breene
- DESCRIPTION & ADAPTATION
- AGRICULTURAL HISTORY
- UNIQUE AGRONOMIC QUALITIES
- Yield Potential
- Winter Seeding
- Compatibility with Cover Crops
- Fertilizer and Water Needs, Insects and Diseases
- Weed Control
- Seed Composition, Oil Content and Meal Quality
- Fatty Acid Composition and Use of the Oil
- SUITABILITY FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
- Table 1
- Table 2
- Table 3
- Table 4
- Table 5
- Table 6
- Fig. 1
- Fig. 2
The production of edible oil from crops has enjoyed unremitting growth during
the latter part of the 20th century. In a six year period in the 1980s, a 26%
increase in production of oils from ten oilseeds was realized. Much of this
growth has been in tropical oils (oil palm, Elaeis guinensis L.) or high
quality (low saturated fat) edible oils such as soybean [Glycine max
(L.) Merr.], canola (Brassica napus L.), and sunflower (Helianthus
annuus L.). This trend shows no signs of relenting. The demand for edible
oils is increasing most in the heavily populated regions of South Asia, China,
and the Far East, where vegetable oils are an important part of the diet, but
demand for meal and oil is also high in the European and American markets and
the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The development of soybean, sunflower, and canola, the three most significant
edible oils for temperate climates, represent important new crop successes
(Robinson 1973; Hymowitz 1990; Downey 1990). It is likely that these crops
will continue to expand in hectarage, given increasing demand for high quality
edible oils and meals, the wide adaptation of these crops, and new, improved
cultivars. However, each of these major oilseeds has its limitations. For
example, soybean, though ideal for most regions of the corn belt, is not well
adapted to more northerly regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. Canola
and sunflower are better adapted to northern climates but have high nitrogen
requirements (especially canola), and are susceptible to insect or bird
predation as well as diseases. These oilseed crops are not often suitable to
marginal lands (low moisture, low fertility, or saline soils). In recent
years, there has been increasing interest in developing agronomic systems with
low requirements for fertilizer, pesticides, and energy, and which provide
better soil erosion control than conventional systems (NRC 1989). This led us
to examine the viability of developing camelina as an oilseed with reduced
input requirements and as a crop well suited to marginal soils, or soil- and
resource-conserving agronomic practices.
Camelina sativa (L.) Crantz., Brassicaceae (falseflax, linseed dodder,
or gold-of-pleasure) originated in the Mediterranean to Central Asia. It is an
annual or winter annual that attains heights of 30 to 90 cm tall (Fig. 1) and
has branched smooth or hairy stems that become woody at maturity. Leaves are
arrow-shaped, sharp-pointed, 5 to 8 cm long with smooth edges. It produces
prolific small, pale yellow or greenish-yellow flowers with 4 petals. Seed
pods are 6 to 14 mm long and superficially resemble the bolls of flax. Seeds
are small (0.7 mm x 1.5 mm), pale yellow-brown, oblong, rough, with a ridged
surface. Morphology and distribution of camelina species has been described by
Polish and Russian botanists (Mirek 1981). Camelina has been shown to be
allelopathic (Grummer 1961; Lovett and Duffield 1981).
Camelina is listed as being adapted to the flax-growing regions of the northern
Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota) (NC-121 1981). It is primarily
a minor weed in flax and not often a problem in other crops and does not have
seed dormancy (Robinson 1987). However, the adaptation of camelina as a crop
has not been widely explored. Similar to the other Cruciferous species, it is
likely best adapted to cooler climates where excessive heat during flowering is
not important. There are several winter annual biotypes available in the
germplasm, and it is possible that camelina could be grown as a winter crop in
areas with very mild winters. Camelina is short-seasoned (85 to 100 d) so that
it could be incorporated into double cropping systems during cool periods of
growth, possibly in more tropical environments.
Although camelina is known in North America primarily as a weed, it was known
as "gold of pleasure" to ancient European agriculturists. Cultivation probably
began in Neolithic times, and by the Iron Age in Europe when the number of crop
plants approximately doubled, camelina was commonly used as an oil-supplying
plant (Knorzer 1978). Cultivation, as evidenced from carbonized seed, has been
shown to occur in regions surrounding the North Sea during the Bronze Age.
Camelina monocultures occurred in the Rhine River Valley as early as 600 BC
Camelina probably spread in mixtures with flax and as monocultures, similarly
to small grains, which also often spread as crop mixtures. It was cultivated
in antiquity from Rome to southeastern Europe and the Southwestern Asian
steppes (Knorzer 1978).
Camelina declined as a crop during medieval times due to unknown factors, but
continued to coevolve as a weed with flax, which probably accounts for its
introduction to the Americas. Like rapeseed oil, camelina oil has been used as
an industrial oil after the industrial revolution. The seeds have been fed to
caged birds, and the straw used for fiber. There have been scattered
hectarages in Europe in modern times, mostly in Germany, Poland, and the USSR,
and some efforts were made in the 1980s at germplasm screening and plant
breeding (Enge and Olsson 1986; Seehuber and Dambroth 1983; Seehuber and
Dambroth 1984: Kartamyshev 1985). Camelina has been evaluated to some extent in
Canada (Downey 1971) and to a larger extent in Minnesota where R.G. Robinson
conducted agronomic studies on camelina (Robinson 1987). However, there has
been relatively little research conducted on this crop worldwide, and its full
agronomic and breeding potential remains largely unexplored.
Field studies on camelina have been conducted at the University of Minnesota
for over 30 years (Robinson 1987). In one 9-year/location yield comparison,
camelina was shown to have a yield potential similar to that of many other
Cruciferae (Table 1), but it differed in seed size, maturity, lodging
resistance, and oil percentage. Yields of camelina cultivars (Table 2) have
been in the 600 to 1,700 kg/ha range at Rosemount, Minnesota (45° N
latitude), averaging about 1,100 to 1,200 kg/ha over many years of trials. It
should be noted that the yield of many of these oilseeds (especially B.
napus) has been improved significantly through plant breeding and improved
agronomic practices, whereas camelina has largely not had the benefit of plant
breeding. Under Minnesota conditions, yields of all spring-sown cruciferous
oilseeds are much higher at more northerly locations (1,736 kg/ha long term
average canola yield--Roseau, Minnesota), compared with yields at Rosemount,
which is located near St. Paul. Camelina is much smaller seeded and earlier
maturing than the other cruciferae tested. Lodging was comparable to or fact
slightly superior to the other cruciferae oilseeds tested (Table 1), and there
was significant variation for lodging among camelina varieties (Table 2).
Some variation in camelina maturity, lodging resistance, seed weight, and oil
percentage was exhibited by the lines tested and by other germplasm screening
not reported here, but many of these lines were similar in yield at Rosemount
(Table 2). Certainly increases in yield might be generated through plant
breeding. German plant breeders using the single-seed descent method, have
found transgressions over parental lines in many yield traits for camelina,
demonstrating both the high yield potential and capacity for yield improvement
in this species (Seehuber et al. 1987). This experience indicates that
camelina, unlike some wild species undergoing domestication, exhibits yield
potential and oil content which are both currently agronomically acceptable and
amenable to improvement through plant breeding.
The practice of broadcasting camelina seed on frozen ground in late November or
early December has been tested over a number of years at Rosemount, and the
practice appears to be viable (Table 3). In one four-year study, crops were
sown with standard farm machinery on large plots. Camelina was sown in late
fall on stubble, without seedbed preparation or herbicides, or conventionally
in the spring and compared with flax sown conventionally and sprayed with
herbicides (dalapon and MCPA). Performance of winter-sown camelina was equal
or superior to conventionally-sown flax in these studies.
To confirm these results, a separate two-year study was conducted where
camelina and flax were surface-seeded by hand in both winter and spring on
tilled or stubble ground, broadcast or by machine without herbicides (Table 4).
In 1990-91, surface seeding in winter was unsuccessful with flax, but was
successful with camelina, producing significantly earlier emergence and fewer
weed problems. However, in the 1989-90 study, the winter seeding was
unsuccessful for both crops, probably due to an open winter. Surface seeding
of camelina seemed to work better under no-till conditions, possibly due to
superior microsite protection for the small seed and seedling, and prevention
of wind dispersion of the seed. Machine planting was no better than
broadcasting in the spring sowings. Machine planting in December was not
feasible. A winter-sown stand of camelina emerges mid-April in Minnesota,
before most other spring-sown crops, and before significant weed flushes.
These trials showed that camelina sown without herbicide or tillage yielded as
well or better than flax grown conventionally. These studies also showed that
camelina, unlike flax, can be surface-sown on frozen ground in the late fall or
winter or early spring and produce good stands and yields comparable to
conventionally-sown Cruciferae crops.
In a three-year study, winter-sown camelina yielded an average of 9% more when
seeded with a fall-sown cover crop than without (Table 5). In this and in
subsequent studies (Robinson 1987), camelina has produced better stands, weed
control, and yields when planted in the winter with a cover crop compared with
seeding after conventional tillage in the spring or surface seeding on bare
ground in the fall. These data indicate that camelina is highly compatible
with cover crops used for fall and early spring soil erosion control.
The soil fertility needs of camelina are likely similar to those of other
crucifers with the same yield potential. Camelina has been shown to respond to
nitrogen similarly to mustard or flax (Robinson 1987).
Bramm et al. (1990) found that camelina was better able to compensate for early
water deficits than flax or poppy. This drought-avoidance characteristic might
make camelina better suited to drier regions than other oilseeds.
Downy mildew (Peronospora camelinae), a white or gray mold on the upper
part of the stem is sometimes observed in camelina (Robinson 1987).
Transmission of Turnip Yellow Mosaic virus by camelina seed has been reported
(Hein 1984). However, camelina has been reported to be highly resistant to
blackleg (Lepotosphaeria maculans) which is a significant disease
problem with canola (Salisbury 1987). Camelina has also been found to be very
resistant to Alternaria brassicae, compared with turnip rape or swede
rape (Grontoft 1986; Conn et al. 1988).
Flea beetle [Phyllotreta cruciferae (Goeze)] is also sometimes observed
on camelina, although it is not nearly the problem it is with canola. However,
in extensive multi-year small-plot trials, damage due to insects and diseases
in camelina have not been sufficient to warrant control measures (Robinson
The compatibility of canola with commonly used herbicides is not widely known.
In one three-year trial, camelina was not injured by trifluralin incorporated
either in the fall or spring, but yields were not improved over winter-seeded
camelina planted without herbicide (Robinson 1987). No herbicides are
currently labeled for use with camelina, and herbicides would comprise a
significant cost of production should any in the future even become labeled for
such use. These data however, suggest that the use of preemergence herbicides
may not be necessary in camelina if it is seeded in the winter or very early
spring. Winter-seeded camelina emerges earlier than conventionally seeded
camelina or other cruciferous crops, and normally before any substantial weed
germination in the spring. The seedlings are quite cold-tolerant, surviving
several freezes in the spring. For example, in one trial, a May 12 frost
(-2°C) injured mustard, rape, and flax, but did not affect camelina
(Robinson 1987). Individual camelina seedlings are fairly small and
non-competitive, but this early-emerging, cold-tolerant characteristic,
especially when planted at high densities, provides excellent competition with
many annual weeds.
Perennial or biennial weeds are likely to be more difficult to control in
camelina. However, the competitiveness of camelina with annual weeds presents
the possibility that camelina could be grown both without tillage and without
preemergence weed control, both significant costs of production and
The oil content of camelina seed has ranged from 29 to 39% in our studies.
There appears to be some variation for oil content among the cultivars tested
(Table 2), but the germplasm has not been widely characterized. Studies in
Germany have shown oil content to range between 37 and 41% and seed protein
content 23 to 30% (Marquard and Kuhlmann 1986). Camelina appears to be similar
in protein content and elemental composition to flax (Linum
usitatissimum L.), with the exception of a higher sulfur content (Robinson
1987). Camelina meal is comparable to soybean meal, containing 45 to 47% crude
protein and 10 to 11% fiber (Korsrud et al. 1978).
Zero to trace levels of volatile isothiocyanates have been found in camelina
meal (Peredi 1969; Korsrud et al. 1978; Sang and Salisbury 1987) compared with
crambe (Crambe abyssinica Hochst) or industrial rapeseed meal which
contains substantially higher levels of glucosinolates. Laboratory mice fed
camelina meal gained less weight than those fed casein or egg control diets,
but more than those fed crambe meal (Korsrud et al. 1978). Although some
essential amino acids may have been limiting in the camelina meal diets, some
growth depressing factor other than glucosinolates may have been present
(Korsrud et al. 1978).
Camelina has been fed to wild (Fogelfors 1984) or caged (Mabberly 1987) birds,
and this is one potential use. Other potential uses include applications as an
ornamental, a cover or smother crop, a border row for experimental field plots,
or in dried flower arrangements (Robinson 1987).
Oil was extracted from camelina and other oilseeds by the Soxhlet method using
diethyl ether, and fatty acids determined using the method of Enig and Ackerman
(1987). The fatty acids in camelina oil are primarily unsaturated, with only
about 12% being saturated (Fig. 2). About 54% of the fatty acids are
polyunsaturated, primarily linoleic (18:2) and linolenic (18:3), and 34% are
monounsaturated, primarily oleic (18:1) and eicosenoic (20:1) (Table 6).
Our values for fatty acid composition of Camelina sativa are generally
similar to those reported for Camelina rumelica (Umarov et al. 1972), or
other reports on Camelina sativa (Seehuber and Dambroth 1983). With its
low saturated fat content camelina oil could be considered a high quality
edible oil, but it is also quite highly polyunsaturated, which makes it
susceptible to autoxidation, thus giving it a shorter shelf life. With an
iodine value of 144, it is classified as a drying oil (Robinson 1987).
Camelina oil has been used as a replacement for petroleum oil in pesticide
sprays (Robinson and Nelson 1975).
Camelina oil is less unsaturated than linseed (flax) oil and more unsaturated
than sunflower or canola oils (Fig. 2, Table 6). The balance of saturated vs.
unsaturated fats is similar to that of soybean, but camelina contains
significantly higher proportion of C18:3 fatty acids. Camelina seems to be
unique among the species evaluated in having a high eicosenoic acid content in
the oil, but the potential value or disadvantage of this is currently unclear.
The erucic acid content is probably too low for use in the same applications as
crambe or high erucic acid rapeseed, where a high erucic acid content is
desired. Most of the camelina lines evaluated contain 2 to 4% erucic acid
(Table 6), which is greater than the maximum (2%) limits for canola-quality
edible oil. However, in a preliminary germplasm screen, we have identified
lines with zero erucic acid content (data not shown), so it is likely that this
trait could readily be removed through plant breeding, as it has been with
The lack of clear utilization patterns for camelina oil currently limit its
use. The fatty acid composition does not currently uniquely fit any particular
use. Manipulation of camelina fatty acid content, which has been achieved in
other oilseeds, could greatly improve the utilization possibilities of this
When analyzing the potential role of a new crop, unique attributes of
that species must be established; it must contribute something not already
provided by existing crop species. It is not sufficient, for example, for a
crop simply to become "another oilseed." There must be unique and compelling
properties of that crop to provide incentives for further development.
The research reported here has shown that camelina possesses unique agronomic
traits which could substantially reduce and perhaps eliminate requirements for
tillage and annual weed control. The compatibility of camelina with reduced
tillage systems, cover crops, its low seeding rate, and competitiveness with
weeds could enable this crop not only to have the lowest input cost of any
oilseed, but also be compatible with the goals of reducing energy and pesticide
use, and protecting soils from erosion. Camelina is a potential alternative
oilseed for stubble systems, winter surface seeding, double cropping, or for
marginal lands. At a seeding rate of 6 to 14 kg/ha, camelina could be
inexpensively applied by air or machine-broadcast in early winter or spring on
stubble ground without special equipment. Although these unimproved lines have
been shown to be agronomically acceptable, modern history has indicated the
Cruciferae to be highly manipulatable through plant breeding or biotechnology,
and so the promise of improvement is also high. The meal does not contain
glucosinolates, but the fatty acid composition of the seed needs to be modified
to provide a role for the crop in the oilseeds market.
Lack of clear utilization patterns currently limit the crop, and further work
on oil, meal, and seed use is required. The possibilities of using camelina in
human food, as birdseed, as an edible or industrial oil, a fuel, or other
applications remains largely unexplored. Further utilization and breeding
research is required to more fully make use of the unique agronomic qualities
that this crop possesses.
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Table 1. Comparison of Camelina with other oilseedsz.
zData from trials conducted 1960-1985 in Rosemount and Roseau, MN; 9
year/location means (Robinson 1987).
|Species ||Yield (kg/ha)y ||Oil (%) ||Seed size (g/1,000 seeds) ||Maturity
date ||Lodging (%)|
|Camelina sativa ||1277 ||31 ||0.6-1.2 ||7/1-7/28 ||20-30|
|Crambe abysinica ||1317 ||32 ||6-8 ||7/15-8/10 ||30-50|
|Brassica napus ||1273 ||39 ||2.9-4.0 ||8/1-8/20 ||40-80|
|Brassica hirta ||1319 ||24 ||4.8-5.1 ||7/20-8/3 ||20-80|
yYields of some species, especially B. napus have improved
due to plant breeding efforts since these trials were conducted. Yields of all
cruciferae were at least 50% higher at Roseau (near Canada) vs. Rosemount in
Table 2. Yield and characteristics of Camelina sativa lines
grown in Rosemount, Minnesota, 1991.
z1 = no lodging; 10 = severe lodging.
| ||Days from planting to|
|Line (origin) ||Full bloom ||Maturity ||Height (cm) ||Lodging ratingz ||1,000 seed weight (g) ||Seed yield (kg/ha) ||Oil (%)|
|C028 (USSR) ||42 ||77 ||58 ||7.2 ||1.08 ||1007 ||37.5|
|C037 (Germany) ||45 ||79 ||67 ||3.4 ||0.98 ||1085 ||35.3|
|C046 (Germany) ||45 ||78 ||63 ||1.6 ||1.14 ||1159 ||37.3|
|C053 (Germany) ||46 ||80 ||64 ||4.2 ||0.72 ||1065 ||36.4|
|C054 (Germany) ||45 ||81 ||68 ||1.0 ||1.22 ||1140 ||35.1|
|C082 (Germany) ||45 ||80 ||67 ||3.1 ||0.94 ||1218 ||35.9|
|C088 (Germany) ||45 ||79 ||60 ||2.4 ||0.83 ||1148 ||35.5|
|'Robbie' (USA) ||46 ||78 ||56 ||1.5 ||0.65 ||1067 ||34.3|
|LSD (P<=0.05) ||2 ||1 ||6 ||1.8 ||0.10 ||173 ||2.4|
|C.V. (%) ||4 ||2 ||6 ||39 ||7 ||11 ||---|
Table 3. Comparison of winter-sown camelina with spring-sown camelina
zCamelina was grown without herbicides and flax was sprayed with
dalapon and MCPA. Data from Robinson (1987).
| ||Seed yield (kg/ha)|
|Cropz ||Sowing date ||Sowing rate (kg/ha) ||Tillage ||Weed control (%)y ||1970 ||1971 ||1972 ||1973 ||Ave.|
|Camelina ||Early Dec. ||12 ||No ||77 ||862 ||840 ||1243 ||1747 ||1176|
|Camelina ||Mid-April ||8 ||Yes ||69 ||762 ||840 ||1288 ||1725 ||1154|
|Flax ||Mid-April ||56 ||Yes ||76 ||963 ||336 ||952 ||1848 ||1019|
|LSD (P<=0.05) || ||202 ||157 ||146 ||146 ||78|
yPercent of weeds controlled estimated by visual rating (100 = least
Table 4. Effect of tillage, seeding method, and time of seeding on
camelina and flax, Rosemount, Minnesota, 1990-91.
z1 = no lodging; 10 = severe lodging.
| ||Days from planting to|
|Treatments ||Stand (%) ||Full bloom ||Maturity ||Lodging ratingz ||Weeds (%)y ||Height (cm) ||Seed yield (kg/ha)|
|Flax winter scatter ||4 ||6/15 ||7/21 ||1 ||100 ||52 ||91|
|Flax spring scatter ||35 ||6/15 ||7/22 ||1 ||75 ||51 ||801|
|Flax spring machine ||98 ||6/15 ||7/22 ||1 ||61 ||47 ||851|
|Camelina winter scatter ||93 ||6/1 ||6/28 ||1 ||16 ||59 ||749|
|Camelina spring scatter ||64 ||6/9 ||7/7 ||1 ||48 ||41 ||1008|
|Camelina spring machine ||100 ||6/13 ||7/12 ||2 ||63 ||52 ||888|
|Flax winter scatter ||3 ||6/14 ||7/21 ||1 ||100 ||51 ||142|
|Flax spring scatter ||68 ||6/12 ||7/21 ||1 ||80 ||56 ||837|
|Flax spring machine ||100 ||6/14 ||7/21 ||2 ||85 ||53 ||937|
|Camelina winter scatter ||71 ||6/1 ||6/30 ||2 ||51 ||60 ||850|
|Camelina spring scatter ||95 ||6/12 ||7/8 ||2 ||34 ||57 ||1147|
|Camelina spring machine ||98 ||6/11 ||7/9 ||2 ||42 ||55 ||865|
|LSD (P<=0.05) ||28 ||4 ||3 ||n.s. ||36 ||15 ||312|
|C.V. (%) ||27 ||22 ||15 ||50 ||32 ||17 ||28|
yWeed pressure estimated by visual rating, with 100 = most weedy, 0
= least weedy.
Table 5. Influence of a cover crop on winter-sown camelina performance.
Camelina was planted broadcast-sown in early December on either bare ground or
on flax stubble sown in late August or early September; data from Robinson
zPercent of weeds controlled estimated by visual rating (100 = least
| ||Seed yield (kg/ha)|
|Treatment ||Stand (%) ||Maturity ||Weed control (%)z ||Lodging (%) ||1971 ||1972 ||1973 ||Ave.|
|No cover crop ||77 ||7/11 ||78 ||37 ||840 ||1243 ||1747 ||1277|
|Flax cover crop ||89 ||7/9 ||83 ||18 ||1120 ||1176 ||1870 ||1389|
|LSD (P<=0.05) ||--- ||--- ||--- ||--- ||157 ||146 ||146 ||90|
Table 6. Fatty acid composition of camelina compared with 5 other
oilseeds, grown at Rosemount, Minnesota, 1991.
| ||Fatty acid content (% of oil)|
|Fatty acid ||Canola ||Soybean ||Sunflower ||Crambe ||Flax ||Camelina|
|Palmitic (16:0) ||6.19 ||10.44 ||6.05 ||2.41 ||5.12 ||7.80|
|Stearic (18:0) ||0 ||3.95 ||3.83 ||0.40 ||4.56 ||2.96|
|Oleic (18:1) ||61.33 ||27.17 ||17.36 ||18.36 ||24.27 ||16.77|
|Linoleic (18:2) ||21.55 ||45.49 ||69.26 ||10.67 ||16.25 ||23.08|
|Linolenic (18:3) ||6.55 ||7.16 ||0 ||5.09 ||45.12 ||31.20|
|Arachidic (20:0) ||0 ||0 ||0 ||0.50 ||0 ||0|
|Eicosenoic (20:1) ||0 ||0 ||0 ||2.56 ||0 ||11.99|
|Erucic (22:1) ||0 ||0 ||0 ||54.00 ||0.88 ||2.80|
|Other FA ||4.38 ||5.79 ||3.5 ||6.01 ||3.80 ||3.40|
Fig. 1. Camelina plant nearing maturity. Camelina superficially
Fig. 2. Percent saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in camelina
compared with other oilseeds grown at Rosemount, Minnesota, 1991. Unidentified
fatty acids are those which did not match standards. Camelina is similar to
soybean in balance of saturated vs. unsaturated fats, but is higher in C18:3
Last update September 11, 1997